Postcards of Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach can lead first-time visitors to expect another version of Miami: tall buildings to the shoreline, huge crowds and beautiful people everywhere. The reality is a little different. Yep, there are skyscraper hotels lining the beach and lots of very glamorous people. But the Miami look at me thing just doesn’t seem to exist on Waikiki.

The spirit of Aloha (love and kindness) permeates the island of O’ahu, of which Honolulu is the capital. Given that it is only nine hours from Sydney, it’s a destination worth visiting in its own right, and makes an ideal lay-over on the way to the States.

O’ahu is home for the majority of Hawaii’s population -“ just under one million -“ and Waikiki is the stretch of sand and concrete you’ve seen on the postcards. The expanse of tourist hotels that lines Waikiki is pretty much like any other over-developed beach strip, but its distinguishing feature is the raw, mountainous Hawaiian landscape looming in the background, often covered in low-lying, ominous clouds.

One of the big drawcards for Honolulu is its proximity to this amazing primeval landscape. No wonder Spielberg filmed segments of Jurassic Park on O’ahu. You can easily drive around the island in a day, either in a hire car, or using the public bus network, or by joining one of the many specialist tours. If hiking is your thing, try a guided walk with gay-friendly Real Hawaii Eco-Tours, and experience the rainforest trail on Mount Tantalus. It’s a great way to learn about the flora, fauna, Hawaiian legends and traditional medicines.

Back in the city, Queen’s Surf Beach at the eastern end of Waikiki is the gay hang. The boys tend to sit in gaggles on the grassed area behind the beach. If you’re of the clothing-optional persuasion, Lighthouse Beach on Diamond Head is where you can sun your bits at your own risk.

There’s not a lot of G&L nightlife options, but what’s available is fun and welcoming. Hula’s, on Kapahulu Ave, has fantastic views of Diamond Head and Queen’s Beach, which makes it a great place to while away the afternoon. After sunset, locals migrate to Angles, on Kuhio Ave, and then onto the after-hours club, Fusion. The mai tais in all locations come highly recommended. Hula’s and Angles also run gay catamaran cruises on the weekends, departing from Waikiki Beach.

Drag yourself away from the beach for at least one afternoon and visit Honolulu’s downtown. Highlights include the Hawaii State Art Museum, which houses an eclectic collection of visual arts, including a particularly strong local contemporary painting section. Nearby, the ‘Iolani Palace is the only royal palace in the US. The 45-minute tour provides an interesting insight into the history of the state of Hawaii. The State Capitol Building should not be missed either because it epitomises groovy 1960s island design.

Dining in Honolulu is a cut above most US eats, largely due to the cultural smorgasbord which makes up the city’s population. Try Chai’s in the Aloha Tower, Singha Thai near the Hilton Village, gay-run Tryst (near Angles nightclub) or celebrity chef Sam Choy’s Diamond Head Restaurant on Kapahulu Ave.

Honolulu offers a full range of accommodation options. For self-contained and gay-owned apartments, try Ha’aheao or the Cabana at Waikiki, both an easy stroll to Queen’s beach and all nightlife options. The mainstream but gay-friendly Aston hotel chain has tons of properties: try the Aston Waikiki Beach for funky d?r, grand-slam views and another good restaurant in its Tiki Bar and Grill. The Hilton Hawaiian Village sits at the western end of Waikiki Beach. Its multi-towered accommodation caters for all budgets, and a day at their Mandara Spa is an obligatory indulgence.

One final tip. Search out the Japanese gardens when killing time pre-departure from Honolulu airport. You’ll find soothing running water, languid carp and beautifully sculpted plants -“ a much better option than the airport lounge.

The writer travelled with assistance from the O’ahu Visitor’s Bureau, and is Gay Travel Guides’ co-publisher.

CONTACTS
Real Hawaii Eco-Tours -“ phone 524 4944
Discover Hidden Hawaii tours -“ phone 737 3700
Ha’Aheo Apartments -“ www.haaheo.com
The Cabana at Waikiki -“ www.cabana-waikiki.com
Aston Waikiki Beach -“ www.astonhotels.com
Hilton Hawaiian Village -“ www.hawaiianvillage.hilton.com

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