A trip to the Pacific of Hawaii island opens Hanna Hussein’s eyes to its beauty and history

IT'S a sunny day, a perfect time to be outdoors on the beach. Wasting no time, I head out of the vintage hotel I am staying at, straight to the beachfront.

With the fresh, salty seabreeze caressing my face,my feet playfully delving into the sand underneath, I continue to admire the beauty of the Pacific Ocean, dotted with surfers. Ahh.I can't believe I'm in Hawaii!

After a long-haul flight from Kuala Lumpur to Honolulu via AirAsia X, with a stopover in Osaka,Japan, I finally arrived in one of the world's popular beach destinations.

Located in the Pacific Ocean, 3,380km southwest of the mainland United States, Hawaii is an archipelago of eight major islands, numerous atolls and smaller islets. It is a tropical destination with consistent weather and low humidity throughout the year. So, it's always a good time to visit. Now that AirAsia X is making its landing in Honolulu, Oahu, the third largest Hawaiian island, there's no reason to say no anymore.

Of course, the beach is not the only attraction in Hawaii. There are plenty of great activities that AirAsia X, together with Hawaii Tourism Southeast Asia, has lined up for a 4D/3N itinerary for the media exploring Oahu Island.


LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

The vibe at Waikiki Beach reminds me of the popular TV series Hawaii Five-O. In fact, Aloha, Pearl Harbour, Moana, 50 First Dates, and Just Go With It are some movies that remind me of Hawaii.

Because of its breathtaking rugged-landscape and gorgeous year-round weather, it is one of the most desirable locations for Hollywood film shoots. Actually, the Royal Hawaiian Resort Waikiki where I am staying was part of the film set for Punch-Drunk Love starring comedian Adam Sandler.

Hungry to see more movie locales, we head to Kualoa Ranch in Kahaluu (northeastern side of Oahu), about an hour away from Waikiki Beach.

We arrive there at almost 11am, and the ranch is already crowded with visitors. It is a popular attraction in Hawaii, mainly because it has been the site of many television shows and Hollywood films including the box-office Jurassic World and Jurassic Park.

Wasting no time, we kick off our visit by taking part in the Jurassic Jungle Expedition Tour.

We board the back of a 4x4 truck which has been modified with rows of seating benches that can fit up to 20 passengers at a time, complete with safety belts. We put on our seat belts, and are all ready for our bumpy adventure!

The tour takes us to the Kááawa Valley, nick-named "Jurassic Valley" where most of the movie locations are found. Our driver, who is also the guide, explains that Kualoa is a 1,618-hectare private nature reserve and also a working cattle ranch with more than 500 heads of cattle. It overlooks the white sandy shores of Kaneohe Bay. The ranch offers numerous tour packages and activities that include ATV, Zipline, Horseback Riding and more.

We drive along the rugged dirt road heading deep into the jungle. The track is bumpy, hilly and winding at some point but our driver seems to know her way, manoeuvring to a destination unknown to us. I enjoy the green jungle view along the track.

After a few minutes, we stop for a view of the 800-year-old ancient Hawaiian fishpond, also known as Moli'i. It is a 61.9ha pond, and it is still standing with much of the original stonewall infrastructure in place.

The guide explains the early aquaculture practices and how the fish was farmed during those days. The pond was actually a part of the Jurassic World movie set, where the sea reptile, Mosasaurus, is being fed a shark. Of course in the movie,computer-generated imagery was also used.

Further in the jungle, we come across the Indominus Rexcage, Jurassic World'slatest hybrid dino that made a suspenseful escape from her cage and created chaos.

Along the way, we also encounter a realistic heli-crash scene from Kong: Skull Island featuring Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L.

Jackson. Our last check-point is my favourite, where we hike up steep stairs thatleads us to a spectacular bird's eye view of Kaneohe Bay.

Up here, we spot the movie-site camps where Jurassic World 2 is filming at this moment; perhaps Chris Pratt is down there.

We then head back on a "roller-coaster" 4x4 ride down the hill to the main ranch and hop on a tour bus to go on another journey — the Ocean Voyage Catamaran Tour.

The tour will take us to another area of the ranch called the Hakipúu Valley where thefishpond is located. The stretch of fishpond is also a popular site for many movies including the Hukilau Cafe from 50 First Dates.

Upon arrival at the Moli'i dock, we hop on a catamaran that takes us across the fishpondto another spot known as the Secret Island. It's a stunning secluded beach, an ideal place to spend the day relaxing and enjoying watersports.

While guests who take the Secret Island Beach tour continue their day by the beach, our team boards another private catamaran heading off the blue waters of Kaneohe Bay.

The sea is really choppy and the adventurous lads head to the lower deck to get splashed by the salty water. However, I just chill and enjoy the view from the upper deck.

The journey takes us to see the iconic Mokoli'i Island (Chinaman's Hat) and Hokule'a Beach. We are lucky to spot a few turtles popping their heads out of the water.


O'AHU BEAUTY

If you want something more free and easy, there are many other scenic landscape options in O'ahu such as Waimea Valley and Nu'uanu Pali Lookout.

Waimea Valley is a lush botanical garden that leads up to the grand Waimea Falls through a pleasurable 1.6km stroll located in the north part of Oahu. Visitors are allowed to take a dip in the waterfall. According to our guide, the waterfall used to be a sacred haven of the Waimea Valley.

Nuuanu Pali Lookout, on the other hand, located in the south part of the island, offers panoramic views of the sheer Koolau cliffs and lush Windward Coast.

It is super-windy up here on some days, and today is one of those days. Honestly, it's hard to even get a decent photo as my shawl keeps flapping everywhere.

Looking at the spectacular view, it's tempting not to take a panaromic shot of the area. As the wind is too crazy, my focus is to keep my phone from flying off the cliff, but I did manage get a couple of good shots.

Nu'uanu Pali was actually one of the bloodiest battle-site inHawaiian history, in which Kamehameha I conquered the island of O'ahu, bringing it under his rule in 1795. It is said that more than 400 of Kalanikupule's soldiers, who are the defenders of Oáhu, were driven off the edge of the 304.8m cliff to their deaths.


HAWAII ROYALS

The knowledge that Hawaii is the only state in America that was reigned by a kingdom makes me curious to know more about the Hawaiian Royalty.

The best place to find out about its royal history and background is the Iolani Palace, the official residence of the Hawaiian monarchs.

Located in Downtown Honolulu, Iolani Palace is a living restoration of a proud Hawaiian national identity that was built in 1882 by King David Kalakaua.

The palace is where the royals held official functions, received dignitaries and luminaries from around the world, and entertained often and lavishly until the monarchy was overthrown in 1893.

The building is registered as a National Historic Landmark since 1962 and meticulously restored to its former grandeur. It is open to the public as a living museum.

As we enter the luxurious palace, we step into the grand hall which has a large staircase made of Hawaiian koa wood, which leads to the private family suites on the second floor. Hanging on the walls are portraits of Hawaiian kings and queens, welcoming the guests to their stately home.

We are invited to see the throne room which has been lavishly decorated in crimson and gold. This is where the king received formal guests, and held diplomatic receptions and state balls. There are two thrones in the room which is for King Kalakaua and his Queen, Kapiolani. We also get to see some of the replica dresses that were worn by the royal family, some of which are made with peacock feathers!

Also on the same floor is the blue room where smaller receptions were held and the striking dining room with koa wood furnishings, elegant Bohemian crystal, Paris porcelain, and a massive floral carpet. You probably wouldn't believe me if I say that the king's favourite food was ice-cream, considered an expensive dessert at that time.

Heading upstairs, there's a music room, the king's and the queen's room, the king's office and the imprisonment room where Queen Liliuokalani (sister of King Kalakaua, and his successor) was arrested and forced to abdicate her throne in 1895, after a failed attempt by Hawaiian royalists to restore the queen's power.

She was imprisoned in the bedroom for nearly eight months with no outside news. She was denied any visitors during that time so her day were filled with daily prayers, reading music compositions, crochet-work and quilting.

The palace was also ahead of its time as it was outfitted with the most up-to-date amenities, including the first electric lights in Hawaii, indoor plumbing and even a telephone.


POLYNESIAN VIBES

Another interesting thing about Hawaii that I love is the unique native culture. To know more, we head to the Polynesian Cultural Centre which is located in Laie, the northern shore of Oahu.

It is a Polynesian-themed theme park and living museum, featuring a 16.9ha land exhibiting the island cultures of not only Hawaii, but also another five Pacific cultures — Fiji, Aotearoa, Samoa, Tahiti and Tonga.

Here, we get to mingle with the natives, see their real-life living quarters as well as try cultural demonstrations. Among the things we get to do is try to make a fire with sticks at the Samoa island, play a Maori stick game at the Aotearoa island, and do the Hula dance in Hawaii island.

We also get to ride on a canoe around our tropical lagoon and enjoy the different scenery from all the islands.

Besides that, we also enjoy a couple of great performances at all the islands and the highlight show in the evening called the Breath of Life.

The 1½-hour evening show was a spectacular performance about life, love and family, triumph and tragedy, punctuated by Polynesian dance, music and blazing fire knives. It featured over 100 Polynesian natives, special effects, animation and surround sound. Truly awe-inspiring!


TRAVEL FILE

AIRASIA X SAYS "ALOHA" TO HAWAII!

Now everyone can fly to Hawaii, thanks to AirAsia X.The long-haul low-cost airline continues to lead the way with the recentlaunchof its Hawaii route, its maiden service to the US.

AirAsia X flies to Honolulu via Osaka, Japan a four time a week. Details at www.airasia.com.

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