Hawaii, from island to island

Waikiki, Honolulu, surfers, volcanoes and dream beaches… So many clichés that have made Hawaii's reputation as an earthly paradise in the heart of the ocean. However, this Pacific archipelago, a piece of America washed up in Polynesia, remains little known to the French, basically. Perhaps because it is more than 20 hours of flight from our land… Immediate boarding for a trip to Hawaii, from island to island.

Hawaii, the archipelago at the end of the world

Lost in the middle of the North Pacific, at (at least) 22 hours of flight from Paris and eleven time zones, Hawaii immediately refers to an image of an earthly paradise, constructed from the first steps in the islands of European explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries: the image of a fertile land, blessed by the gods, where life seems imprinted with a happy recklessness.

Nature, it's true, has surpassed itself here, in a frenzy of volcanic peaks madly sculpted by erosion, half-opened on deep valleys to carpets luxurious vegetation and busty stunts. A true Garden of Eden a stone's throw from the mouths of hell: in the far east of the archipelago, lava flows almost continuously, flowing to the ocean in a silent thunder of steam. And, on the coasts beaten by the surf, the cliffs split the armor on black or white sand boxes drawing sublime beaches.

The image is true, but naturally misleading. Hawaii the Polynesian was once a land corseted by taboos, much less hedonistic than these islands reinvented by tourism, the quest for a lost paradise and surfers.

Over time, however, everyone came to believe it, including Hawaiians themselves - whose culture, once on the verge of fading, is celebrated today. Many others, especially Asians, joined them, perfecting a rainbow archipelago that has adopted a philosophy: that of simple happiness.

O'ahu and Honolulu: the capital island of Hawaii

This is at Honolulu as we land in Hawaii, flying over coral reefs and skewers of buildings before landing on the edge of a famous bay. Pearl Harbor saw the direct entry of the Americans into World War II one day in December 1941.

O'ahu Island, seen from the porthole, forms a duo of volcanoes torn by erosion with high slopes that are almost inaccessible and, on three of the four sides, a largely preserved coastline. But O'ahu is also three quarters of the population of Hawaii, its capital, skyscrapers galore, a large military base, malls (shopping centers), traffic jams and excess air conditioned.

Le downtown nevertheless takes on smiling airs. The air is warm, the streets underlined by palm trees and frangipani trees with sweet fragrances. Girded with his green scarf, the 'Iolani palace (1881) recalls that Hawaii was ruled by kings and queens, before American sugar cane planters plotted to slip the archipelago into the Yankee purse. TheKawaiaha'o church (1842), in blocks of coral, and the first mission (1821) stand next door.

West, Chinatown - mixed with Vietnamtown - adds its merchants of nashis and giant pomelos, its very beautiful Izumo Taisha shrine, japanese, and sound Kuan Yin temple red with green glazed tiles. The orchid collection of Foster Botanical Garden flourishes all against it.

Waikiki, the most famous beach in the Pacific

It was here, from the 1900s, that the myth was built. Originally, there was only a beach bordered by springs, taro fields - then rice fields. The ali'i, the Hawaiian aristocrats, surfed there 10m rolls under the gaze of the people who did not have this honor. In 1893, Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island, stayed there for 5 weeks at the No worries, one of the very first hotels. And soon the whole American continent began to dream.

Transformed into an island by the digging of the Ala Wai canal, Waikiki has since exploded. Almost 1,8 million tourists are piled up on these 2 km5 every year! Alas, the developments have dried up the source of the big waves… They now peak at 2 m in heavy weather, but beginners hardly complain.

We meet them in the early morning, looking blissful, walking board under the arm between the Royal Hawaiian Hotel - pink - and the statue surrounded by flower necklaces of Duke Kahanamoku, legendary surfer and swimmer. After school, the kids find themselves two steps away with their body board, on Kapahalu Groin, alias Graveyards ("cemeteries"), sliding as close as possible to the jetty, trying not to crash there ...

From there stands out perfectly the emblematic silhouette of the crater of Diamond head, born from an eruption 300 years ago. From the summit, at 000 m, where anti-aircraft batteries are still moored, the view of Waikiki, the reefs and the turquoise waters is breathtaking.

North of O'ahu: surfing in Hawaii

For a 1m swell in Waikiki, the North Shore displays 3, 4 m and more. From November to February, enthusiasts, who have become snowboarding professionals, come from all over the world for a new season of competition. It's time for the Triple Crown, the three great challenges of Hawaiian surfing, brought together over a big month. Sunset, Ekuhai Beach wake up to the sound of the speakers, under the greedy gaze of bimbos in bikini.

A stone's throw from the coast, swept by violent currents, the most beautiful waves in the world, formed by storms off the coast of Alaska, on certain days erect walls of water the size of a small building. Each has its faithful: Avalanche, Himalayas, Off the Wall and its tubes which close on surfers, the severe left of Pipeline, Gas Chambers and its waves which swallow you without wanting to spit you out, Sunset which explodes as you approach the shore ...

Refusing a world imbued with materialism, not protesting so far, the surfer tribe settled there, in wooden houses, between palm trees and bougainvillea, facing its playground. A lifestyle was born, between organic cafes, stands of shave ice, letter boxes in the shape of swordfish or sharks and old boards anchored in the ground indicating the residence of the addicts. Their kids have been taking the baccalaureate thanks to surfing since joining the program. And, on good days, nearly half of the population of the North Coast dabbles in the perfect rollers of the Pacific, on one of the few 600 spots on the island !

Kauai, the garden island of Jurassic Park

The westernmost and oldest of the eight Hawaiian Islands, Kauai reveals spectacular landscapes with exuberant vegetation. An old volcano, the Wai'ale'ale, plays the role of a water tower, blocking the clouds, which pour in downpours (up to 12 m per year at the top!), watering the coastal plains where the sugar cane thrives.

To the west of the island, accessible only on foot, by kayak or by boat, the rains have shaped an incredible stack of jagged cliffs with sharp ridges: the rating Na pali. This is where the breathtaking takes place Kalalau Trail, engraved above the void by the ancient Hawaiians to reach the most isolated valleys.

18 km long, the path begins where the road ends, at Ke'e Beach - peacefully spread between casuarinas and coconut trees. Irregular, muddy, it joins the sandy cove ofHanakapiai. Then climbs and descents follow one another, as close as possible to fine waterfalls which scatter their tears.

After Hanakoa, vertigo lurks as the path, just wide enough to set foot on it, slopes dangerously towards the precipice. Finally, plunging into a laterite bleeding, he rejoins the mysterious Kalalau valley, bounded by jagged rocky ramparts rising up to 1m above the Pacific - where Steven Spielberg shot part of Jurassic Park.

Non-walkers discover it from aerial vantage points reached by a contortionist route up from the south coast on the flanks of the deep Waimea Canyon, "The great canyon of the Pacific". Spectacular, too.

Island of Maui, the house of the sun

In the center of the archipelago, the very touristic island of Maui is formed by two volcanoes sealed by a central lava flow. While West Maui has been largely consumed by tropical rains, the Hale'a'kala (3 m), in the east, did not know its last eruption until 055.

At the top, reached after 1 hour of bends and hairpins, is discovered one of the largest craters in the world, on the lunar ground tinged with red and gray, larded with lava needles and adventitious cones. We come to see the sun rise (departure from the coast at 4 am!), Before going down on a mountain bike.

To the east, the contrast is obvious. Navigating along the coast with 600 turns and 54 bridges (!), The narrow hana road enter a world dripping with humidity, between lava cliffs battered by raging waves and valleys overrun by jungle or occupied by patches of taro. Torrents and waterfalls create invigorating natural pools.

To the west, Maui's tourist headquarters, a soft coat of golden sand hugs the coastline. Kaanapali groups together the large hotels, leaving Lahaina, the historic capital, the care of cultivating its nostalgia. The old banyans and the cannons, the venerable churches, the wooden houses and the Pioneer Inn evoke the memory of the merchants, missionaries and sailors who gave birth to the port ... humpback whales, but we come to see them, in winter, at a good distance.

Big island of Hawaii, grandiose

Five volcanoes united to build the youngest, the largest of the islands - which gave its name to the entire archipelago: Hawaii. On the eastern coast, within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea is the scene of a unique eruption, which has lasted almost uninterruptedly since 1983!

Not very dangerous, it is said to be the only “drive-in” volcano in the world ... A nickname quickly justified. As soon as you pass the entrance to the park, you park as you approach the Crater Overlook. Soon, under the eyes appears the crater of Halema'uma'u, nestled in the Kilauea caldera. In 2008, he returned to service. It is now one of the only two active lava lakes in the world.

This is where resides Pele, the goddess of fire. The Hawaiians offer him lei (necklaces) of ferns, leaves of ti, bottles of alcohol. And, in April, at the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, bands come to pay homage to him with their ethereal prayers, songs and dances.

Two steps away, on the Devastation Trail, trees blown away by a past eruption give way to time which devours them. Forests of tree ferns line the path leading to the Thurston lava tube. Farther on, brown chaos of a'a mingle with vast expanses of shining pahoehoe, which flowed away forming frozen waves.

We finally park at the end of the Chain of Craters Road, where a second crater, the Puʻu ʻŌʻō at times spills its magma into the sea in colossal volutes of water vapor laden with sulfuric acid. Since 1983, he has paved 140 km2 of the island, expanding it from 4 to 5 ha per year.

Kona: full sun in Hawaii

West of the Big Island, the kona coast, all of parchment lava, offers a face diametrically opposed to that of the eastern coast, renowned for its rainfall. The sun reigns here - as the great Kamehameha, the first king of the unified archipelago, once did. In 1812 he fixed the center of his power at Kailua-Kona, renowned for its excellent surf spots.

Rest on the seafront dominated by coconut palms and the old wooden bell tower Mokuaikaua church (1837), the very modest Hulihe'e palace, with wide verandas and, a few steps away, the first royal residence - a simple reconstructed straw hut! It is here, against the Kailua Pier, that each year begins and ends one of the toughest triathlons in the world: the Ironman. On the program: 3,8 km swimming, 180 km by bike and a 42 km marathon.

South of Kailua-Kona, small winding paths climb through dense vegetation towards the villages ofHolualoa, Honalo, Kainaliu, Kealakekua et Captain Cook, heart of Hawaii's "coffee belt", between 250 m and 500 m above sea level. The wooden storefronts and the old hotels exude an air of blissful nostalgia. In Honalo, the Daifukuji Buddhist Temple, with large kodo drums, recalls the importance of Japanese emigration.

Not far, at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau (national park), those condemned to death on the run, defeated soldiers and people threatened by wars could once find refuge. Threatening looking wooden ki'i protect the sanctuary - perfectly reconstructed with its palisades, its heiau (temple) and its hut where the bones of the chiefs were venerated.


Consult our Hawaii online guide

Hawaii Tourist Board

How to get there ?

Long trip in perspective: whatever company you take, you have to reckon with one or two stopovers in the United States for a minimum of 21-22 hours of travel in all. Combined fares start at around € 900 round trip. It may be more interesting to reach Los Angeles with a low cost company like Norwegian (from 350 € round trip), then look for a discounted flight to Honolulu or Kahului (Maui) - from 350 US $ per round trip. season.

Once there, Hawaiian Air and Mokulele Airlines offer a large number of inter-island connections at very reasonable rates (from US $ 73-79 one way). Rather than taking round trips, it is better to take several outings and build a loop route; 4 flights should be enough for you to visit the 4 most touristic islands.

Find your plane ticket

When to go

The best period, the sunniest, extends from May to early October ; winter is slightly cooler (25 ° C on average anyway!) and more rainy, but nothing serious either. In fact, it is the orientation of the coast that does it all: wet in the east and north, from which the trade winds blow, much drier in the west and south. Hurricanes are rare.

Or sleep ?

The choice is vast! Considerable even… But beware, the prices are not tender, especially in high season (December-Easter).

Small budgets will embrace (and love!) The camping in national and state parks, or possibly in those managed by the counties - making sure beforehand that these are not squatted by homeless people, a recurring problem in Hawaii where real estate is so expensive. Some parks have rustic wooden bungalows, but usually with electricity, kitchen and shower (book!). We find some Youth hostels on the main islands, including an affiliate of Hostelling International (in Honolulu).

For those who can afford it, bed & breakfast offer a good alternative (usually 150 US $) and 300 US $.

Useful sites:

We naturally find hotels of all categories, with a considerable park of resorts integrating all possible and imaginable services (especially in O'ahu, Maui and Big Island). To save money, it's simple: turn your back to the sea, or cross the road to settle on the "wrong" side ... Another classic: condos (apartments) or houses for rent. Here, we can not advise you enough to look at the offers of Airbnb or similar.

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