Fans of Lost or Jurassic Park may think of Hawaii as a place where mystical creatures hunt you down and try to kill you. The reality is that the Hawaiian Islands are a paradise — the ultimate relaxation destination and the home of the aloha spirit.
Located smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the ever-changing volcanic island chain has more on offer than just bitching breaks, sexy surfers and a lack of upper-body clothing. Here’s a rundown of the must-see and -do hotspots on the three major islands.
The metropolitan hub of the Hawaiian Islands, Honolulu, on Oahu, is where the aloha spirit meets the urban jungle. And while the buildings of downtown Honolulu are aesthetically reminiscent of 1970s Miami, the city is filled with as many stores and brand names as any large North American city.
The gay scene is prominent, with numerous gay or gay-friendly venues, the two major ones being Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand and Fusion Waikiki. Started by Hawaiian gay icon Jack Law in 1974, Hula’s was conceived as a gay bar that welcomed people of all sexual orientations and backgrounds; it became a popular drop-in for a number of celebrities, including Elton John and Dolly Parton. Almost 40 years later, Hula’s is still the most popular gay bar in Hawaii, drawing visitors from all over the world to enjoy a refreshing cocktail on its breezy lanai (veranda) overlooking the buff bodies on the beach.
Aloha tip: Make sure you check out a Hawaiian luau, a traditional feast where a whole pig is cooked in the ground throughout the day and served for dinner. The most famous luau is held at the Royal Hawaiian hotel every Monday evening.
Hawaii (The Big Island)
If size matters, then the Big Island is for you. As the proverbial twink of the archipelago (it is the youngest island in the chain), it is full of adventure and excitement; after all, it is the most likely to blow a huge volcanic load when agitated.
Its western coast, known as the Kona District, is home to bold black-sand beaches, lush golf courses and the vast majority of the world’s macadamia and coffee farms. Just south of Kona International Airport is Honokohau Beach, a popular spot for gays to get their gear off and frolic in the waves. Further south, the small town of Keauhou is where you’ll find the larger resorts and tourist spots, including Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park — ideal for avid outdoorsmen looking to get sweaty. There are plenty of outdoor adventure activities on the western coast, and most tour companies pick up from the major hotels and resorts in the area.
On the eastern coast of Hawaii is Hilo, the island’s most populated city and the city closest to the only active volcano in the chain. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters operates tours over the Kilauea volcano, located in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The tours depart from Hilo International Airport. The gay-owned and -operated Absolute Paradise B&B, located 45 minutes south of Hilo, is a secluded, home-style lodge that offers a quieter accommodation experience than the busy resorts. Although, tech addicts be warned: there’s no cellphone or TV signal on site, so your Facebook updates will just have to wait.
Aloha tip: Rent a car on the Big Island. It’s the best way to get around, as public transportation is minimal. All major car rental companies are on site at Kona International Airport.
Maui is the Hawaiian island most visited by Canadians, and it boasts arguably the best beaches in the world, many of which are found on the island’s western coast, near the town of Wailea. With its picture-perfect surroundings, the resort-laden town centre is dominated by families and a disturbing abundance of inflatable water equipment.
Luckily, just a short five-minute drive from the village is Hotel Wailea, a gorgeous boutique property nestled in the hillside, consisting of 72 luxury villas. With cinematic views of the Hale Mahina (the House of the Moon) volcano, silk-draped poolside cabanas and complimentary access to on-site spa facilities, Hotel Wailea is the perfect choice for gay travellers.
An appealing alternative to the town’s main beaches is Little Beach, just a few kilometres south of Wailea.
“Little Beach is off the beaten path but comes to life every Sunday afternoon,” says Mark Warnock, a 21-year-old business student from Atlanta, Georgia, who has visited Maui every six months for the past three years. “At sunset, a ritualistic drum circle and fire show takes over the north end of the beach and continues throughout the evening. It’s a celebration and a truly awesome experience. I completely fell in love with the island, and every time I go I experience something new and unique.”
Despite its metropolitan vibe, many local gay men prefer to steer clear of the bars and clubs and take advantage of the ideal year-round climate to explore the island. “Oahu is a gorgeous island, and there is so much more to it than just Honolulu and Waikiki,” says Oahu local Ryan Hoan. “I definitely encourage visitors to check out the city, but I also make sure they venture out and see the real Hawaii.
“I’m more likely to take a road trip up to the North Shore with friends on the weekend and go camping than to hit up a club,” he says. “Plus, you can still have plenty of fun in a tent.”
Aloha tip: Head down to the Lobby Lounge at the Four Seasons Wailea to see a spectacular sunset over the ocean. Also, take a snorkelling trip to Molokini, a partially submerged volcanic crater off the Wailea coast. Pride of Maui operates twice-daily trips.