Things to do with a 24-hour Waikiki and Honolulu layover

Long haul flights between the US and Australia will challenge even the most seasoned flyer, but if you fly Hawaiian Airlines, you can split the trip in two with a 24-hour Honolulu layover.

We’d never really considered flying Hawaiian Airlines before. It’s not that we had any um… baggage, it’s just that Virgin Australia and Qantas dominate the transcontinental routes. It was only when trying to find a cheap flight over the Christmas period that it came up as an option and what a welcome option it became.

Like Korean Air and Icelandair, the carrier has a savvy arrangement with the local tourism board that makes a 23-hour layover part of the arrangement. If you want to get to your destination fast, this isn’t going to be your go to flight but if you want to manage a 20+-hour flight without getting cabin fever or jet lag, read on.

We arrive in Honolulu just as the sun goes down


As almost the perfect halfway point between New York and East Coast Australia, Hawaii is a welcome escape – vacation within a flight. Landing at around 6pm, we are whisked from the terminal to our hotel, the Marriott Waikiki, just off Waikiki Beach. A budget friendly but very comfortable option, it positions us within walking distance to Waikiki’s main attractions.

While the promise of tropical weather is appealing, the downside is the tropical storms that all that humidity builds into. Leaving the comfort of the hotel room, we cab it up to the hills above Waikiki, providing a stunning vista of the coast town’s bright lights.

At this point, the skies open in a dramatic downpour, lightning flashing and thunder rumbling ominously. Visibility on the road ahead is poor as we crawl through rainforests and palms in search of tonight’s main attraction, a luau.

Big Kahuna Luau

Hidden down a jungle path, we can hear loud music and the buzz of a crowd over the heavy rain, which soaks us as we run through deep puddles to a large open shed. A luau is both a celebration and a feast and they really put on quite the spread. There’s fresh tropical fruit, mahi mahi, prawns, curries, rices, salads and Hawaii’s famous bread rolls. With full plate and a welcoming Mai Tai, we quickly dry and warm to our environs – just in time for the performance.

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As touristy as it gets, this luau takes the audience on a journey through Polynesian cultures from Hawaii to New Zealand. There’s beautiful women dancing, muscly men performing galas, flawless harmonies, pompom swinging and fire spinning – everything you’d expect and want to see, delivered with a love and enthusiasm that offsets the derivative reality of the performance. The Big Kahuna Luau has since closed but you will find plenty of similar experiences around Honolulu.

Marriott Waikiki

Rising to a flawless day, it’s like storm served as a broom, sweeping away the humidity and debris. The Marriott Waikiki has one notable and pleasant extra beyond its comfort, location and pool deck that overlooks the beach. On the lobby level is a Honolulu Cookie Company shop, home of the famous pineapple shaped shortbread cookies and sold all over the town and the airport if you miss them here. Not normally a shortbread fan, these are so deliciously buttery and with just the right flavored embellishments that together bring a smile to our dials.

The view from the Marriott Waikiki pool deck is perfect

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki is very similar to Australia’s Gold Coast. High rise resorts butt almost right up to the beach, and tourist coaches abound. There’s plenty of parkland and green space leading to the beach and it feels like paradise. In the distance is the iconic Mount Diamondhead, a dormant volcano that can be hiked if you have the time.

A statue dedicated to the Duke, Duke Kahanamoku, known as the father of modern surfing, but also a multi-gold and silver Olympic medalist. Despite the 1950s photos depicting palm trees and bronzed surfers (though not as bronzed as this statue), the surf here is average and you have to head to the North Shore to experience the real waves.

Waking up early comes with its benefits

Breakfast at Duke’s

The Duke isn’t just remembered here, he’s immortalized at the famous beachfront bar, Duke’s. Breakfast at Duke’s is the only way to start any day in Honolulu. If you have a buffet offered by your hotel, don’t bother. It’s worth every cent to sit in the breeze on the beach looking across one of the great morning views. The healthy types are sweating it out on the beach below in a PT session. We’re above getting bacon sweats. This is an all-American buffet, with a few tropical embellishments like seafood and pineapple. It’s as heavy on carbs as it is on protein and we’ll need a long period of laying around like a sloth to process it. Lucky we still have another 12 hours in the air to deal with.

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Beached As at Waikiki

Pushing that wholly depressing thought aside for a moment, we go and wallow like beached whales in the shallows. The water is a clear turquoise and it’s glassily flat, devoid of waves. It’s the perfect temperature to roll around and float looking wistfully at the scene around us, regretting not extending the layover to two days.

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When you have to return from a flight of fancy

Back at the airport, it’s almost time to go. But Honolulu Airport in itself is like a vacation. It’s open and airy, with large portions exposed to the outside world unlike most sterile terminals. Flowering bougainvillea vines blossom and encroach past secure zones and tropical flowers inject color into what could be a bleak and impersonal environment.

Responsible service of alcohol doesn’t seem an issue here

The terminal bars are celebratory too. Some are dedicated to PGA golf, others just to the island lifestyle that draws so many here for honeymoons and getaways. 23 hours is never going to be enough, but it’s enough of a taster to ensure we’re left wanting another serve.

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5 years ago

Sounds like a great time! 🙂 🙂

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