Hulopo‘e vs Waikīkī

Hawai‘i’s Hulopo‘e Beach has everything from gorgeous golden sands and idyllic swimming, to abundant marine life – and none of the crowds and high-rises of Waikīkī


LOCATION Hulopo‘e is on the south shore of the small island of Lāna‘i, 9 miles (15 km) west of Maui
DAYTIME TEMPERATURES Jan: 71°F (22°C); Apr: 74°F (23°C); Jul: 79°F (26°C); Oct: 77°F (25°C)

Most mornings, you can stroll along the rich golden sands of delightful Hulopo‘e Beach, Lāna‘i and have the place to yourself. Oh, there’ll be a fisherman perched out on the lava boulders of the headland, or you might spot a snorkeler burrowing in and out of the rock pools. Someone from the tiny campsite, tucked away in the nearby woods, might even wander down. And, of course, the local pod of spinner dolphins will probably swim by at some point, to play and cartwheel in the surf before heading back out to sea.

Now compare that with the scene at Waikīkī – picking your way through busy traffic simply to get a glimpse of the ocean; the crowds of touts and tourists jostling for position on the beach, the wafting smells of the all-you-can-eat bacon-and- egg buffets just a few feet away from the water.

ABOVE Snorkelers in the waters off Lana‘i
ABOVE Snorkelers in the waters off Lana‘i

Lāna‘i is often called the “Private Island,” as it is almost entirely owned by David H. Murdock, the former chairman of Dole, the producer of fresh fruit and vegetables. After the company stopped growing pineapples here in 1992, Murdock re- directed the island towards tourism. While the island’s image as an upscale resort is largely deserved, Hulopo‘e Beach is an exception. As with all Hawaiian beaches, it’s always open to the public, and with regular ferries from Maui docking a few hundred yards east, access is easy.

The beach itself is a gem, a gentle curve of deep, thick sand, fringed by low kiawe trees, and demarcated to the east by the russet Mānele Cone, an extinct volcanic relic. The brisk slope of the sand into the ocean makes it ideal for swimming, while the offshore reef ensures that the surf seldom rises to threatening levels. By Hawaiian standards, the surfing conditions are relatively tame, making this a great spot to learn under safe conditions, or simply to play on a boogie board.

Beach equipment can be rented from a small kiosk near the west end, and the park area set back from the center holds public showers.
The whole bay forms part of a marine preserve – hence the dolphins – so the snorkeling conditions are superb, especially early in the day. In winter, when humpback whales are frequently visible out to sea, snorkelers are also able to hear their underwater songs. An ancient Hawaiian fishing village, inhabited for around 500 years, formerly stood at the west end of the beach; ruined stone homesites are still visible in the dunes, with explanatory placards alongside.


THE BUILD-UP Arguably the world’s most famous beach, Waikīkī stretches for 2 miles (3 km) along the shoreline of southern O’ahu.
Its natural setting is magnificent, with the Ko‘olau Mountains soaring to the rear, the extinct volcano of Diamond Head silhouetted to the southeast, and the sun descending each night into the Pacific Ocean straight ahead.
THE LETDOWN Waikīkī is, however, no timeless South Seas paradise; it is a hectic modern resort, whose high-rise hotels sleep 100,000 guests per night, and whose bars, clubs, restaurants, and cafés remain open around the clock. Simply finding room to lie on the sand, or swim in the sea, can be a problem. And  with busy Honolulu just 3 miles (5 km) west, traffic congestion is frequently horrendous.
GOING ANYWAY? To make the most of Waikīkī, throw yourself into the melee. Spend the day sunbathing or in the ocean, surfing or canoeing, then spend the night partying hard.

And be sure to explore the rest of O’ahu, which abounds in forests, beaches, and cultural sights


Getting There and Around

Fly into Honolulu International Airport on O’ahu, from where you can take a connecting flight to Lāna‘i ‘s airport, which is located 12 miles (20 km) northwest of Hulopo’e Beach.

Five ferries ply daily from Lahaina on Maui to Mānele Bay, close to Hulopo‘e.

A ferry-trip from Maui to Lāna‘i costs around US$40.

Where to Eat

Lāna‘i City, 8 miles (13 km) from Hulopo‘e, has several appealing local restaurants, but the only place to eat near the beach is in the Four Seasons. Its open-air Hulopo‘e Court restaurant serves irresistible seafood dishes such as delicious fresh fish steamed in banana leaves (laulau).

Where to Stay

The Asian-influenced Four Seasons Resort Lāna‘i at Mānele Bay stretches upwards from near the west end of Hulopo‘e, and has a pool, luxury spa, and plush rooms. The plantation-style Hotel Lāna‘i is a cheaper option.

When to Go

It makes very little difference what time of year you visit Hulopo‘e Beach. From January to April, there is slightly more rainfall and the sea is a little rougher, but this is also peak whale-watching season.

Budget per Day for Two

US$475 for food and accommodations at the Four Seasons Hotel.


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