Stop dreaming, and make a visit to paradise

Christmas is a magical time of year filled with ice-sparkled days and snowy evenings that are ideal for snuggling by a romantic fire.

If you are not interested in actually getting into the water

Christmas is a magical time of year filled with ice-sparkled days and snowy evenings that are ideal for snuggling by a romantic fire. And while there is nothing better than being home for the holidays, once the holidays are over most people stop dreaming about a white Christmas and start imagining a tropical escape far away from the snow and cold.

A tropical island is a world apart from a cold Canadian winter. There is something almost miraculous about boarding an aircraft in a place where the temperature is well below zero and arriving a few hours later in a hot, sunny beach destination.

You can never underestimate the restorative power of a tropical island escape — especially in the dead of winter.

You can almost feel the stress and drudgery of everyday life fade away as you watch the mainland fade into the horizon.

Few island escapes are more alluring than the Islands of Hawaii. If you like to compare beaches, Hawaii has a great variety of beaches to choose from. Whether you are enjoying the view from a rocky shoreline, body surfing on a black sand beach, snorkelling on a reef, hiking to a green sand beach, or simply relaxing on one of the thousands of caramel-coloured sandy beaches found on the islands, there’s always a new piece of shoreline to enjoy.

So if you’ve stopped dreaming about a white Christmas and are ready to turn your thoughts to other imaginings, here are a few Hawaiian island escapes worth dreaming about.

Oahu

When you think of Hawaii, an image of Waikiki Beach may spring to mind. Tourist mecca that it is, Oahu is still a must-see when visiting the islands. In addition to visiting Honolulu’s famed Waikiki Beach, be sure to check out Pearl Harbor, the International Market and Hanama Bay on the south side of the island. On the north shore, you’ll want to visit the Polynesian Cultural Centre, the Dole Pineapple Factory and Ehukai Beach Park to watch surfers challenge the enormous waves of the Banzai Pipeline.

Want to see what’s happening on Waikiki right now? Visit www.honolulu.gov/multimed/waikiki.asp to check out a live Waikiki Beach cam.

Maui

When it comes to variety, Maui has a lot to offer. Whether you are golfing, relaxing on the beach, snorkelling, surfing or hiking to the centre of an extinct volcano, you definitely won’t run out of recreational options. In addition to relaxing at Kaanapali Beach or Wailea Beach, you’ll want to drive the famed Hana Hwy, enjoy a whale watching excursion, hike the Haleakala volcano and snorkel at Molikini, a half-submerged volcano crater that is home to a variety of sea life.

Kona

With 11 different climate zones, Hawaii’s Big Island has many contrasts and pleasures. It is even possible to ski on Mauna Kea’s snow-capped mountain peak. Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world (when measured from the ocean floor). A visit to Volcanoes National Park to get a close-up look at the active Kilauea Volcano is a must for visitors to the Big Island. You should also check out the black sand beach, enjoy hikes to Akaka Falls and Rainbow Falls, and take in a game of golf (if you can afford it).

Kauai

Known as the Garden Island, Kauai is a lush tropical paradise that enchants the senses. There are plenty of things to do and things to see on the northernmost island in Hawaii. Visitors will want to visit Poipu Beach, winner of Travel Channel’s Best Beach Award. You can also hike up Waimea Canyon, known to locals as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” or enjoy a game of golf. Adventure seekers can enjoy a helicopter ride along the cliffs of the Napali Coast or kayaking down the Wailua River (Kauai has the only navigable rivers in Hawaii).

Lanai

Once covered in pineapple plantations, Lanai is a modern secluded paradise with only two ultra-luxurious resorts. It is so secluded that Microsoft mogul Bill Gates chose the island as the site for his 1994 wedding. To ensure absolute privacy, he rented every room on the island and all the local helicopters. In addition to enjoying quiet beaches, visitors to the island can enjoy a wide variety of outdoor activities, including golfing, hiking and four-wheel driving. Scuba divers will want to visit a dive spot known as The Cathedrals — giant lava tubes that divers can swim inside.

Molokai

Visiting Molokai is like stepping back in time. There are no traffic lights and no tall buildings on the “Friendly Island” — just plenty of Aloha spirit. You can relax in relative seclusion on the longest white sand beach in Hawaii, enjoy snorkelling, or take a hike through the breathtaking Halawa Valley. A mule ride down the world’s tallest sea cliffs to visit Kalaupapa National Historic Park is a must for visitors over the age of 16.

Getting to the islands

Getting to Hawaii just got easier. This fall Air Canada and WestJet both announced non-stop seasonal service from Alberta to Hawaii for the winter travel season. In the past, Alberta travellers had to connect in Vancouver or a U.S. city in order to get to Hawaii. The non-stop flights save more than two and a half hours of travel time when compared with other routings.

Air Canada began offering non-stop flights between Calgary and Honolulu and Calgary and Maui starting on Dec. 5. WestJet has announced that they will be launching new non-stop seasonal service between Calgary and Honolulu once a week from March 7 to April 25 and between Calgary and Maui from March 6 to May 1. Direct service between Edmonton and Kahului, Maui will run from March 6 to May 1.

Flights to Hawaii start at about $269 one-way, not including taxes. Check out www.aircanada.com or www.westjet.com for exact pricing for your dates or contact a travel agent. Air Canada Vacations (www.aircanadavacations.com) and WestJet Vacations (www.westjetvacations.com) offer air and hotel packages that may save you money on a Hawaiian vacation.

Travelling between the islands

There are three main airlines that provide air service between the islands. The major air provider is Hawaiian Airlines, but Island Air and Mokulele Airlines are starting to gain ground in the competitive market of interisland travel. Interisland flights start at about US$59 one-way.

Between Maui and Molokai and Maui and Lanai, you may also use ferry service, which is slightly cheaper at about $30 one-way.

Websites: Hawaiian Airlines: www.hawaiianair.com; Island Air: www.islandair.com; Mokulele Airlines: www.iflygo.com; Molokai Ferry: www.molokaiferry.com; Lanai Ferry: www.go-lanai.com

For more information on the Islands of Hawaii, visit the official tourism website at www.gohawaii.com

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.

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