Olivia Mackinnon

For A Group Of People Wanting To Visit Hawaii, There’s A Big Reason Not To Discount Waikiki…

For me, Hawaii has always been a mystical, far away place filled with frangipani flowers, hula dancing, and coconut bikinis. I always imagined my arrival the same way; being greeted by a beautiful woman in a grass skirt, who would say “aloha” and place a lei around my neck as I disembarked the plane. Then again, maybe I’ve just watched ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ a few too many times.


We chose to visit Waikiki on our way back to Australia in a bid to defrost after spending 10 days in New York City in January. It was early February by the time we landed in Hawaii, and I was so pleased to discover it was ‘bye bye thermals, hellooooo bikinis.’ As we drove in a shuttle to our hotel, I realised I was seeing A LOT of cement, and not many of the leafy dirt roads I’d imagined. As we passed H&M, Victoria’s Secret and Forever 21, I saw my sister’s faces light up, but I was a little less enthused. To me, Waikiki seemed a little like Los Angeles, but with a much better beach nearby – and clearer water. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Waikiki, it was that it just wasn’t at all how I imagined it to be. It was incredibly built up and modern, which my family ADORED. But for me, well, I craved a little of the culture, vast idyllic beaches and greenery I had envisioned growing up; you know, the ‘real Hawaii’. With the urge of discovering the ‘real Hawaii’ so strong, I set out in search of a traditional Hawaiian luau. I figured it was the best way to get in some hula dancing and some true Hawaiian heritage – and get away from the shops for a breather.

hula girls

Our hotel, the Aston Waikiki, had an incredibly helpful concierge desk, and they set us up with a few options and recommended one luau in particular. I gathered the family and said we’d have to skip the shopping and sunbaking today – we were going to experience a little Hawaiian culture. Our bus down to the luau spot was phenomenal; all of a sudden we were seeing the towering mountains, the lush greenery and the serene, secluded beaches I has fantasised about. It was the most beautiful landscape I’d ever seen. As we arrived at our destination, we made our way down to a big field, through a giant turtle enclosure (SO cool), until we reached the set-up for our luau.


A modest banquet feast had been arranged, with ticketed drinks – I swear this was the most commercial side of the whole evening – and we sipped our wine as we took in our luscious surroundings, which I can only describe as just like the sprawling, majestic forests in Jurassic World – but before the T-Rex arrived. Then it was onto the interactive part of the evening. You had your chance to move around three organised activities; hula dancing, traditional cooking, and making fire with sticks, which, just so you know, is MUCH harder than it looks.  Even so, after much effort, I learned it’s DEFINITELY not just trickery used in Hollywood films. Once we’d mastered moving our hips in a hula-like fashion, attempted to make fire, and learned how the Hawaiian elders prepared food for their families (I’m not going to ruin it all for you by giving everything away!), it was onto the show.

learning to hula

This particular luau focuses on showcasing the traditional dances from many different regions, such as Samoa, Fiji and Hawaii). Many of these involved fire throwing and shock-inducing stunts, as well as some of the most beautiful, elaborate outfits you’ve ever seen. Then there was the interactive part of the performance to witness. Careful, or you’ll get pulled up on stage to ‘shake it’ with the best hip shakers in the business – in front of everyone. Just like my boyfriend did – what a photo worthy moment! Haha, if only he’d let me share it!

fire dancers

It was truly magical to see people who were so proud of their culture and heritage receive such joy from sharing it with strangers, who, for the most part, were holding their phones up to capture the memories, instead of just slowing down and breathing it all in #damntechnology. I feel like in the three hours I spent at the luau, I saw the most real and raw version of Hawaii I could, and it truly inspired me to seek more of the original, untouched Hawaii. I’m told Maui is excellent for that! If you only do ONE thing in Waikiki, I can’t recommend enough that you make it a luau.


  • Shop around for your luau. Most of the best ones include a meal and at least a drink or two. Keep in mind most luaus happen around sunset (aka Dinner time), so if you aren’t provided with food, you may get very hungry.
  • Take a jacket with you. Yes even if it’s hot when you leave your hotel. The breeze can come off the water when it begins to get dark and get quite brisk.
  • Ask questions. The people performing and teaching genuinely love what they do, and honestly want to help. Utilise their skills and learn a new one for yourself.
  • Film one performance if you need to and then put the phone down. Sitting down and taking in the traditional dances will make your night, so much work goes into them, you’ll regret not witnessing them first hand.


Olivia Mackinnon is Senior Digital Content Producer for Sydney’s KIIS 1065 Kyle & Jackie O Show, when she’s not travelling the world she’s busy finding the best new and fun places to eat, drink and play in Sydney. Instagram: @oliviakmackinnon Twitter: @OliviaMackinnon

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.