TRAVEL:Itsy-bit of heaven on Hawaii's Waikiki

Posted by queenmadison

THIS is a story about unrequited love, adventure and money on a beautiful tropical island.
It begins and ends in Waikiki, the iconic Hawaiian beach sitting under the dominant gaze of Diamond Head.
The key characters are a young woman called Itsy Bitsy (who doesn't wear a teeny, weeny, yellow polka-dot bikini) and an Australian family - strangers who met in an idyllic setting.
About 30 mintues drive from Waikiki is Sea Life park, Itsy's home.
Of course, she is a dolphin and swimming with her is an experience of which dreams are made.
She is beautiful, friendly and playful and doesn't mind giving a new friend a kiss.
That makes her impossible not to fall in love with immediately, though it would never be returned. She does a few shows a day and kisses everybody. The Jezebel.
But there is something very alluring about jumping into warm water and swimming with a dolphin - just like Sandy and Bud Rix in Flipper all those years ago.
Sea Life Park is an ocean-side entertainment venue with wonderful live exhibits of turtles and tropical fish, penguins and lots of amazing dolphins to be photographed beside.
Our trip there in a hire car was part of the adventure of Oahu. In a soft-top Jeep, the amazing volcanic landscape seemed arm's length away, firstly driving along the Kalanianaole Highway up the each coast and down the Kamehameha back to Waikiki.
Apart from spotting the mountains where Jurassic Park was shot, make sure to stop at the shrimp trucks on the side of the road.
For $12 a plate you get 12 big (farmed) prawns and a choice of sauces on a paper plate. Everybody stops and chats at the roadside and tucks in. Driving towards the famous north shore and Sunset Beach, Pipeline and Waimea Bay, it's a rustic stopover.
Longboard heaven
The other big adventure at Waikiki is the surfing.
It is nothing like you expect. Much more surfable than the rolling waves portrayed in movies, it is right up there with many Australian metropolitan beach surf spots - crowds and all.
You can hire a longboard for $10 an hour (get there before 8am) and paddle straight out from Duke Kahanamokou's statue to a little break that is well populated but, if you follow surf etiquette, is just as friendly as anywhere else.
The locals will not get aggro if you don't drop in. And there are plenty of waves, so you don't need to. Some of the larger locals will even say hello and tell you the surf and weather are: "O'no". Which means fantastic, beautiful, cool, sweet - all those superlatives.
The water is clean and warm. No currents or rips and even a turtle or two on the paddle out.
But sitting out the back is spectacular. The hotels lining the shore and Diamond Head standing guard, holding back the sunrise and onshore breeze as if to give surfers the best start to every day.
Get out the wallet
The money component of this story is a good one for Australians.
Our little Aussie dollar is battling with the big boys and humbling the greenback right now.
This makes shopping a delight. But one product is worth investigating before boarding the Jetstar flight to Honolulu.
Banks offer a cash passport. Forget travellers' cheques, credit cards or using your debit card in ATMs that charge extortionate fees for every transaction.
This is a card that can be arranged in Australia. Deposit whatever amount you wish on the card that will cover your expenses at the other end.
You pay 1.1 per cent of the total deposited but it is fixed at the exchange rate that day.
So, you don't have to worry about fluctuations or fees if you use an ATM of one of the affiliated US banks.
It's pretty easy. And with the dollar hovering well above US90c, it makes sense to lock it in without any extra costs.
Then go shopping.
At the Waikele outlet centre, about 45 mins drive from Waikiki, it is brand heaven.
Visitors get extra discount vouchers but the prices are good anyway. Like a Calvin Klein leather jacket reduced to $US225, with a 50 per cent discount voucher for a one-off item and you have a bargain.
Of course, in Waikiki there are T-shirts at 7 for $20 or a bit better product at 4 for $20. Great gifts.
And don't walk past an ABC store without going in. They are everywhere and sell everything from beer to Band-Aids.
Accommodation can be as expensive or as economical as you like.
Hotels on the beachfront can cost up to $600 a night. Back a few blocks, the price goes down dramatically. Or there are apartments for rent on a range of websites.
Prices vary by season and location but there is something to suit most budgets, if you look hard enough.