First day in Honolulu, Hawaii

Almost six weeks after I got home from my solo trip to the US, I got back on a plane – this time with Jac – for a second US trip. On our itinerary: stops in Hawaii, Texas and Virginia.

We flew Qantas to Sydney, then Sydney to Honolulu. If you read my post on Santa Paula, California, you may recall the questions I was asked by Customs and Border Protection upon arrival at Los Angeles Airport. Well, at Honolulu International Airport I was questioned again by a Customs and Border Protection officer and this time, I thought I would be refused entry.

The conversation went something like this:
Officer (scrutinising my passport and paperwork): It says here you were recently in the United States.
Me: Yes, that is correct.
Officer: Where in the United States?
Me: California, Wyoming and Colorado.
Officer: Why did you go there?
Me: It was a holiday…vacation.
Officer: Nothing else?
Me: I beg your pardon?
Officer: You’re saying it was just for vacation, is that correct?
Me: Yes.
Officer: What did you do and where did you go, in California, Wyoming… and Colorado?
Me: In California, I went to a hot air balloon festival in Santa Paula, and I spent a few days in San Francisco. In Wyoming I went on a photography tour and took pictures of wild horses and cowboys in Cody. Photography is my hobby. I visited a friend and stayed with her family in Denver, Colorado. I spent a couple of days in Los Angeles on my way back to Australia.
Officer: So you recently visited the States around six weeks ago, on vacation, and you’re back again, on vacation?
Me: Yes. I’m on long service leave… it’s like a sabbatical, extended time off from work. So I’m on vacation for the rest of this year.
Officer: It just seems strange to me that you were just here in the States and came back again so quickly. Are you sure you’re not conducting business on these ‘vacations’?
Me: No, I’m not conducting business.
Officer: You’re not conducting business?
Me: No, I am not.
Officer: What did you say you do for a living?
Me: I’m a civil servant, I work for the government of Western Australia.
Officer: And you’re not conducting business here?
Me: No, I am not.
Officer: Where are you staying in Honolulu?
Me: The Aston Waikiki Sunset.

By this time, Jac had breezed through separately and, puzzled that I hadn’t made it through, came back to look for me.

Officer: Who did you travel with on your previous trip to the States?
Me: I travelled by myself.
Officer: You were on your own?
Me: Yes.
Officer: Did you travel by yourself again this time?
Me: No, I’m with… her.
I pointed to Jac. “Is everything OK?” She asked.
“Step back, Ma’am,” the officer said. “Please follow the signs and leave this area. I need to ask your friend more questions.”
She was clearly concerned but had no choice but to comply. He turned his attention to me again.

Officer: Like I said, it seems strange that you would come all the way to the States from Australia for just three weeks, and then come back again for another three weeks less than six weeks later.
Me: I wanted to attend the balloon festival and photography tour, which took place on specific dates, so I booked the trip then. My girlfriend couldn’t take holidays until now, and instead of staying in the States the six weeks in between, I went home.
Officer: Well, that kind of unusual behaviour raises flags. That’s not how people normally travel to the States unless they are conducting some kind of business. People don’t generally go back and forth between the United States and a country like Australia in the space of six weeks.
Me: I’m definitely not here to conduct business. I could afford taking two separate trips, so that is what I’ve done.
Officer: So when is your next trip to the States?
Me: I have no plans after this trip.
Officer: Are you going anywhere else after Honolulu?
Me: Maui, and then, we are visiting friends in Texas and Virginia.
Officer: Where in Texas and Virginia?
Me: Our friends live near Austin in Texas, and the other friends are in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Officer: Are you staying with your friends?
Me: No, we’ve booked hotels.
He gave me a steely eyed stare.
Officer: I’m going to let you through this time, Ma’am. But you must understand this has raised a flag. If you come back again in a short space of time, it will raise another flag and you will be questioned.
Me: I understand. I won’t do it again.

He stamped my passport and gave it back to me. “Thank you and enjoy your vacation, Ma’am.”
Trust me, I got out of there as fast as I could.

I honestly hadn’t thought about raising flags when I planned my travels last year. I had been thinking about money, flights, travel insurance and itineraries. Suffice to say, after that grilling, my next trip to the US will probably be at least two years down the track. But moving on to more fun things…

Our room at the Aston Waikiki Sunset had a great view out to Diamond Head with a glimpse of the ocean. We really needed to be much higher to get above all the high-rise hotel buildings spoiling the ocean view. The Aston Waikiki Sunset is one of the smaller hotels (‘smaller’ compared to the massive resorts in Waikiki). It’s older and dowdier than it appears in the photographs on its website. As I wrote this post, Jac reminded me of a couple of small annoyances: we had to ask for more towels for our room, and they had a rule that towels taken from the swimming pool area had to be returned by 8pm (“don’t they all end up with the rest of the hotel laundry anyway?”). In hindsight, we could’ve stayed somewhere ‘nicer’, but our room was comfortable enough and the Aston Waikiki Sunset was just a short walk to Waikiki beach, shops and restaurants.

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The view from our balcony This was the ‘better’ half of our balcony view, with Diamond Head to the west and a glimpse of the ocean. The other half of our view was mostly buildings.

DSCF0065Our room included a full-sized fridge, microwave and stove/oven. We didn’t use the kitchen much.

DSCF0066We were too busy going out and about to watch much TV. But I did make good use of the free wifi.

As Waikiki is thick with tourists, vendors park themselves on certain street corners selling souvenirs and tickets for all kinds of activities – this can be annoying if you’re not interested, but luckily they aren’t too in-your-face about it. A lady gave us her eco tour flyer and as we waited for the traffic lights to change, I thought we’d be trapped and forced to listen to her sales spiel, but she seemed happy to just chit-chat. When we said we were looking for a place to enjoy a couple of drinks, she suggested we check out The Beach Bar at the Moana Surfrider, which turned out to be a lovely spot. We couldn’t wait to get off the busy main drag of Waikiki, sit back under shade and relax over cold drinks and a snack. It was here we had our first taste of Hawaiian cuisine in Hawaii, ahi poke (rhymes with okay) – marinated cubes of raw yellow fin tuna, served with sweet potato and taro crisps and sprigs of sea asparagus – absolutely delicious. My well earned drink was a Tropical Breeze mocktail (US$9.50), made with guava, pineapple, strawberry, banana, coconut cream and orange juice; Jac had the Guava Kaffir Rita (US$14), a twist on a margarita made with Patrón Silver tequila, guava liqueur and fresh muddled kaffir lime leaves.

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The Beach Bar under the banyan tree at The Moana The Beach Bar under the banyan tree at The Moana Surfrider

Left: my Tropical Breeze mocktail; right: Jac's Guava Kaffir Rita cocktail. Left: my Tropical Breeze mocktail; right: Jac’s Guava Kaffir Rita cocktail.

Ahi poke (US$20) Ahi poke (US$20)

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After more walking around, I felt peckish and had a burger craving. Friends who’ve been to Hawaii had told us they weren’t that impressed by Cheeseburger in Paradise; it wasn’t terrible but wasn’t amazing either. Despite the warning, we gave it a go. Jac had the Polynesian coconut shrimp, lightly crumbed and rolled in shredded coconut, deep-fried and served with mango chutney. I had the California Cheeseburger, with California avocado slices and grilled fresh Hawaiian pineapple. I enjoyed the avocado and the sticky caramelised sweet pineapple, but the beef was a little dry and the fries on the floppy side.

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Coconut shrimp (US$11.99) Polynesian coconut shrimp (US$11.99)

California Cheeseburger - with fresh grilled Hawaiian pineapple and California avocado slices (US$12.99). Fries on the side US$2.49 California Cheeseburger (US$12.99) with fries on the side (US$2.49).

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For dinner, I got online and booked a table for 8.30pm at Roy’s Waikiki. I’d seen celebrity chef and restaurateur Roy Yamaguchi on different TV shows and was keen to dine at one of his restaurants.

It was a balmy evening and we took a leisurely stroll to Roy’s. The place was pumping, and despite our booking, we had to wait to be seated. The staff were cordial and seemed perfectly organised but I was worried the wait was a poor start that would put Jac off. But she was in holiday mode, and with nowhere else to be, a drink at the bar filled the time nicely.

It was well worth the wait. We were seated in a booth, service was attentive, and the seafood we ordered was well prepared and tasted incredibly fresh. Both fish dishes I ate at Roy’s were magnificent and rank among my personal list of all-time top fish dishes.

Edamame Complimentary edamame beans. I had eaten them before back home, but I’ve been hooked on edamame ever since this very bowl of beans. If you’ve never eaten edamame, they’re young soy beans still in the pod, a popular appetiser served in Japanese restaurants. You don’t eat the pods (a good restaurant will serve an empty bowl for the discarded pods) – I like to suck on the pods to get all the the flavour before I even get to the beans (the pods are usually simply salted, or served spicy, seasoned with garlic and/or chilli).

Waikiki Wedge - gorgonzola remoulade, local beef carpaccio, butter leaf, bacon dill (US$15)Jac’s Waikiki Wedge – gorgonzola remoulade, local beef carpaccio, butter leaf lettuce (US$15). Not the most visually appealing presentation, but (according to Jac, as she destroyed it), a delicious combination of flavours.

Misoyaki butterfish with sweet ginger wasabi beurre blanc (US$21) My superbly delicate misoyaki butterfish with sweet ginger wasabi beurre blanc (starter size, US$21). A main course version was available for US$42. This was so good I wished I’d ordered the larger size.

Waikiki sashimi platter - big eye tuna, king salmon, madako (octopus), kampachi (amberjack), Nalo shiso leaves (US$38) Jac’s Waikiki sashimi platter – big eye tuna, king salmon, madako (octopus), kampachi (amberjack), Nalo shiso leaves (US$38), served with soy sauce for dipping.

'Chinese style' steamed monchong with Asian aromatic relish, sizzling soy (US$34) ‘Chinese style’ steamed monchong (deep sea pomfret) with Asian aromatic relish, sizzling soy (US$34), served on a bed of cooked green beans and tomato. The thick chunk of tender white-fleshed fish was boneless and a wonderful pleasure to eat.

Garlic rice Garlic rice to go with my steamed fish, tasty in its own right.

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We were too full to contemplate dessert; a cuppa back at the hotel was all we needed before a good night’s sleep.

Roy's Waikiki Roy’s Waikiki

Mentioned in this post

As always, prices quoted were current at the time but may have changed by now, especially the restaurant dishes.

We stayed at Aston Waikiki Sunset
229 Paoakalani Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96816

I arranged our transfers from/to the airport with Honolulu Airport Express, which cost US$76 total for our return transfers (including tip), in a private, air-conditioned vehicle. You can, of course, grab a taxi at the airport (around $30-35 and will vary depending on traffic) or a shared shuttle service (though with a shared shuttle the ride can take a long time depending on the number of stops made and where your hotel is in the order of stops).

The Beach Bar under the Banyan trees, Moana Surfrider – great spot for drinks and snacks.

Cheeseburger in Paradise
2400 Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki, Oahu HI 96815
They’re in multiple locations in Waikiki, Maui and Las Vegas, Nevada.

Roy’s Waikiki – highly recommended
226 Lewers Honolulu, HI 96734
Chef Roy Yamaguchi has multiple restaurants throughout the United States and on all four main Hawaiian islands,

About this series

I went to the United States twice last year – this is my first post about the second trip, in which Jac and I went to Hawaii (Oahu and Maui islands), Texas and Virginia.

If you haven’t already done so, you may like to check out my blog series about my first (solo) trip to the US, which included California, Wyoming and Colorado. Start with the first post: Santa Paula, California USA.

There’s a lot more to come from Hawaii and this latest series.

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  • Brendan

    On behalf of all Americans, I’ll apologize for our border guards. They certainly gave me the business pretty often when I was living in Melbourne and going back to SF frequently…

    • No need to apologise, Brendan. I get that he was doing his job. It certainly was an unnerving experience…I may have enjoyed my holiday even more after getting through that :)

  • al200

    Wow – so sorry you were treated like that by the border guard. But you handled it superbly :)

    • Thank,s Ann. :) I understand why it was done. It didn’t stop me enjoying myself once I was safely through those doors!

  • Wen Yang Lee

    That fish makes Nobu’s cod look like a joke! I have only been to the state once. I remember answering them easily at the embassy. But the couple next to me took quite some beating at the booth. But then again I would support the officer’s cause. Better safe than sorry after all :)!

    • Oh yes, as mentioned below to Brendan, I know he was just doing his job. It was all smooth sailing after that. :) Haha, yes – Nobu’s miso black cod is exquisite and delicious but microscopic when you compare with that thick chunk of monchong!

  • Wow! Hawaii looks so picturesque and the food even better! Sounds like you’re having an amazing time apart from the customs experience but I guess they’re just doing their job but would make you feel like you’re a criminal. Well you’re on holidays so just relax and soak up the experience and sunshine.