As our bus ventured away from the busy downtown hub of Waikiki Beach, and the distinctive, mountainous landscape of the Oahu countryside rolled into view, the oft-mentioned contrast between the island’s town and country areas had never seemed more apparent.
We were headed north for the second phase of our group’s eight-day FAM trip to Oahu, a journey that saw Canadian destination wedding specialists immerse themselves in the island’s range of offerings, and we were to discover a whole different side to a destination whose popularity as a wedding location is ever-growing.
Speaking with PAX, Mona L. Hirata, president and founder of neu events and board member of Wedding Week Hawaii, pinpointed the archipelago’s uniqueness of experience as one of the key reasons that couples should consider tying the knot in Hawaii. “I think we really specialize in Hawaii with customized weddings – yes, there are packages, but we’re not the type of all-inclusive destination; we want people to have very unique, one-of-a-kind experiences,” she commented.
The country side of 'town-and-country'
Kualoa Private Nature Reserve, O'ahu.
Those kinds of unique experiences were in ample evidence throughout our tour of Oahu’s northern and north-eastern areas. Few sights are more spectacular than the vast, verdant sprawl of the Kualoa Private Nature Reserve, a 4,000-acre property whose rich cultural history can be explored through tours by ATV and horseback ride; its immense valleys and rugged terrain have made it a favoured filming location for a host of well-known movies and TV shows including Jurassic World, King Kong and Lost, while its secluded Secret Island, Hale Nanea – accessible by a scenic boat ride – offers a host of in-demand wedding packages.
The boat ride to Secret Island.
Wedding ceremonies can be carried out on the island's private beach, with a nearby buffet area, 450-guest capacity for weddings, and a range of beach activities and kayaking rounding off the experience.
There was a decidedly relaxed, peaceful ambience to Oahu’s North Shore, although thrills and spills are available for visitors who’d prefer more adventurous fare. The Turtle Bay resort takes advantage of its location, dramatically perched near the tip of the island, with sweeping vistas – all of its rooms feature an ocean view – and a wide array of active offerings including kayaking and surfing.
Turtle Bay Resort
The resort is well-accustomed to hosting weddings, with an estimated 400 ceremonies taking place there each year, and it’s also notable for its enormous size and relaxing experiences at the Nalu spa; fans of Hawaii 5-0, meanwhile, may recognize the resort as a filming location for several episodes.
Hirata noted Hawaii’s aloha spirit and vibrant culture as central components of its appeal for wedding ceremonies, while also highlighting the strength of its options for wedding guests, friends and family. “If a couple is getting married in Hawaii, they can have a beautiful wedding and their guests, while they’re here, can have a beautiful time, too,” she remarked.
The Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie was perhaps the epitome of that appeal, an attraction that engrosses guests in Hawaiian culture through events, exhibitions and a stirring hour-long show, Hā–Breath of Life.
Loulu Palm Estate.
The Center features six separate areas themed around different Pacific Islands, with canoe tours and traditional Polynesian food also on offer. Further picture-perfect locales across the island’s north shore include Waimea Valley, whose plummeting waterfalls and vivid flora provide a fitting backdrop to the range of wedding packages offered onsite, and Loulu Palm Estate; the latter is a garden and beachside home that’s fully-usable for wedding ceremonies, welcoming guests with the words ‘Happily ever after starts here’ etched on a wooden sign.
Bidding 'aloha' to Hawaii
Our time on the North Shore had ended, but our stay in Hawaii wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to the renowned Kahala Hotel & Resort, an esteemed property whose visitors’ wall is a veritable 'who’s who' of the worlds of sports, entertainment, politics and business.
Located a stone’s throw from Waikiki Beach, this 338-room luxury property features some of the best views on the island, with wedding offerings including the option for an indoor or oceanfront ceremony, and exclusive resort use for photos.
The view from Kahala Hotel & Resort.
There was nothing left but to reflect on a week well-spent as our group made the journey back to the airport. Everyone could agree not only on the depth and variety of the wedding options offered, but equally the strength and enthusiasm of the welcome they had received from all quarters – proving that the state’s famous aloha spirit is alive and well.