The Honolulu neighbourhood of Waikiki is experiencing a renaissance. A key element of that rebirth has been the transformation of a centrally located retro high-rise on Kalakaua Avenue, just one block back from the beach. What was a generic Holiday Inn is now the one-of-a-kind Waikiki Beachcomber by Outrigger. It officially launched in April 2019.
There are obviously limits to what can be done when working with a 1970s building but, as part of the intensive, year-long $US35 million renovation, "every wall has been touched" reports general manager Ike Cockett. Check-in happens on level one, where the palette is cool and the reception warm. Cane furniture, comfy couches and faux-timber features against a white backdrop create a beach-house feel. The hotel's anchor restaurant, Maui Brewing Co, and affiliated cafe, Hawaiian Aroma Caffe, are on the same level. Seventy per cent of the hotel's 498 rooms have ocean views.
What really sets this renovation apart is the hotel's ongoing collaboration with 12 handpicked local artists, musicians, designers, photographers and tastemakers – dubbed the Beachcomber Originals – who have infused the revamped space with images, tastes, sounds and smells of Waikiki. The "B Original" series includes everything from Hawaiian fibre art and aerial photography to a 24-storey hand-drawn mural and a custom-made downloadable soundtrack. Several times a year the hotel's pool terrace is transformed into the Terrace of Modern Art (TOMA) to showcase the work of more local artists.
I sleep in a king bed under a breaking wave. The rectangular room is freshly painted, and decorated with works by printmaker Abigail Romanchak and photographer Zak Noyle – it's one of his dynamic water shots that fills the entire wall behind my bed. There's a 55-inch smart TV, free Wi-Fi and a coffee machine. My Ocean View room on level 21 has a small balcony with a view over beachfront buildings to the wide blue Pacific. Whenever I'm in my room I'm wrapped in one of the hotel's colourful yukata-style bathrobes.
Maui Brewing Co prepares dishes in a scratch kitchen where, you guessed it, everything is made from scratch and the only food they ever freeze is ice-cream. When I arrive in Honolulu I check in, throw my bag in my room and go there for a delicious late lunch of ahi poke (raw cubed fish) tostadas, crispy calamari and pork belly bao. There are classic and creative cocktails to choose from, and craft beer by the glass or as a tasting flight of four. Hawaiian Aroma Caffe serves breakfast early and stays open late into the evenings. Staff at both are fantastic.
The welcoming waters of Waikiki Beach are just one road-crossing and a quick slip down a surfboard-lined lane (though take a small diversion at least once to pick up a bullet coffee from Sunrise Shack). Go swimming, surfing or catch waves in a Hawaiian-style outrigger canoe. In the late afternoon I get on board Holokai Catamaran for a sunset sail.
The Waikiki Connection Trolley offers free transport for hotel guests to the start of the Diamond Head walking trail where, 1.3 sweaty kilometres later, you'll have amazing views of Oahu from the top. Back in town, spend 60 nail-biting, brain-bending, group-bonding, relationship-destroying minutes trying to escape at Breakout Waikiki (we got out with 54 seconds remaining).
Take your hungry selves along to Giovanni Pastrami for New York-style cuisine or Yard House for tasty food and a choice of 130 draft beers on tap. Duke's is a local institution and Beachhouse at the Moana makes an amazing poke nachos that is typically served at lunchtime with a side of live music.
Waikiki Beachcomber likes to think of itself as a four-star hotel that gives five-star service. This friendly Waikiki base has a vibe that peps you up as you walk out through reception and embraces you every time you return.
Rooms and suites from approximately $195 (plus tax) for a double. Outrigger's Discovery program rewards loyal guests with local cultural and activity-based experiences such as sailing on Holokai. See outrigger.com
The easy walking route to the beach via surfboard alley.
The Magic of Polynesia dinner show – advertised through the hotel and accessed via its reception area – seemed sexist and racist.
Elspeth Callender was a guest of Beachcomber Waikiki by Outrigger.