AMERICA: SURFING FOR STARS

DAILY MAIL My star-spotting credentials are a little dubious. I once enjoyed a drink with a nice guy called Johnny; utterly oblivious to the fact that his surname was Depp. And on a film set I casually asked an actress her name; a puzzled Barbara Streisand soon put me right. This lousy track-record needed improving, so I set out to four of Hawaii’s islands to hone my skills and unearth some of the places where A-list stars hang out.
Hawaii has attracted the elite of Hollywood since the 1920’s. The exotic location is just five hours from LA and the diverse nature of the islands provides anything from high-octane glamour to respite from the bustle and razzmatazz of tinsel-town. Here’s the low-down on the Hawaiian high-life.

Oahu is probably Hawaii’s raciest island; home to Waikiki Beach, night-clubs and bars, any number of flashy restaurants and shops that will make your eyes water. Yep, this is Bling-central, Bvlgari, Cartier, Harry Winston and Rolex – as well as every designer shop you can shake your wallet at – all vie for the attention of very rich holiday makers. Who could they be? Hollywood royalty – in droves.

Like an endangered species in the Borneo jungle, they’re difficult to track down, but not impossible. It’s a case of finding their natural habitat. Browsing over diamonds and silks in any of the stores above is a good starting point. But you’ll most likely catch sight of the B-list here as the top stars will have million-dollar baubles brought direct to their hotel suites.

In which case, it’s time to check into stars-ville Hawaii: The Kahala. This is the regular haunt of Will Smith, the Osbournes, Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake. A veritable galaxy of the silver screen’s finest come to this luxurious resort to wind down, but at a price.

If your budget doesn’t quite stretch to staying with celebs, then perhaps dining in the same restaurant at one of the many eateries around Waikiki will suffice instead. The breezy and relaxed vibe at the Halekulani hotel’s Orchid restaurant fits the bill perfectly. Ben Affleck, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Morgan Freeman and Britain’s own Ruby Wax have all chomped their way through the pan Pacific menu here; but not, alas, during my visit.

That didn’t put me off, and I headed over to Kyo-ya. Some of Waikiki’s best Japanese cuisine is served up here by kimono-clad waitresses and, judging by a couple of covert snappers hanging out across the road, a star had to be in residence. I guess I don’t have the paparazzi instinct and couldn’t quite bring myself to trawl around the busy tables to find my prey – so settled for the delicious sashimi instead, albeit in anonymous stellar company.

Old style glamour is to be found at the Royal Hawaiian Mai-tai bar, Valentino stayed here in his time (the Sheikh of the desert rather than the designer) and Liz Taylor was partial to the cocktails on offer too. What better way to soak up fame by association?

And for those of you who want to party long into the night with the frisson generated by celebutantes, then make a beeline for the Wonder Lounge atop of the W Hotel. Make sure you have plenty of attitude as you stride into the hippest bar in town.

Maui Island has an altogether different vibe; more homely and less frenetic, even so it attracts some very high calibre guests – and second homers. Miss Winfrey has a 200 acre estate on the island that’s known locally as Oprahland. But she’s obviously not got all the mod-cons – my tip for hobnobbing with the queen of daytime TV is to book a session at the Four Season’s spa in Wailea, that’s what Oprah does when she needs a little rub-down. But there’s just one snag; mere mortals have got to stay there to do so. You’ll be in good company though; Elton John likes to hang out here under the nom-de-plume of Fred Flintstone.

Over in Lahaina, fifteen miles up the road, you’ll find a bizarre combination of old-time fishing village and Hollywood ghetto. “We see them all” said one local to me. “But sometimes it’s a shock. The other day I was thinking just who is that old matron? And it was Stevie Nicks. A lot of those rockers are all so wrinkly now.”

The reason why the celebrity hordes are drawn to this part is because they can generally do their own thing without being too conspicuous. “They love it man, because Maui is chilled”; at least that was the theory expounded by Kai at a gallery called Celebrites. This place is the equivalent of Stars-R-Us; if you’ve failed to spot the living thing then bowl up here to buy some of the artwork doodled by the likes of David Bowie and Ronnie Wood among many. Trying to name one A-lister who hasn’t been through the doors is nigh impossible. Paris Hilton made it her first stop after getting out of jail and Kai will be happy to tell you about the zillions of signed photos lining the walls.

A virtual guarantee of seeing high-fliers in the starry flesh can be made by booking a table at Hali’imaile General Store. Helen Hunt, Sharon Stone, Harrison Ford, Rob Lowe and Kevin Spacey are all regulars when in town. And you get the added benefit of tucking into some first rate nosh like the speciality of the house, “sashimi Napoleon”.

If you get tired of rubber-necking, abandon your mission and head off for a well-earned Margarita at the Lahaina Store Grille and Oyster Bar. During happy-hour it’ll set you back a bargain $3 but there’s the likelihood you’ll be joined by one of the baseball stars who favour the joint.

A gentle stroll around the galleries in Front Street makes for a welcome diversion; but stardom is never far away. Higgins Harte International has a huge quota of artworks by household names; Sir Anthony Hopkins, Anthony Quinn and Tony Curtis exhibit their paintings here. Gallery director Lawrence Lavalle has seen all the movers and shakers pass through. “My favourites are the serious actors,” he says. “He looks like a ravioli salesman,” the director remarks, referring to one such actor, “He’s a regular guy. Some of the young stars make a big deal about trying to hide; but y’know what? We don’t care, that’s why they come here!”

Lanai is the quietest island of the quartet I visited, and the most exclusive. The entire island is owned by one man and there are just two chi-chi hotels run by the Fours Seasons to stay at; one by the sea and the other in the uplands.

This tiny place has an extraordinary microclimate, the beach is hot and humid, but just a few miles inland the atmosphere is cool and lush. So depending on where you’ve rested your head, the alternative climate is never more than ten minutes away. Like all the Hawaiian Islands, golf is big around here too. Two championship courses cater to the needs of a very particular crowd; those who like discretion. Trying to prise any names out of the manager was impossible, his lips were sealed.

He added, “this is a getaway from everything and everyone, celebrities can move around the island freely without the threat of a long lens; it has total privacy. We have confidentiality agreements; that’s why stars come here.”

And it really is discrete, so mush so that Bill Gates saw fit to book out the entire island when he tied the knot a few years back. I got to visit the hallowed turf, a dramatic promontory jutting out over the crashing Pacific waves below. But why the world’s richest man chose the 12th hole on a golf course for his nuptials is beyond me.

My final destination was Kauai – an island famed for its nature. The Waimea Canyon cuts a 3,000 ft gash through the raw, elemental mountains that loom above some of the best surfing beaches anywhere. It’s pretty damn photogenic too, reason enough to be the setting for the Jurassic Park movies as well as Lost and a thousand other productions. It’s worth jumping aboard the Hawaii Movie Tour bus to visit the locations in which they were filmed.

You might even stumble upon the leads in current productions. While I was there Ben Affleck was shooting his latest blockbuster, Tropic Thunder, a star-studded feast that also has Tom Cruise, Nick Nolte and Robert Downey Jr on board.

Kauai is the island where Pierce Brosnan, Bette Midler, Beau Bridges and Ben Stiller have set up homes. It’s easy to imagine they won’t be too happy to have you gawping over their fence-lines, but that’s not to say you won’t bump into them. If you’ve brought your sneakers, then go for an early morning jog along the golden sands of Kalihwai Beach – it’s where Ben can be found keeping fit.

If you’re not jogging, then you’ve got to surf. The waves, especially the north side of the island, regularly jut 20 feet high during the winter months. It’s this surfer-dude lifestyle that attracts people like Harrison Ford, the cast of Friends and Matt Damon to perhaps the coolest and most laid-back of the islands I visited.

Before I left for the airport, a local guy told me about the time he’d bumped into a woman carrying shopping on the street, “I said sorry and moved on, but it was only afterwards that I realised she was Julia Roberts.” His admission came as relief, even those in star-central don’t get to recognise Hollywood royalty.

And did I actually get to see any stars while touring around Hawaii? Well, as I’ve already explained, I might have been sitting next to them in a bar and wouldn’t have had the faintest idea. Good hunting!

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