One of the most apt and direct phrases uttered upon my recent return to Oahu, Hawaii’s third largest island, came during a visit to the famed North Shore. That portion of the island is wonderfully isolated and my base of operations centred on the renovated Turtle Bay Resort. One of the guides said it ever so succinctly: “Get out of the pool.”
The directive wasn’t meant to avoid the pleasures of Turtle Bay’s swimming pool—recently reopened, beautifully designed, and ever so receptive—but to explore the many different elements that make the North Shore area so inviting, so captivating, so truly Hawaiian.
Those unfamiliar with Hawaii may simply group all of the islands together and think of them as one and the same. Anyone who has been there, however, knows full well that each island has its own character, appeal, and fan base.
One of the major things I’ve learned during my global travels is the need for authenticity—no pre-packaged, contrived, or staged places. Visitors want a real connection, adding a deeper meaning to the time taken and money spent. After all, the whole dimension of travel is pushing beyond your comfort zone—to seek out, learn, and embrace what is new and thereby adding a certain spice, a lasting memory, to one’s own life.
This is especially so with Oahu’s North Shore.
Beyond Waikiki Beach
Those going to Oahu for the immediate Honolulu area will no doubt head to Waikiki Beach, where the 24/7 go-go-go atmosphere is renowned for its non-stop party frenzy. The constant drumbeat is electric and oftentimes the choreographed conga lines are nothing more than cheap and obvious touristy connections meant to feed into the stereotypical images many novice visitors have of Hawaii. The shows are generally crowd-pleasing but essentially vapid. The quintessential Hawaii is more than a bland rollout of Las Vegas razzmatazz and old-time New York burlesque schlock.
The North Shore is geared toward the outdoor adventurist, embracing a real tie to the land and the water. Thankfully, such elements are still present for those wanting much more than surface-level connections.
Having Turtle Bay serve as my hub provided the ideal location. The resort recently finished a major upgrade and the rooms have a 21st century feel now. Management has guided staff to encourage guests toward a “get out of the pool” approach. Of course, the facility has all the traditional elements: spa, golf, horseback riding, mopeds and bikes, tennis, pool, etc.
Golfing is aided by a quality Arnold Palmer design; the inward half of holes is quite good and has hosted numerous professional events. The companion George Fazio course, however, is much less in terms of design and needs to be upgraded. Curious to see the horse stables at the resort have a perfect view of the ocean—an ideal spot for a revamped Fazio Course to finish there instead.
The winter months are ideal for whale watching as the migration pattern takes whales from the cold waters of the North Pacific to the warmer climates in and around the Hawaiian Island chain. Sometimes you can easily see the whales from the shoreline but it’s best to rent a boat and get a closer peek.
IF YOU GO
- The North Shore is approximately a 90-minute car ride from the Honolulu International Airport. The ride is leisurely once you escape the greater Honolulu congestion. Works even better when taking the Kamehameha Highway (Route 83) which parallels the east side of the island where the views of the coastline are quite impressive.
- Schedule a helicopter tour of the area. A good bit of the topography is off limits to cars and hiking can be demanding for many, but a chopper ride takes you to all the key spots. I used the services of Paradise Helicopters; one of their choppers is the one used in the old “Magnum P.I.” television series. The ultimate tour is titled “The Magnum Experience” and covers all the key sites on Oahu such as the North Shore and Pearl Harbor. The one-hour tour costs $315 per person.
- Take a surfboard lesson at Turtle Bay’s Hans Hedemann Surf School, located in the main foyer. Hans is quite personal, as is his entire staff, and whether you’re an expert or just beginning the vibe is a most welcome one. Generally you get a two-hour lesson with fees varying from $150 for a single person to $125 for two. Group lessons of 3-4 cost $75 per person.
- Enjoy a sunset at the appropriately named Sunset Beach, just a five-minute drive from Turtle Bay. If you’re looking for the real surf action, there’s none finer than the Bonsai Pipeline, a surf reef break located off Sunset Beach Park. During the more turbulent winter months waves reach upwards of 30-40 feet. A great way to watch the finest in surfing ply their craft.
- Roughly 30 minutes from Turtle Bay is the Dole Plantation, which provides a solid educational awareness on what life was like on the plantation when such work was the backbone of the local economy. You can also enjoy the sweetest pineapples you’ll ever experience.
- Turtle Bay Resort gives a fifth night free with a $100/day dining credit when you stay for four nights.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.