Explore the delights — snorkeling, sea turtles, shave ice — of Hawaii's North Shore
Hawaii's North Shore is more than a place to hang 10. Horseback rides, luaus and face-to-face encounters with sharks are just a few of the attractions.
If you go
Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau
For tourist information, phone 800-GO-HAWAII or see www.gohawaii.com/.
There's a place where the sun sets in moody pinks at the end of a deserted beach, where waterfalls and sea turtles are prime attractions. A place where the rain doesn't matter, a $12 shrimp plate can satisfy a family of four, and all lost surfboards go to heaven.
It's the Hawaii so many people come to see and too few actually do. Yet this side of Hawaii lies only 30 miles northwest of Honolulu, along the North Shore of the island of Oahu.
Some of the largest waves on Earth thunder ashore here and have made the Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach renowned among surfers — the Triple Crown of Surfing is won or lost here. Yet the North Shore's not just for surfers. It's an enriching day trip or overnighter for anyone with ambitions to explore the island of Oahu beyond Honolulu and its fast-paced hotel zone of Waikiki. The most direct route out of Honolulu cuts directly across the island through the wide valley between the Waianae Mountains to the west and the Koolau Range to the east (head out of Honolulu toward Interstate H2). In 45 minutes you're at the North Shore, unless you stop for a frozen pineapple whip at Dole Plantation or pull off the road for a closer look at the coffee farms en route. You can drive this yourself or sign up for a day on The Surf Bus (808-226-7299 or www.northshoresurfbus.com), a van whose surfing proprietors, Justin and Leila, pick up/drop off at Waikiki hotels, show you around the heart of the North Shore and allow you free time to do your own thing while there.
The long way around follows the eastern coastline of Oahu, mostly on Hawaii Highway 83, or Kamehameha Highway, with blue-water ocean on one side of the road and velvety-green mountain palisades on the other. Only the most hurried of souls resist stopping at one of the many beach parks. Compared to the beaches of the North Shore, the waves are relatively gentler along this section of coastline.
It's hard to say exactly where the North Shore begins and ends, but the map that the North Shore Chamber of Commerce (808-637-4558; www.gonorthshore.org) hands out covers the island from the YMCA's Camp Erdman, with a seaside pool and challenge course west of the town of Waialua, near the northwest tip of Kaena Point all the way east to Kualoa Ranch and Kualoa Regional Park, a hillside adventure outfit across the road from a beach park, on the island's eastern side. It's roughly a 30-mile stretch.
Between Kaena Point and the community of Haleiwa, the shoreline runs true east-west and is anchored by Mokuleia Bay Beach Park, where you're likely to see kite surfers testing the waves. The beach runs beyond park boundaries in both directions, with many spots to park and have the sand and surf all to yourself. This is as good a spot as any to go wading — don't go more than knee deep — as long as you remember there are lava boulders lurking beneath the surface and respect the fact that the oceans of Hawaii can change in an instant from docile to dangerous.
If the beach and the mountains in the background look familiar, you've probably been watching the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning "Lost," which is filmed here, in part.
Here, too, is Dillingham Airfield, where the TV series' burned and broken airplane fuselage purportedly is stored between shootings, and from which you can take to the nonmotorized skies with The Original Glider Rides (808-637-0207; www.gliderridehawaii.com). Rides for single/double passengers start at 10 minutes ($59/$98) and can last as long as an hour ($178/$316).
About 3 miles north of this shore, in the open ocean, North Shore Shark Adventures (808-228-5900; www.sharktourshawaii.com) lowers its shark cage into the water. Anyone who pays the fare ($120), can snorkel and has the nerve can jump in the shark cage for a look-see ... at whatever might be looking back. The boat puts in at Haleiwa Boat Harbor.
Shrimp and shaved ice
Haleiwa, population 2,225, begins with the shrimp trucks, ends with the shave-ice stands — or vice versa — and reigns as uncrowned capital of the North Shore. There's a surf museum in a small shopping center that doubles as town square and seems to be closed — the museum, that is — more often than not. The surfboard heaven is in the yard next door. That's where, between jam sessions, Ron Artis and his Family Band paint and display lost and broken surfboards, turning them into works of art.
The shrimp trucks are parked at the end of town. These days, there are usually three of them doing business in a clearing set with a few picnic tables near a creek. The most famous of these is Giovanni's, which doles out shrimp plates ($12) from the window of a graffiti-racked panel truck. The hefty servings are cooked either mild in butter and garlic or so spicy-hot, their sign warns, there's a no-money-back guarantee.
On the opposite end of town, nearest Hawaii 83, is M. Matsumoto Grocery Store (808-637-4827; www.matsumotoshaveice.com), one of the most revered of all places that serve Hawaiian shave ice. The treat is a snow cone (about $3) doused with tropical fruit-flavored syrups. But the most authentic versions start with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the base covered with a layer of sweet azuki beans (akin to Boston baked beans) before the "snow" part of the cone is formed. They hand it over in a plastic cup with a wide, petal-like collar to catch drips.
Snorkeling or cycling
From Haleiwa, the coast turns northeast. Hawaii 83, which follows it, soon brings you to Waimea Bay Beach Park. It's a relatively calm area for swimming where the Waimea River flows into the sea. Upriver is Waimea Valley ($10). A walk of its trails leads past the foundations of a village predating Western contact, and the walk culminates at Waimea Falls. Conditions permitting, you can swim in the pool at the waterfall's base, safe in the knowledge that you are doing so at the only waterfall pool in the islands that has a lifeguard on duty. At the place where the Waimea River meets the sea, there's a protected, if steep, beach with facilities at Waimea Beach Park. It tends to attract swimmers and the pool-toy crowd.
A bit farther along the coast is Shark's Cove, popular with snorkelers. The bike trail that starts here follows the road past Ehukai Beach Park and on to Sunset Beach Park. Record-breaking waves aren't the only things that come ashore in this region. So do Hawaiian green sea turtles, looking so much like the weathered lava boulders it's hard to tell animal from mineral.
Near the northernmost tip of the island lies Turtle Bay, that is, the bay itself and the resort and golf course. Except for a roadside motel in Laie and vacation rentals scattered about, Turtle Bay Resort (800-203-3650; www.turtlebayresort.com) is the only place to stay on this side of Oahu, so it's just as well that the rooms have been renovated. Among the resort's offerings are shoreline horseback rides ($50) through an ironwood forest that figured in episodes of "Lost." The resort is also where the film "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," released in the spring, was shot.
Break for a luau
Once you leave Turtle Bay and pass through the village of Kahuku, you're really on Oahu's eastern shore, headed southeast.
At Laie, the Polynesian Cultural Center (800-367-7060; www.polynesia.com) alone is worth a full day. Seven distinct villages re-create the cultures of Hawaii, Samoa, Maori New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti, the Marquesas and Tonga. This also is where you'll see the canoe pageant memorialized in the 1966 Elvis movie "Paradise Hawaiian Style." They offer a good luau here and the stage show "Horizons," a Polynesian review a (from $83 for full-day admission, luau and show). Kualoa Ranch and park are on down the road, a road whose scenery compares with that of Kauai's Napali Coast. It may even be better because you don't need a boat to see it.
In all, the trip from the Y's Camp Erdman to Kualoa spans about 30 miles. But it covers so much more than that. And you've been leaving it to the surfers all this time.
Information in this article, originally published August 24, 2008, was corrected September 3, 2008. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the island treat of shave ice as shaved ice in the headline.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company