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Originally published Friday, December 26, 2008 at 12:36 PM

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Obama's Hawaii hideaway gives luxurious, quiet vacation

President-elect Obama and family get away from it all at luxurious Hawaii beachfront compound in the Kailua area

The Washington Post

KAILUA, Hawaii — When Barack Obama vacationed on Oahu as a presidential candidate in August, he was seen all over the island: playing basketball at his alma mater, eating shave ice with his daughters, bodysurfing in the Pacific, touring the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor and trekking to a scenic overlook atop windward peaks.

But this month, returning to his former home as president-elect, Obama has gone from Hawaii's tourist in chief to its hermit in chief. He has been unusually private at the start of his 13-day holiday vacation, in the process providing an early glimpse of what any tropical getaways as president may be like.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, have paid regular early-morning visits to a nearby Marine Corps base for workouts. And the president-elect has been photographed playing golf and splashing in the surf.

Otherwise, Obama has largely secluded his family at a compound of oceanfront estates, guarded by seven-foot walls made of thick stone and lava rock and nestled along a quiet sliver of white-sand beach where Hawaii's kings once gathered.

"People recognize that he came to Hawaii to rest and enjoy the holidays," said Charles Ogletree, a professor at Harvard Law School and close friend of the Obamas. "For the girls and Barack and Michelle, it was the right thing to do." Each time Barack Obama visits Hawaii, Ogletree said, "you could see the pressure released from his body."

Some locals said they understood why Obama has made the trip a quiet one. "Now that he's president-elect, there are very weighty matters to deal with," said John Monahan, president of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. "It's important that we all take the time to recuperate, and I think that's what he's doing. He's recharging the batteries."

With Hawaii nearly 5,000 miles from Washington, D.C. — at least a 10-hour flight — the westernmost state may not be a practical destination for Obama to make frequent trips, but friends have said he is likely to continue coming here for Christmas vacations.

If he does, the Kailua estate seems well designed to become a part-time presidential retreat. The property sits on a peninsula, with a single narrow road leading to it, offering plenty of privacy. David Zimel, whose firm, Paradise Point Estates, owns the property, said he helped Secret Service agents secure the property the week before Obama arrived. "They love the situation," Zimel said. "It's an absolutely perfect setting for him because it's at the end of the beach."

Still, beaches in Hawaii are public property, and an enterprising paparazzo from a California-based photo agency was able to walk onto Kailua beach and snap dozens of photographs of a shirtless Obama, his wife and their children, apparently within sight of Secret Service agents.

A few gawkers have come to the guard stand near the home, hoping to see the president-elect. Behind the wall, the Obamas are enjoying stunning seaside views from the master bedroom, heavy granite in the kitchen and detailed woodwork throughout. Tiki torches dot the manicured yard, while the recently remodeled interior features stone imported from Peru, Jerusalem and Italy, Zimel said. Decorated with a cut Christmas tree and poinsettias, the home is where the Obamas opened presents Thursday morning and were to enjoy a traditional dinner of turkey and ham.

One of Obama's high school friends in Hawaii negotiated a deal to rent the multimillion-dollar homes late this summer, Zimel said. The entire Kailua neighborhood once was the private estate of Samuel Castle, a sugar magnate whose Castle & Cooke company was one of the Big Five firms that dominated Hawaiian politics for decades. The Obamas' rental sits near land that used to be Castle's horse pasture and skeet ranch, neighbors said.

When Obama first walked through the house upon arrival on Saturday, "he just smiled," Zimel said. "A few times we heard a 'Wow'. "

Singer Cher was rumored to have been interested in buying the property a few years ago but never closed on a sale, Howell said. Asked if the estate is Oahu's most luxurious, she replied, "Oh, heavens, yes."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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