Beyond the glittery bling and big-town buzz of perennially popular Waikiki Beach, an Oahu vacation is all the more enriching if you head north. Grab a rental and make tracks for Haleiwa, the North Shore gateway, for the complete Town & Country experience. Getting there is half the fun, because you have two wildly distinct choices. I opted to meander back to Honolulu Airport, at the end of my trip, along the lush Windward Coast, through sleepy hamlets with roadside stands selling succulent mangoes, bright tropical pareu, fresh corn, and pond-raised prawns.
The route offers the most arresting vistas of those emerald-hued volcanic ranges, with their strikingly corrugated folds of Jurassic Park fame. Huddled at its base is the famed movie-set location of Kualoa Ranch. But when you’re first heading to the North Shore, take the Central Oahu route via H2. The red-earthed heart of the island is a broad and fertile valley, where pineapple and sugar-canes march their way to the Waianae Mountains. An hour out of Honolulu and just past Wahiawa, the route becomes the Kamehameha Highway (H99) which is where I made my first stop.
How could you possibly pass the Dole Pineapple Plantation and the delectable temptation of devouring a scoop or two of Dole Whip? This pineapple-infused soft-serve delight is just the first of many signature tastes that radiantly embodies the sensory allure of North Oahu. I dropped by early morning, sans the crowds, downing my Dole Whip while gazing at the Pineapple Express locomotive, which heartily blew its whistle to herald the start of the new day’s service. It’s just 10 minutes drive from Dole Plantation to Haleiwa, Hawaii’s surf city.
This quaint and rustic sugar-plantation town now enjoys historic protection. Its ensemble of faded clapboard stores, strung around a picturesque harbour, sets the stage for the surfie crowd, who flock here from all over the planet. Haleiwa is their holy-grail, a surf mecca, groaning with raffishly charming roadside surfie stores, boutique galleries and eateries.
But the most compelling mercantile landmark would have to be Surf N Sea, where its vintage architecture pays homage to its legacy. Originally, the century-old beachfront building was a train station with accommodation upstairs. The Haleiwa Hotel was Hawaii’s first destination resort, before morphing into a general store after World War II. Since 1965, it’s been home to Surf N Sea, Hawaii’s oldest surf and dive shop.
Joe Green has been the ebullient owner for the past 35 years and warmly welcomed me into his part-shop, part-ocean sports shrine, brimming with over 300 surfboards and every imaginable surf brand. Feasting my eyes on all of the surf memorabilia, it’s no wonder many surfies consider this place museum-worthy. The rustic ceilings and walls hold Green’s personal collection of vintage surfboards, including the Duke’s final fibreglass board from 1968. Joe is also a master ukulele-maker, all handmade from 100% recycled wood, including mango, koa and opuma.
Joe salvaged and reshaped ipe wood from the building’s floors, which he has repurposed into the fret board bridges adorning all of his ukuleles. Impeccably designed, they’re an incomparable buy – an authentic slice of Haleiwa to take home. Joe patiently tried to teach me how to play the ukulele – with mixed results. More iconic North Shore tastes were calling, and just down the road from Surf N Sea is Matsumoto Shave Ice’s original store in Haleiwa. Established in 1951, the pioneers of Hawaiian snow cones were doing a roaring trade when I lined up for my rainbow-striped offering of sweet syrup infused shave ice.
Then there’s Ted’s Bakery, another North Shore legend, where you’ll swoon over their insatiable chocolate haupia pie. It is chocolaty, coconutty and encrusted with macadamias. What a knock-out! And you’ll want to stake out the hole in the wall bakery in the middle of a field, just west of Haleiwa. Paalaa Kai bakery is a 40 year old institution beloved for its freshly-made snow puffies, flaky and buttery pastries, stuffed with cold, creamy custard and topped with swirls of chocolate fudge. Sensational.
I also ventured to the Hukilau Marketplace in La’ie. It’s home to a headrush of taste temptations like fresh fish taco, but be sure to leave room for a lilikoi roll from Aunty Emily’s Bakery. It’s a superlight pastry slathered in passionfruit icing.
Feeling suitably guilty after so much decadence, a sweet spot to burn-off the calorific excess is Waimea Valley. Operate as a not-for-profit conservancy, this botanical and scenic natural wonderland offers a lush walk into the past. The valley brims with cultural artisans and archaeological sites, including the 600-year-old memorial to the Hawaiian god Lono, the god of peace, fertility, and agriculture. There’s over 5000 botanicals, including hibiscus and orchids, showcased in this undulating valley sanctuary which eventually threads you up to the magnificent Waimea waterfall. Reward yourself with a soothing swim in the rock pool. www.gohawaii.com/nz
Back on the shoreline, Waimea Bay’s epic surf makes it a mecca for the world’s best big-wave surfers. Watching those giant rollers and those who dare to ride them is compellingly addictive, all along the North Shore. I opted to stay just east of Waimea bay at Turtle Bay Resort, a staggering retreat where the ferociously pounding waves spectacularly break on either side of the hotel, which is blissfully perched on Kuilima Point.
This expansive 840-acre retreat is the North Shore’s one and only resort. You may well recognise it from Lost and The Hunger Games which both filmed here on-location. Strung along a natural rustic coastline, it’s the unrivalled elemental experience, it’s multi-sensory communion with nature which really sets it apart. It absolutely walks the talk on being eco-conscious, exemplified by its vast green roof, brimming with plants and rock gardens, its reliance on solar power and concerted commitment to sourcing seasonal food from local farms.
There’s a range of sumptuous accommodation options including beach cottages and ocean villas, plus glamping yurts are currently being added. Creature comforts and stylish design elements are laid on thickly. Think Brazilian chestnut floors, Bose sound systems, flat-screen TVs, soaking tubs and i-pod docking stations. I stayed in a freshly renovated guestroom in the main triple-winged hotel, artfully designed to accentuate the intimate ocean experience, effortlessly lulled to sleep by breaking waves.
Deliberately constructed with a tilt to the west, the sunsets are beyond seraphic. Wrapped in such abundant raw beauty, Turtle Bay Resort is loaded with activity options, whether you just want to soak in one of the two pools, snorkel in the cove, receive a massage in a tree house, go for a horseback ride, swing the golf clubs, or learn how to surf. www.turtlebayresort.com
From the moment you step on board, you’ll experience Hawaiian Airlines’ signature hospitality with its warm and friendly celebration of the Aloha Spirit. Hawaiian Airlines operates new 278-seat, Airbus A330-200 aircraft and flies up to five times weekly from Auckland to Honolulu and on to 13 U.S. Mainland cities, with Boston being the latest destination. If you’re flying to Auckland, Jetstar offers an interline partnership with Hawaiian Airlines, for more seamless connections. Extra Comfort: For just NZD$139 per person per sector, you can treat yourself to Hawaiian Airlines’ Extra Comfort Economy Seats and enjoy five or more inches of legroom, priority boarding, personal electronic power outlet and amenity kit. All fares and classes include excellent meals and beverages, on-demand seat-back entertainment and a generous 64kg free checked baggage allowance. (2 bags x 32kg per piece.) https://www.hawaiianairlines.co.nz