Photo Essay: Say Aloha To Oahu
Think Hawaii is all kitsch and touristy? In Oahu, hiking, retro design and seriously good eats are on the menu, as well as world-class surf breaks and insanely beautiful sunsets.
Hawaii is synonymous with paradise: the surf is forever up and the fish are always fresh (and cocktails even fresher). The Oahu you knew is changing; it’s shaking off the outdated styles of the 70s and 80s to make way for hotels, bars and restaurants that are more in line with its breezy, coastal way of life.
Despite the slow and steady transformation, some parts of Hawaii remain blissfully the same: Oahu’s landscape is as lush as ever, the North Shore is still surfing Mecca, and the island hasn’t lost its traditional core.
With it becoming easier for discerning travellers to find the on-point venues they’re accustomed to, it might just be possible to keep your aloha classy on Oahu. These photos may inspire you to see for yourself.
Oahu’s North Shore is an easy one-hour drive from Honolulu airport. The strip is as known for its rich surfing culture as it is for the laid-back vibe. It’s a great place to escape from the tourist hustle and bustle of Waikiki.
You’d do well to rent one of the many A-frame beach shacks nestled between palm trees that fringe the stretches of coastline. During the surf season, Quiksilver, Billabong and the like spend a fortune renting modest beach houses like these.
But at any time of year, the North Shore has plenty of sandy space for friends to stretch out and hang by the beach.
One main road runs through the North Shore; the Kamehameha Highway. To one side of the Kam Highway is ocean, the other, green mountains and valleys.
It’s a standard sight to see surfers carting their boards along the road in front of classic-looking beach cottages.
Hawaii did acai bowls long before they were big in Bondi. They’re ubiquitous, so it’d be rude not to try one. Make sure you grab fresh cut papaya on top.
Hale’iwa is a historic town, a former Christian outpost from the 1800’s. It’s the official entertainment centre of the North Shore.
It’s home to assorted surf stores, bars, cafes, boutiques, food trucks, and the forever packed Matsumoto Shave Ice, complete with day-tripping Japanese tour groups and glossies of Adam Sandler on the wall.
Another common site are the food trucks, and there are many renowned ones such as Elephant Thai (so popular, it’s now become an actual restaurant).
This garlic and lemon shrimp is from the renowned Giovanni’s Shrimp truck in Hale’iwa.
There are many spots surfers flock to, but some highlights include Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline. Here, a lifeguard takes a break at pipeline considering the rare sight – there are no waves!
While a lot of America has become gated community, a big draw card for the North Shore is that it is a place that proves everyone can get along nicely. Out-of-town surfers and the residents who cling to Kamehameha Highway form a community without a real name or town centre.
Dreamy sunsets – like this one at the aptly named Sunset Beach – are common. But there’s not much to do after 9pm as the serious surfers are off to bed to beat the crowds to the best breaks in the morning.
But it’s not all A-frames and shacks, the Turtle Bay Resort is the sole resort on the North Shore, with 880 acres on the ocean, horse trails, two golf courses, 10 tennis courts, and 443 rooms, cottages, and oceanfront villas.
And like most spots along the North Shore, it’s not a bad spot to watch the sunset.
Back towards the south of the Island is the world-famous Waikiki Beach, with it’s iconic views of Diamond Head crater.
Most travellers will wind up at Waikiki at some point; its famed golden shores are what most people think of when they dream of Hawaii.
The former playground of Hawaiian royalty, Waikiki is the tourist hub of Hawaiian Islands. One classic venue is the Moana Surf Rider, an example of contemporary Hawaiian architecture.
Another well-known haunt is The Royal Hawaiian, infamous for its flamingo pink exterior (and tanned patrons).
One of the most famous beaches in the world, attracting over four million visitors per year, Waikiki is a place that welcomes your donut, your floatie or your boogie board – visitors love lolling about in the calm, electric blue, bay-like beach.
It’s easily kitsch and commercial; in the past, Waikiki was known for its mega hotels and money, and not the place where you went to be cool. But that is changing, and the hotel scene is leading the charge.
Boutique hotels are cropping up all over town – one such example is The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club.
The pool is flanked by retro-looking loungers, and the hotel is decked out in a Mid-Century Modern aesthetic.
A favourite for Instagram is the pool, which says ‘Wish you were here’ at the bottom.
But it’s not all lazy days by the pool. Like all the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu is ripe for hiking, and the Lanikai Pillbox Trail is a good option if you want to avoid the crowds at Diamond Head.
Head there early in the AM to catch sunrise with just a handful of others, and see the peninsula arc out to each side of you, with lush verdant mountains to your rear.
The hike is relatively easy, and affords you spectacular views.
Ready for some fuel? It’s no secret that Bill Granger has a Hawaiian outpost of his wildly popular Bills cafe. There’s no stressing about whether the coffee will be good, and the feature bar pops with breezy green accents.
The timber-clad walls and ceilings, along with large skylight give an airy yet cosy aesthetic. Banquettes run along the verandah, and there’s a big, concrete staircase.
The modern yet cabin-like aesthetic and soothing green tones has become a Waikiki favourite.
And you can order some of your Aussie go-tos.
On the fringe of Waikiki is another hotel providing sophistication without stuffiness; The Modern Honolulu. Their pools alone are enough to get you through the door.
Claim a lounger and spend the day by the pool, sipping Evian or cocktails, ordering delicious food from the poolside bar. Day beds are also available.
The aesthetic is pleasing, and well, modern. Whites, creams, beiges and greys are balanced by pool-blues and strategically placed greenery.
The Modern Waikiki is a good choice for travellers with a keen eye for crisp, minimalist design. Rooms are simple yet luxurious and you’ll want for nothing.
The farm-to-table restaurant used to house Michelin-starred Morimoto Waikiki (a favourite of Barack Obama), and is well worth a visit. The property also features Hawaiian artists throughout.
The property is walkable to a nearby beach strewn with sun-bathed palms.
(Lead image and all images: Sonia Taylor)
Published 07 December, 2017