When my girlfriend and I decided to travel to Hawaii, we found a simple approach to vacationing necessary to counterbalance our extravagant tropical destination. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the most enjoyable experiences that we had in Paradise were amazingly inexpensive and, in many cases, free.
The first and probably most important decision we made was where we decided to stay. We found a great place on the north side of Oahu. It was a one-bedroom apartment, with a full kitchen, dining and living area right on the ocean. We saved a lot of money by having one or two meals each day on our deck overlooking the Pacific. There is nothing like having a front-row seat in your own private beachside bistro. Being on the windward side of the island, there was a constant breeze coming off the ocean and through the open windows. It is kind of like America’s Heartland in the spring, but replacing the dust and tornados was a cool ocean mist. We rented the upper level of the duplex unit for less than half of what it would cost for a hotel on Waikiki Beach that might not even have an ocean view. I did a little research and found quite a few similar beach houses around this area for the same price.
Travel is inexpensive since every island destination is within an hour’s driving distance. In addition, if you don’t want to drive yourself there is a public bus system that will take you wherever you want to go. We had a rental car and took one day to travel to the south side of the island and visit some of the sites in Honolulu, including Waikiki and Pearl Harbor. The trip from the small town of Laie where we were staying took about 50 minutes as we traveled through beautiful mountain scrapes and ocean views. Waikiki is a must-see and Honolulu, like most large cities, has all the shopping, food and entertainment options you would expect from a large city. Pearl Harbor is another required stop on your trip to Paradise. You can spend hours in the free museum reading about the Japanese attack that spurred the United States into World War II.
Spending one day to see the big city was enough for us. We made our way back to the privacy and easy living back up north. And if you like privacy, the North Shore is the place to be. The locals call it The Country. They try hard to maintain the country feel by fighting big developers trying to buy up huge chucks of land for their massive resorts. It’s a laid-back atmosphere with small shops selling T-shirts and souvenirs for a fraction of what you would pay in Honolulu. Some of the more popular North Shore beaches like Pipeline and Sunset get especially busy during the winter months when surfers come out to catch the big waves. However, you can always find a secluded sandy cove nestled within the lava rock.
The North Shore is a 15-mile stretch known worldwide for its big waves. Called “the powder keg of the surf world,” it attracts thousands of people during December to see the best surfers in the world ride some of the biggest waves in the world.
It is tough to explain how big these waves really are without seeing them for yourself, but one thing I can tell you is if you get caught in the wake of one of these powerful giants the best thing to do is relax and ride it out. One of our favorite destinations was Waimea Bay Beach Park. You can wade out into the surf and test your skills at body surfing. This is where I found a new respect for the irresistible force of water in motion. I was smart enough to sit on shore and observe experienced wave riders before trying it myself. I learned that when they come to a large wave while paddling out into the surf, they duck under rather than riding over the wave. This way they go under the wave’s momentum, avoiding being sucked into the wave and pulled back to shore. The only problem is when greenhorns like me miscalculate the duck and end up sucked into force, jerked around like a rag doll in the whitewater and spit out on the beach. This is about the time that the lifeguard starts screaming over the loudspeaker warning inexperienced wave riders to stay out of the dangerous surf.
After taking in the saltwater abuse and spending 20 minutes at the shower getting all the sand out of your shorts, it was time to find a restaurant where we could relax, recover, and have a nice dinner. Here again is where the North Shore has it all over Waikiki and Honolulu. The restaurants here are great. We paid significantly less, and the food was outstanding. We found a great sushi bar, Mexican and the traditional Hawaiian fare. But the one place that had me coming back again and again was a motor home set up as a restaurant right on the North Shore beach called Shark’s Cove. We had breakfast there four or five times, and I don’t know if it was the fried rice, Portuguese sausage or just watching the morning surf crash over the break wall, but it will go down in my book as the most memorable dining experiences I’ve ever had.
Small towns line the North Shore coastline and there are plenty of opportunities for shopping and talking with the locals. It is interesting to find that these people have many of the same concerns we have here on the mainland. Many of the cars have bumper stickers that read “Keep the country COUNTRY” referring to an ongoing battle between the locals and an international developer who wants to expand its resort grounds. The North Shore resort would be change on a grand scale, and it has a lot of small business owners and lifelong residents scared for their futures. But for now, life in the country remains as it has for years. The pace is slower, the people are friendly, and the weather is beautiful.