The vibe: Secluded ocean escape
Location: 57-091 Kamehameha Highway, Kahuku, Hawai’i | View on Google Maps
Book now: Website
I’m fresh off a weekend at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of O’ahu, the only hotel of its caliber on this wilder, less developed, and more secluded part of the island. Case in point: The spring break crowd was there when I was, and while the pool area got a little jammed, the 1,300-acre resort never felt overcrowded. The sheer space was one of the many reasons I fell in love with this retreat, which made it onto our annual Stay List in 2021 for its spectacular renovation.
All of Turtle Bay’s 408 rooms and suites feature ocean views, and the sea and land are a huge part of the hotel experience. The staff’s commitment to environmental sustainability is palpable to guests: Meals are prepared with leafy greens, beets, and other crops from the resort’s own Kuilima Farm, a plot of land five minutes from the hotel; the 18-hole golf course is maintained with gray water treated by the resort’s own plant.
One of the best things I did to understand the local ecosystem was a birding experience led by Captain Scott Sundby, who runs Shaka Kayaks and has lived on the North Shore for two decades. On an electric golf cart tour of the property, half of which is set aside permanently for conservation, Scott told us about the ‘alae ‘ula, or Hawaiian common gallinule, which according to Hawaiian legend got its fiery red forehead from the gods. He told us how the kōlea, or the Pacific golden plover, is the reason Polynesians discovered the Hawaiian islands.
Along the resort’s sandy beach, we spotted Hawaiian monk seals, one of the world’s most endangered seal species. The coastline here is also set within the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, which sprawls for more than 1,200 nautical square miles and in the winter is the site of breeding, calving, and nursing. Lucky us: We saw the endangered whales breaching offshore during our tour.
Turtle Bay also offered my first foray into surfing—an activity Polynesians brought to the Hawaiian islands that such local legends as Duke Kahanamoku later helped bring to the wider world. Less than two years ago, the resort partnered with North Shore native Jamie O’Brien, a world surfing champ. Today, his only surf school is located on the property. One easy stroll and you’re outfitted with a surfboard, an instructor vetted by Jamie, and often an encounter with Jamie himself, who likes to be present at his school to connect with aspiring surfers and fans.
For one of my surf lessons, I went out with Jamie and his girlfriend, Tina Cohen, a hapa haole of Japanese descent like me who grew up on the North Shore and has a cool surf swimwear line called Aokai with her sister, Sally Cohen, a competitive surfer. Their angle: Whenever you catch a wave, your suit is guaranteed to stay on, and you’ll still look stylish.
The surf break at Turtle Bay is located right in front of the resort, and my Aunty Elaine, a Honolulu local who was traveling with me, was able to watch me from our balcony. Jamie is a gifted instructor: Every time I caught a wave, I learned something new, whether it was to balance on my board, to keep my feet flat, to not stand up too tall too fast, or to paddle faster when the wind was working against me. Most importantly to me, learning to surf helped me connect with the ocean. I’ll never forget sitting on my board, gazing at a swell I might want to ride—and catching a glimpse of a humpback whale breaching. Or spotting a honu, a Pacific green turtle, pop its head up near us surfers. Those in-between times offered me moments of solitude that let me ponder the intimidating power—and breathtaking beauty—of the world’s largest ecosystem.