TIO In Hawaii: Whales, Turtles, & Surf, Oh My!
Not long after we finished our marathon run around America in early November, Sus and I decided we wanted to take a “warm break” this winter. Susan hasn’t done much downhill skiing the past few seasons, favoring x-country, so breaking up the winter seemed a good idea.
Where to go?
What to do?
We considered getting a boat in the Caribbean. No, we wanted to just chill (thaw?), and didn’t feel like we could get away this time for long enough. Hawaii? We’d never been to Hawaii together, and both of us have good memories of the Islands. So, Maui? Good idea, but I also have some friends on Oahu, and it had been a long time… We finally decided to fly to Honolulu, visit my friends for a few days, then have some alone time at a resort on the North Shore of Oahu.
Our vacation started with a car trip to Los Angeles, with enroute stops. In a previous post, Susan described our memorable overnight stay at La Posada in Winslow, Arizona. From there, we drove to spend a great evening with our friends John and Marcia Cohen at their beautiful, edgy home in the hills above Santa Barbara, followed by two nights in Los Angeles to catch up with Susan’s sister Debra and husband Steve. These visits always seem like double-dipping: Steve and Deb are not only family, but cherished friends.
Then it was off to Hawaii.
Flying into Honolulu, even in the back of the airplane, reminds me of the wide-eyed young adventurer I thought of myself as being in early 1966 when I first began flying there. I was a newbie flight engineer on a Northwest Airlines 707 just starting my career as a pilot. Bob Gould was in my new-hire class at Northwest, and we had an instant connection that has continued until today.
Bob and his wife Gretchen have lived on a beautiful piece of waterfront on Kaneohe Bay for many years, but it has been some time since I visited. This was the first time I’d seen their new home on the property, with its stunning views across Kaneohe Bay to the mountains behind. Susan had heard me talk about the Goulds, but until this trip, they were names without form in my history. The two days we spent together, however, re-cemented the long-standing friendship, with my wife welcomed with open arms.
While we were in Kaneohe Bay, Sus and I took just one short hike, a steep climb up a volcanic ridge above the Makapu’u Lookout. Views were a bit restricted because of Kona winds and some volcano activity on the Big Island; it was beautiful anyway. The obligatory saltwater dip at the beautiful little beach at the base of the hill under the Makapu’u Lighthouse followed.
Dinner with the Goulds that night was at Haleiwa Joe’s, where I ate more prime rib than I’ve had for years. Later we went to an open pavilion on the campus of Windward Community College to listen to an “Evening of Hawaiian Jazz,” a fundraiser to pay for a recently acquired Steinway. Listening to the trio in the warm Hawaiian evening: a perfect cap on a beautiful day.
Next stop: Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s fabled North Shore, with a stop en route for some delicious garlic shrimp washed down with a frosty Big Island craft beer at one of many popular little roadside “truck stops” in Kahuku. By the time we checked in, it was just too easy to relax in our sixth-floor room, veranda looking out over the famous North Shore surf. We didn’t manage to get out until it was time to dine at Pa’Akai, Turtle Bay’s signature fine dining restaurant. Did I mention that Turtle Bay has just undergone a major, big-dollar renovation? All I can say is, take any reviews from before Fall 2014 with a grain of salt: the place is beautiful; the dining first rate; the staff obsessively service-oriented. Our dinner at Pa’Akai was delicious, clean, fresh and served beautifully with a smile.
Next morning we were scheduled for a kayak tour of a small bay close to the hotel.
I had been concerned it might be cancelled, as the surf was booming, but Shaka Kayaks assured us that the direction of the seas meant our little protected bay for the outing would be relatively tame. We spent two hours stalking the green sea turtles that call those waters home. And we saw many: old ones, juveniles, youngsters, male, female, and generally had a great time, taking care to watch for the occasional swell coming into the bay so we didn’t end up in the drink. It was a fun morning, despite a light rain that dampened things a bit at the beginning.
For lunch, we drove down the coast to the pretty little town of Haleiwa, where we passed up the shrimp trucks and sat in the bar at Haleiwa Joe’s (yes, related to the one in Kaneohe) for a very fresh fish taco for me, an ahi sandwich for Sus. Bar food doesn’t get any better. After lunch we drove past Dillingham Airfield (the weather forced cancellation of the glider ride we had planned) to walk out on Ka’ena Point, a bird sanctuary. We didn’t see any of the protected albatrosses, but it was a nice walk along a wild piece of coastline void of other tourists.
Our last day began with a drive back to Haleiwa to meet our fellow whale-watchers at North Shore Catamaran Charters. Captain Don and his helper, Pat, made a smooth departure out of the calm water of the marina, out the channel beyond the reef, where the humpback whales quickly made their large presence known. We saw whales on the surface, whales spouting, whales breeching, whales diving, their big flukes the last signal of their deep dive. At one point Captain Don stopped the outboard engine, drifted with a hydrophone in the water so we could rubberneck on whale love songs. Pretty neat. And a good trick, so far unexplained, without vocal chords.
Lunch was at VJ’s North Shore Dogs and Burgers, a trailer in a park of similar foodie vehicles at the south end of Haleiwa. Another score – the food was fresh, clean and local. On our way back to Turtle Bay we stopped at Waimae Valley, where we took the short 3/4 mile walk up to the Waimae Falls – or trickle – tame because of no recent major rains to bump up the volume. The park is pretty, with history thrown in for good measure, but the easy walk, along with electric carts for those for whom a mile-and-a-half round trip is too much, means you’ll be sharing the experience with lots of people. I’m glad we saw the place, but I won’t have any problem passing on that stop on any future trip.
On our last night, we enjoyed a very nice light dinner at The Point, Turtle Bay’s pool bar, with a menu the website describes as “farm-to-pool,” and we can confirm it was that fresh. The evening was one more opportunity to savor the service at Turtle Bay. Our waitress, Christina, a poster child for the quality service we experienced at the resort throughout our stay, took the time to share a smile and her enthusiasm – without neglecting her other patrons. Delightful. And efficient.
Now we’re on our way home, spending two more nights in Los Angeles before getting back on the road. In the airport in Honolulu yesterday we watched the first quarter of the Seattle-Green Bay conference final football game, long enough to feel it was unlikely the Seahawks would be in the Super Bowl. Updates from the cockpit did little to soothe my feelings, so it was a surprise after that long game to learn that a miracle had been engineered in the final minutes of regulation play, then to learn of the late field goal by the Packers that sent it into overtime.
And then the rapid drive that ended with a Seattle victory.
What a way to come home!
And now to return to Telluride, to Gina the Dog, and the vacation that is our life…
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