Hitting Waikiki Beach is something every traveller should experience – the baby waves are ideal for beginner surfers looking to try their luck and there are plenty of deck chairs on the sand for some cool coconut sipping set against a backdrop of retro hotels and distant volcanic craters.
If, however, the madness of the Honolulu shopping strip and bunches of tourists are getting you down, you have to escape to the North Shore. This 11 kilometre stretch of beaches is the world’s true home of surfing, and it’s dotted with cool towns and activities to connect you to the true Hawaiian spirit.
Between November to February the waves are sickeningly giant, attracting pro surfers from around the globe. For a friendlier beach experience, visit the North Shore in summer, when the waves are small and gentle. There are a few backpacker hostels up this way but the real way to stay is to hire a beach house. Alternatively, hop on a bus and settle in for a two-hour round trip from Waikiki. Either way, you’ll be more than satisfied with the beaches and vibe of the North Shore.
Here are four of the best spots to get your toes wet.
#1 Waimea Bay
The stunning crescent bay near the town of Haleiwa is a bather’s delight in the off-season. Clear, glassy waters and golden sands offer a peaceful place to unwind. There are no shops within walking distance so bring supplies for the whole day or make use of the BBQ facilities in the park.
Waimea Bay connects to a river mouth from Waimea Valley, which faces the bay. When you’re tired of splashing about and plunging from the local cliff drop, take a short trek into the valley to a nearby waterfall. The entrance fee of around $20USD ($28AUD) will give you access to the area’s historic sites hidden among incredible greenery. This feels like the real Hawaii.
The next beach up from Waimea, and opposite a food truck wonderland, is Pupukea Beach Park. This is a relatively small beach with large patches of volcanic rock poking out of the water during low tide – excellent fun for snorkelling adventures. You’ll spot plenty of crabs and exotic fish and lucky visitors can even spy a sea turtle or seal.
If snorkelling isn’t your thing, you might instead choose to chill in a private lagoon of clear, warm water and there are plenty of natural pools along the beach to claim as your own. Avoid pain and bring a pair of waterproof shoes to scramble over the sharp rocks.
#3 Sunset Beach
Bright white sand and uninterrupted sunset views is what gives this beach its fame. It might seem small when you arrive but the beach actually stretches for one-and-a-half kilometres right up to Banzai Pipeline, a famous surf reef break. Walk past the main hub of beachgoers and you’ll be able to find your own private spot.
There’s not a heap of shade here, so bring a beach umbrella or take a break from the rays to explore the nearby bike track which winds through leafy, local backstreets. This is the ideal beach to while away the hours as you wait for the sun to set in a golden blaze.
Laniakea is basically what paradise looks like. Tall palm trees lean into the shoreline towards the nearby islands of Mokulua, or “Twin Islands”, which are home to a seabird sanctuary. Green sea turtles call these warm waters home so expect to get a visit from one on your swim.
The beach is just under a two kilometre trip from Waimea Bay, but it’s well worth the visit. If you’re driving, duck into the roadside fruit stands and shrimp shacks for the tastiest papaya, banana, pineapple and cones of garlic seafood. This could be one of your favourite days on Earth.
Hayley follows her nose for food and travel. She's explored the globe far and wide, but still daydreams of Hawaii and Mexico the most. She runs Sticky Fingers Bakery and has written for Hooray, Broadsheet, The Blackmail, Daily Life and Dirty Furniture.