My sons and I awoke before sunrise and slipped out of our cottage at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of Oahu, leaving my husband, Peter, deep in dreamland. Under a pale dome of whitewashed sky, Jasper, 17, Ross, 12, and I ambled over to the beach, climbed onto a jetty of black lava rock and waited for the sun to signal the start a new day.
We didn’t wait long. Soon hints of pink and orange colored the eastern sky, followed by rosy fingers of light that pierced the gray clouds along the horizon. Finally the sun appeared, casting us in a warm, peachy glow.
I couldn’t help but think about the significance of sunrise as we stood there awed by nature’s theatrical display. Maybe it’s a cliché, but when daylight comes to earth each morning, it signifies a promise of possibility. For in the clean, fresh early morning light, a sense of power comes over you—as if all the wishes you have and ever had can still come true. Each day presents new opportunities to seek that which you dream of.
Momentous thoughts, perhaps. But this was a momentous occasion. We were seeing a sunrise over the Pacific Ocean for the very first time. Sunrises and sunsets over the Atlantic we’d seen, as well sunsets over the Pacific. Dreamy and beautiful—all. Now we could add sunrise over the Pacific to our list—a new magical moment. And where better to see such a sight than on the North Shore of Oahu, surrounded by rustling palm trees and the ones you love.
For Peter had joined us by now. He grumbled a bit as he approached, wondering why we hadn’t awakened him earlier. Soon he became quiet, too, and for a few moments we basked in the dawn’s glory together and listened to the gentle waves roll in, sounding like soft cymbals as they broke upon the shore.
What is it about Hawaii that makes it such a magical destination? Everyone you meet has either been there or is planning to go. Maybe because Hawaii is the most isolated landmass on earth, it represents the epitome of getting away. It’s also drop-dead gorgeous. Like priceless emeralds, these eight islands in the Pacific glitter amidst a shining turquoise sea. Glimpsing them for the first time from your airplane window, you believe you have truly discovered paradise.
When Capt. James Cook came upon these islands by ship in 1778, he surely felt the same. Imagine sailing for weeks, and suddenly rising up from the iridescent ocean, lush, forested volcanic mountains appear before you. As you step ashore, brilliant flowers and lush vegetation carpet the ground, and in the distance you see tropical fruit hanging from tree branches. Exotic birds and butterflies abound, and Polynesian natives shyly come out to herald your arrival with leis and friendly welcomes. Before long, like Gauguin in Tahiti, you decide you never want to leave.
For this is the land of the Aloha spirit, a unique blend of customs and traditions that is synonymous with Hawaii. Aloha means both hello and goodbye, implying perhaps that there is no beginning and no end to the treasures and pleasures of this place. The enchantment begins when you set foot on the island and, even after you leave, you carry it in your heart. The Aloha spirit will stay with you always.
While Waikiki on the southern side of Oahu offers its own brand of Hawaiian vacation with its skyscraper hotels, busy beaches, and crowds of sun-seekers, my family and I decided we wanted a more laid-back Hawaiian experience. We found what we were looking for at Turtle Bay Resort, a 45-minute drive north from the airport in Honolulu. Perched on a picturesque point of land, Turtle Bay offers a variety of accommodations, ranging from upscale guest rooms in the 400-room hotel to luxury ocean villas with fully equipped gourmet kitchens and a personal concierge.
My family and I stayed in one of 42 cozy beach cottages that line Turtle Bay’s edge like a strand of pearls. These one-story accommodations, decorated in sleek Polynesian-style décor, feature vaulted ceilings, gorgeous oversized bathrooms, and lanais that open right onto the beach.
FAR FROM THE FAMILIAR
After arriving Peter and I began unpacking and getting settled. Almost immediately Jasper and Ross plopped down on the beds and turned the television on.
“Wait a minute,” I said and pointed through the glass doors toward the stunning view of Turtle Bay. “Look! We didn’t come all the way here to watch T.V.” Grabbing the remote, I clicked the off button emphatically. “Let’s head for the beach!”
The boys grumbled as they went out onto the lanai, but soon they were racing down the beach as the wind whipped their hair.
“Look!” Ross said excitedly as he pointed to a large sea turtle in a tidal pool along the shore. Called honu in Hawaiian, sea turtles are known as family guardians by native Hawaiians. How appropriate that this honu appeared on the beach to welcome my family and me on our first day in Hawaii.
The beach curved around the crescent-shaped bay, and hiking its length became a favorite activity for the four of us during our six-day stay at Turtle Bay Resort. One day a friendly staff member said a monk seal was sunning itself on the beach and invited Ross and Jasper to come help him erect a barrier to keep curious tourists from getting too close. The boys gladly agreed, and I could tell they were honored to lend a hand. The task also enabled them to experience an up-close encounter with the seal, whose doleful eyes watched warily as the boys set up the orange-tape barricade.
Watching my sons connect with nature—instead of the Internet—is what makes a vacation like this worthwhile. Anytime you can avert your children’s gaze from a two-dimensional screen and direct it towards the wide, wonderful world that surrounds us, you’re doing them a favor. The real world has so much more to offer than the virtual one. I mean, can you smell a sea breeze when you’re surfing the ‘Net?
As we headed over to Turtle Bay’s sparkling pool after our walk on the beach, Ross said, “You know what I love about this place, Mom? The birds. There are birds everywhere.” I listened to the birds chatter and chirp in the bushes and felt glad to be on this isolated island so far from the familiar.
Everyone knows surfing is hot on Oahu’s North Shore, a place that conjures up images of fearless surfers barreling down monster-sized waves several times taller than they. Just a ten-minute drive from Turtle Bay Resort are Hawaii’s legendary surf spots: Pipeline, Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach. Winter is actually the season for big waves, so during our late summer visit, the surf remained pretty tame: two-to-three feet and glassy.
I was just as glad that the big waves weren’t around because Ross wanted to learn to surf while we were on the North Shore. Peter and I signed him up for lessons at the Hans Hedemann Surf School at Turtle Bay Resort, and just for fun, we signed up, too. Early one morning Bobby and Jesse, the instructors, met us near the pool and explained that since conditions weren’t favorable in Turtle Bay, where they normally give lessons, we needed to jump into a van and head over to a nearby beach.
As we walked over the dunes carrying our heavy, long boards, I felt like we were on a movie set. The beach was postcard perfect: the morning sun reflecting on the Pacific and easterly winds pushing rideable waves toward the shore. I was also happy to see that the beach was deserted except for our little group. Having never surfed before, I preferred not to display my lack of coordination in front of a teeming crowd.
After we donned our rash guards, the instructors gave us a lesson in the basics of surfing. Worried that I would forget one of the steps, I decided to create a little rhyme in my head—hands up, knee up, stand up. It would become my mantra once I got out on the waves—but first I had to catch one.
Turns out catching a wave wasn’t the hard part. Bobby paddled out in the water and took turns helping Peter and me determine which waves to try to catch and when. He’d give me a push at just the right moment, and whoa, the swell of the wave would grab the board and the next thing I knew I’d be gliding through the water. Oh, right, I have to stand up now, I’d remember. What were those steps? Hands up, knee up, feet up. The first couple times I only managed to get up on my knee before the wave flattened out.
Paddling back out became the hardest part of surfing. My arms grew tired from the effort, but the thrill of catching the waves made it worthwhile. I even managed to stand up a couple times once I got the hang of it. I’m sure I looked like a stiff mannequin, bent in the wrong places, but I did it nevertheless. Peter caught a few waves, too, and even stood up once or twice!
Jesse gave Ross a few tips and before long my son was surfing like it was second nature. As a skater and snowboarder, surfing came naturally to him. I watched, proud and envious at the same time. He made it look so easy!
“Can we go surfing when we get back home, Mom?” he asked when the lesson was over.
I promised him we would. Maybe I would even join him!
LUSH JUNGLES OF THICK FLORA
Turtle Bay Resort offers plenty of activities for families. Two oceanfront swimming pools with an eight-foot waterslide and a waterfall will keep your kids happy for hours. Two nearby Jacuzzis offer cozy spots for Mom and Dad to relax with a Mai Tai. You can also just hang out at Bay View Beach, where we watched the sunrise our first morning. Complimentary snorkeling equipment is available, and Ross and Jasper spent a few happy hours viewing the underwater sea life—sea urchins, coral, and colorful tropical fish—in the protected cove.
One morning my family and I decided to go on a horseback ride at the Stables at Turtle Bay. The resort features twelve miles of trails throughout the 880-acre property. Under the guidance of Tim, our trail guide, we settled into our saddles and headed off on our mounts. First we rode on a trail that wound along the beach, overlooking Turtle Bay. Then we headed inland through lush jungles of thick flora. Before long we found ourselves face to face with a magnificent banyan tree. Dozens of roots rose up at random so that the one tree appeared to be many different trees. In fact, Tim told us, this banyan tree has been featured in several episodes of Lost, which films regularly on Turtle Bay’s property.
While Ross and Jasper would have liked to trot or canter a bit, the trail ride maintains a walking pace, which was fine with me. Taking it slow enables you to relish your surroundings that much more thoroughly: the smell of the leather and the creaking of the saddle; the buzzing of the insects and the sound of the waves on the shore; the warm sun filtering through the trees, almost as warm as the feeling you get when you’re in paradise with the ones you love. Yep, I’ll take slow speed any day.
Another perfect place to slow down at Turtle Bay Resort is Spa Luana. I left my husband and sons to their own devices one day and spent a few heavenly hours at the spa. First I tried one of the resort’s signature treatments: the kukui nut massage. You can opt to have a massage in a lovely private cabana overlooking the Pacific, but since it wasn’t available, I contented myself with the next best thing…a room in the spa with a sea breeze coming in through an open window and the sounds of the surf lulling me into a dreamy state of relaxation. Ashley, my therapist, worked her magic on my muscles massaging me with kukui nut oil, known for its healthy, healing properties. Afterwards I found a comfy chair outside on an open-air lanai surrounded by a gorgeous display of flowering plants. Soon Tiare, a pretty young woman, appeared laden with wonderful-smelling pots and proceeded to give me an amazing pineapple pedicure. First she prepared a warm coconut milk bath for my feet. Next using a lava rock buff and a sea salt mixture, Tiare exfoliated my feet and ankles. Then she applied a refreshing mask of crushed pineapple and honey and wrapped my feet and legs for deep conditioning. I inhaled deeply and relaxed, closing my eyes and falling into a dreamy state as a gentle breeze tickled my face. Talk about the pleasures of being pampered. After Tiare unwrapped my glowing feet and legs, she applied a coconut lotion and then polished my nails to perfection.
ROMANTIC SUNSET STROLL
I could have stayed at Spa Luana much longer, but my husband and I had a special date that night. Leaving the boys to munch on sandwiches we’d picked up earlier, Peter and I dressed up a bit and took a romantic sunset stroll along the resort’s perimeter. We wandered past a wedding party, where elegant guests in formal wear sashayed in the dusky light, murmuring and laughing—like a scene from The Great Gatsby.
After our walk, we found our way to 21 Degrees, the resort’s stylish restaurant—so named because it’s 21 degrees north of the equator. The entrance features a boardwalk that winds by tropical foliage, palms, and a waterfall, transporting you to another dimension. Our dinner that night was a delicious journey through tropical island cuisine. After a champagne toast (to being in paradise, of course), we indulged in New Zealand oysters and succulent shrimp for our appetizers. Next I had a delicious salad with goat cheese and greens while Peter enjoyed a shrimp salad accompanied by hearts of palm. We shared our entrees with each other: tender flavorful Colorado lamb rack and a perfectly seasoned filet mignon with a port demi-glace. The sommelier recommended a lovely Rhone wine, Cave Des Pape, Heritage, which proved a perfect choice. Despite our objections that we were too full, our waiter said we must try the signature chocolate soufflé served with crème anglaise for dessert. We were happy we did: it was as good as it gets.
In fact, the visit to Turtle Bay Resort can be summed up by those words. There in a tranquil paradise, my family and I found the Aloha spirit. We discovered a peaceful oasis where we could slow down and simply be together. From watching a sunrise over the Pacific to finding nature’s treasures on the beach and in the jungle, my family and I learned how much there is in the world to learn about and take pleasure in.
If we only take the time to slow down and look.
For more information, visit www.turtlebayresort.com.