Have you ever wondered what a place is really like, beyond what the travel guides tell you? Our Boots on the Ground reports give you real stories from travelers around the world. Below, Jake Fishman, author of the travel blog The Goldfish Escapades, tells all about a life-long favorite destination, the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii:
I cannot tell you how many times I overlooked this moment until my dad said this to me walking out of the plane to the baggage claim: “Jake, take a look at everyone walking in the opposite direction. Look at how sad they look going home, appreciate that you are walking in this direction." Having a family vacation home on the North Shore of Oahu has allowed me to make this area my second home and realize that it is one of my favorite places in the world to visit.
The North Shore of Oahu, also known as the 7 Miles of Paradise, is the mecca of surfing around the world. During the winter months, hundreds of professional surfers live there to prove themselves and compete in some of the most prestigious surf competitions on the world circuit.
Traveling to the North Shore of Oahu has become a tri-annual ritual for me, as the surf, nature, and kind people separate it from most other places I have been in the world. The general public usually thinks about the busy beaches of Waikiki and the endless hotels and gift shops of the South Shore of the island, but if you want to escape the large Disney hotel pools and ABC stores and instead immerse yourself in nature, countryside, and a laid-back lifestyle, the North side of the Island is for you.
Walking outside the air conditioned airport, the moist and humid air slammed us in the face – we were here. In that moment, our ride pulled up to our bags, it was uncle Chuck! Uncle Chuck is the caretaker of my family’s vacation house and manages it for other guests that we rent it out to. With his permanently tanned body and goofy smile, he greeted us with a big Aloha.
The only airport on Oahu is on the South Side in the city of Honolulu, so getting to the North Shore will take you about an hour. If you do not want to spend the money on a rental car, you have two options. You can hitchhike, which is legal, or take the public bus, which will take you about twice the time of a normal car.
Riding on the back of the pick-up truck, which is also legal in Hawaii, and passing the pineapple and coffee fields, we were finally on the countryside. “Keep the Country Country,” the main slogan for this side of the island, is embedded within the lifestyle and culture of those who inhabit the area. Everyone knows everyone here - As uncle Chuck honked at almost every car and surfer walking along the highway, the more I felt like I was finally home. After a surf check, food run, and jibber jabber with the locals, we arrived at my house and turned on the vacation mode button.
Surfing is the most popular activity on the North Shore, as people travel from the ends of the earth to surf the warm and powerful waters this area has to offer. The skill level of these surf breaks range from beginner to advance, but most are classified as advanced.
If you are a beginner, go to Pua’ena Point located before the town of Halewia. There, you can rent surfboards and even sign up for a surf lesson with different surf schools. If you are a skilled surfer who is coming for a surf trip, don’t waste hundreds of dollars shipping your boards over, risking them breaking along the way. From my years of coming to this side of the island, I have met local Mike Harris, whose sole job is to find you your ideal board. Ask around and give him a call and he will have a quiver of boards ready for you to check out!
I have tried all the different routes and have discovered that buying food at the grocery store is pretty much as expensive as eating out every day. Unless you shop on the South Side of the Island and go to Costco, you are better off just trying the plethora of food trucks that surround the North Shore.
The normal price of a typical meal at a food truck runs around $8-15 USD. My favorite (and the cheapest) meal is a $6.99 poke bowl at the local grocery store Foodland. Hawaii is famous for their freshly caught fish, so despite the simplicity of a rice and chopped raw fish bowl, you will be hooked by the reel the second the fish melts in your mouth. Acai Bowls are pretty popular in this area – for the most bang for your buck, go to Banzai Bowls at Sunset Beach for a large serving of your favorite fruit.
Accommodation on the North Shore can be tough to find during the peak season, but with enough research you have a multitude of options. There are services like Airbnb and VRBO in the area, but if you want to go a really cheap route, I suggest looking into Backpackers Hawaii. This hostel is walking distance from the main grocery store and bus stop and is perfect for anyone looking to meet other fellow travelers.
If you are trying to stay on the North Shore for more than a month, I suggest looking into Waihuena Farm, which offers free accommodation (a tent or yurt) and meals in exchange for work on the farm. You could also camp on the beach. No one really bothers you!
One of my favorite destinations is the small island of Chinaman's Hat, nestled on the east side of the island, about a 25 minute drive from the North Shore. Legend has it that a large Chinese man lives beneath the island, and the only thing protruding out of the water is the large hat that he wears. Despite many people visiting this attraction, very few actually make the excursion to the island. Being around a hundred yards away from the shore, the only way to access the island is either swim or paddle there.
I packed my DSLR, drone, and all my lenses and ventured to the water with a stand up paddle board. With the wind blowing and the crystal blue waters beneath me, all I could think about was the thousands of dollars worth of equipment I could potentially lose. Get on your knees, paddle slow and don’t think about it - with singing enough cheerful songs, I made it to the island dry.
You can reach the summit of the island by following the small trail along the ridge. I would only recommend this trail to people who have high fitness levels and who aren’t afraid of heights. Standing on top of the summit, you feel like you are on top of the world! I was able to get some amazing drone footage, until my drone malfunctioned and crashed into the ocean.
My heart sank – but how mad could I really be when having such a beautiful place to myself? Despite the death of my drone, I was still happy to have made it to the top of the island with only me and my best friends.
Even though the North Shore of Oahu is unlike the normal travel destinations that most people initially want to go to, the beauty and the laidback culture that this area preserves will change the way you look at your own life and the energies you want to surround yourself with.
Jake Fishman is the voice behind The Goldfish Escapades. His adventures have taken him around America's highways in his big red bus, overseas to the Middle East, and even as far as Australia.
Follow his adventures at thegoldfishescapades.com.
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