Last updated on June 11 2020
Touring O’ahu North Shore
After exploring the East Shore it was now time to head north and see what all the fuss was about up on the North Shore. We picked up the hire car and headed out of Waikiki, this time to the west aboard the H1 and in the general direction of Pearl Harbour, until we turned onto the H2 North to Wahiawa.
It’s a fairly uneventful drive that we find ourselves on up until the turnoff at Wahiawa. But, it’s a quick drive, with straight highway making the journey to the North Shore a quick one.
O’ahu has some significant traffic problems, particularly at peak hour, but we managed to avoid most of this as we were always heading in and out of Waikiki in reverse fashion to those who had to go to work each day.
Our first stop today was at Haleiwa, and what a gorgeous place to be able to spend some time. This small and historical town sits just back off the coast, but linked to the famous ocean shores by a bridge crossing the Anahulu River.
The town is beachy, funky and relaxed, reminding me of our Qld town of Airlie Beach, just not so grungy. Old buildings line the main street, many carefully restored, and others built as replicas of former buildings, in keeping with the history of the area.
We couldn’t think of a better place to have a coffee break, and decided on the Island Vintage Coffee Shop on the main street of the town.
We had arrived here quite early, and well before most of the inhabitants, both permanent and temporary, had awakened for the day, so it almost felt as though we had the town to ourselves. Certainly plenty of time to sit back and drink the huge hot chocolate they had made me.
With plenty of time still up our sleeve we went for a stroll up the street to allow us to have a more detailed view at the heritage buildings.
Where are the malasadas?
We were still trying to find the elusive cream filled Malasada so got a little excited when we came across the bakery, also located in a very cute building. But alas, it was still too early, so we realised we still had a little time to fill in before the town woke up.
The local marketplace was open so that provided us with sanctuary for a while and before our desire to taste the fish tacos took over.
We’ve eaten plenty of tacos before but not fish tacos and the food truck nearby looked enticing. In keeping with our day, when we got to the truck, it wasn’t open for business yet. I think the girl felt sorry for us though when she saw our faces so made a special point of telling us that she would make a fish taco for us.
After all, they claimed they had the best on the North Shore ! Their service certainly was. In a couple of minutes, a piping hot taco was being rapidly inhaled, although the super spicy sauce slowed him up for just a second.
Alas, when the bakery finally opened, the cream filled Malasada was still not to be. This bakery, serving up a few types of biscuits was more a sandwich and smoothie bar to the local surfing crowd.
Never mind, it wasn’t likely that we were going to starve any time soon. It was a good reason to hit the road once more, and see the rest of the North Shore.
Where are the waves?
The waves were a little bigger at Sunset Beach but it really made me wish that I could see the massive 20 footers that are a feature in these parts during the winter.
Today I had to be satisfied with 5-7 footers. It was great to watch the surfers though, but left me wondering in amazement at how good the pro surfers must be. It would also be incredible to see these tiny North Shore towns swell in terms of population during the winter surf carnivals.
Dotted along the coastline, usually in the premier locations, are some luxury homes, but mostly up here it is the home of shacks and modest housing, with the occasional ranch thrown in.
Here, the locals are proud of their homeland, away from the noise and fuss of the big cities, and if their signs are anything to go by, that’s how they want it to stay. With signs everywhere saying “Keep our farmland”, it’s clear they do not want any development destroying this idyliic part of the island.
Our next stop is another of my favourites and THE place to snorkel if you are up this way. Pupukea Park is home to Two Tables, a gorgeous low-lying area, so named because of the way the flat reefs are exposed at low tide to look like a table. It was just another example of the natural beauty that is on offer in O’ahu.
Mexican in Haleiwa
As we had been driving, I had been doing my best to read up on the best places to eat around here. With a penchant for mexican, we couldn’t go past the generous reviews from other tourists of Cholos back in Haleiwa. With a claim to the best margaritas on the North Shore as well, it gave a very clear calling that this should be the place we dine at.
Authentic mexican, and yes, pretty good margaritas, we were thankful for their common sense approach to the menu by allowing single orders of their food, and not just the massive “combo” meals we saw coming out. By the time we had finished, we were happy to add our name to the list of happy diners.
The old Sugar Mill
Our final stop for the day was to salute the Hawaiian sugar industry that is sadly no more. Waialuia Sugar Mill has been transformed into a marketplace, although proud volunteers are still on hand to take willing visitors for a tour of the remaining buildings and talk to them about how it all worked back in the day. The main market, now selling coffee, artisan food products and gift lines, resides in the workshop that once was home to the maintenance crew who fixed the train bins and cane hauling trucks.
The North Shore
With another great day of driving around and touring the O’ahu North Shore, we headed back to Waikiki, passing through the familiar sight of the pineapple plantations, another Hawaiian industry that is fortunately still here, but in much smaller proportions than in days gone by.
Let’s hope the pineapple industry is able to stay strong and change as necessary with the times, to prevent a total wipeout as experienced by the sugar industry. If I lived on O’ahu, I’m quite sure I could keep it alive myself, eating my weight in pineapples each and every day.
We saw lots of great things on our trip. Sometimes travellers think it’s ok to take items from nature as enduring souvenirs. If you are even thinking about this, make sure your read about why it’s not appropriate to do so. Remember, a good traveller leaves only footprints behind.
Looking for more Hawaiian inspiration?
O’ahu is perfect for eating lots of wonderful food. Read about all of our favourite places to eat in O’ahu.
We took inspiration from our visit to Mike’s Huli chicken truck on the east shore and made it back home. Cook this recipe for Mike’s Huli Huli chicken.
Take a drive around the East shore of O’ahu.
A must visit for any trip to O’ahu, get to Pearl Harbour.