The North Shore surf culture is front and center at Turtle Bay Resort. // © 2014 Turtle Bay Resort
No matter how many times I go to Oahu’s North Shore, I always feel like I’ve been transported to one of Hawaii’s neighbor islands. With its country roads, small towns, limitless beaches and laid-back locals, its mood is the polar opposite of vibrant Honolulu, just a one-hour drive away.
On a recent visit to the destination, I was heartened to find that the North Shore’s only large hotel, Turtle Bay Resort, still reflects its serene surroundings despite a newly completed $30 million upgrade. Each day brought relaxed yet invigorating activities; each evening, the sky — with its lack of urban lighting — put on a dazzling show of stars.
The hotel’s revamped lobby, with its floor-to-ceiling glass walls, invites guests to slow down and watch waves roll by and surfers hang ten. Throughout the property, subtle and simple colors and designs feel as clean as the sea, located right outside its walls. The employees, including some who have worked on the property since it opened in 1972, remain as friendly as I remember from years past.
The main building’s 410 guestrooms, all offering ocean views, have been redesigned with furnishings and decor that draw on styles from Hawaiian homes. Remodeled bathrooms feature new tile, vanities and walk-in showers. Another option are Turtle Bay’s Beach Cottages, set apart from the main hotel in low-rise clusters. With up to 850 square feet of space and a dedicated cottage concierge, they are a great suggestion for clients booking special occasion trips.
In 2013, Turtle Bay debuted two noteworthy restaurants: North Shore Kula Grille and Paakai (Hawaiian sea salt). Both showcase ultra-fresh seafood, meat and produce sourced from local farms and waters. During my dinner at Paakai, the chef went so far as to prepare and serve poke (seasoned cubed fish) tableside. The hotel’s Surfer, The Bar — where I savored grilled Kahuku prawns — echoes that sense of place with regularly scheduled live island music and talks by filmmakers, writers and storytellers.
A standout result of the hotel’s renovation is Nalu Kinetic Spa, a 11,000-square-foot health and wellness center with a variety of pampering facilities and services. Among highlights are three open-air massage cabanas and an indoor couple’s treatment room with a view of the surf. A movement studio hosts popular programs such as Zumba, hot hula and yoga, and the salon and retail areas are spacious. I especially loved its fitness center, where vast walls of windows allow guests to enjoy views of mesmerizing ocean waves as they exercise.
Injecting a regional vibe into its retail offerings, Turtle Bay has opened a pair of North Shore-appropriate shops. A media center called The Water Shed helps clients edit photos and videos of their vacation pastimes, while Oakley stands ready with sunglasses, logo surfwear and an exclusive line of Turtle Bay T-shirts.
In such a pristine, natural setting, it’s only fitting that Turtle Bay would go as green as possible. As part of its renewal, the property recently installed the first rooftop solar panel array on a major Oahu resort. The photovoltaic system is helping Turtle Bay cut its overall power demand by half. A resort-wide lighting retrofit is reducing its power use by nearly one-third. And a 59,000-square-foot landscaped native plant garden on the lower main building rooftops has been added to enhance views and double the lifespan of the roofing materials.
While it was tempting to lounge around the pool and relax on the hotel’s beaches during my stay, I took the advice of Turtle Bay’s general manager Danna Holck, who called her property “an experiential resort.” Holck encouraged me to try one of the hotel’s many activities, including surfing and stand-up paddleboarding lessons, horseback riding, Segway rides, hiking, golf, tennis, lei making and ukulele and hula classes.
Inspired by Holck’s enthusiasm, I chose a kayak tour of nearby Kawela Bay. During the two-hour excursion, a small group of us paddled past green sea turtles and other marine life as engaging guides shared history and legends of the seemingly timeless region.
“We want guests to leave with lifetime memories of their adventures on the North Shore,” Holck told me.
Based on my own visit, it’s safe to say that this refreshed local classic more than meets that goal.