Haleiwa Town and the North Shore Neighborhoods of Pupukea and Waialua

HaleiwaOne of the most delightful little villages on Oahu is the surfing town of Hale’iwa. When I say surfing town, I don’t mean the town itself surfs- that would be silly – but the town does revolve around surfing. Once a plantation village where workers lived and bought what they needed to go about their lives, this village transformed into something else entirely when big wave surfing arrived. Today it is filled with boutiques, galleries, great restaurants, shave ice shops like Matsumoto Shave Ice, and plenty of surf shops. In fact, it is the perfect place to spend the day strolling, shopping, eating, and hanging out with friends and family.

Hale’iwa still has much of the slow paced country village feel about it combined with a chilled out surfer vibe which sits on top of a mouth watering culinary destination and an innovative artisanal movement. Hale’iwa epitomizes the Hawaiian ‘country’ scene without being backward or pretentious.

HaleiwaThe town sits between the villages of Pupukea to the East an Waialua to the West. Pupukea is little more than a grocery store, a fire station, and some food trucks (which happen to be sitting at the gateway to the world’s best surfing beaches and the amazing snorkeling at Shark’s Cove) and Waialua has died back to mainly farms,the North Shore Soap Factory and old sugar mill complex.  Waialua Bay wraps around and comes into Hale’iwa and then turns into rocky shoreline before reaching world famous surfing at Waimea Bay and the sacred temples in Waimea Valley and atop the hills in Pupukea. The small boat harbor in Hale’iwa is where many shark cage dives, dives, and sailing adventures leave from. To the south of Hale’iwa you will find the Dole Plantation and the town of Wahiawa.

HaleiwaThe present day location was the site of an ancient Hawaiian fishing village where it was a common destination for the Hawaiian Ali’i (Royalty) to escape the heat of Honolulu or ‘Ewa in the summer months. People have occupied the area for nearly a thousand years. Hale’iwa got it’s first western style building in 1832 but wasn’t founded as a town until 1898 when Benjamin Dillingham, a local businessman who contracted to have the Hawaiian railway built from the sugar and pineapple fields of the North Shore to the shipping port of Honolulu, saw the potential for tourism and built a hotel at the northern terminus. He named the hotel for the nest of the black frigate bird, called the ‘iwa bird in Hawaiian language. Hale is the Hawaiian word for house, so – House of the Frigate Bird.


The hotel is long gone and village residents fight tooth and nail whenever anyone tries to bring a new hotel into the area. The last thing anyone wants is for Hale’iwa to turn into another Waikiki. If you want to stay on the North Shore, you need to either book a room at the expensive Turtle Bay Resort on the Northeast corner of the island or find a vacation rental. There are no other hotel options.


A Day Trip to Kauai – Flashback Friday


I don’t make it to the neighbor islands nearly enough. I live on Oahu, which is my favorite island of them all (for many reasons but mostly for Honolulu) but when I get the chance, I love to explore the Big Island, Maui, Lania, Molokai, and of course Kauai – which, if I didn’t have to work and had enough money to take trips when island fever hit – would probably move to the top of the list – mainly because of the raw natural beauty sculpted over millions of years by wind, rain, and surf.

I lived on Kauai in 2002 and 2003. At the time I was working as a kayak guide on the Waialua River and living in a VW van that I parked on the beach in Kapa’a. Over the years I’ve made many trips back to Kauai, mostly to hike into the dreamlike Kalalau Valley – but earlier this year I took my shortest trip to Kauai.


During spring break, I had the pleasure of introducing my wife and daughter to the Garden Island on a 14 hour day trip. I’d found cheap fares going in early and leaving at about 8 pm. Here’s what we did.


We arrived in Lihue at about 6 a.m. – we got our rental car and checked the weather forecast – unfortunately it was going to rain all day – that’s the way it goes on the island that contains the wettest spot on earth (I know, wet is wet but Mt. Waialeale gets more rain than anywhere else on the planet).


We drove into Kapa’a and grabbed breakfast at the famous I Heart Country Cafe before driving as far North as we could – the road was closed past Hanalei Bay but we had the chance to see a couple of roadside waterfalls, drive across the one way bridges, and see 5-7 foot waves rolling into the very brown and muddy bay.


It was a terrible day to kayak or take beautiful pictures (mostly) , so we didn’t kayak and mostly enjoyed the sites without taking many pictures.  We admired the epic views of the taro patches in the Hanalei Valley but the rain was so heavy that none of the pictures we took looked like anything but rain.


Next we drove to Kilauea and the lighthouse for some bird watching. We saw plenty of nene, the state bird of Hawaii and lots of other birds in a 15 minute period where the rain dropped to a mere drizzle.


At one point, my wife learned how to fly like the magic creature she is….

We continued on south taking the Kapa’a bypass and admiring the sleeping giant and then stopping for the incredibly swelled Waialua Falls. Further on we explored the arts in Kikaha and then the amazing beauty and overwhelming colors of Waimea Canyon. My family got their first look at the Kalalau Valley (albeit only from above in the Koke’e) 


Back towards town and a stop at the Kauai Coffee Company for a quick tour and some seriously discounted Kauai coffee (it is better than Kona, in my opinion) and then on to Poipu where we had lunch at Duke’s and enjoyed an all too brief respite from the rain.


14 hours isn’t really enough time to see or explore Kauai – but with a good guide and a day where the rain barely lets up, it was enough for us this time. The next time we go, we’ll stay for a little longer – unless it’s raining again.

North Shore Soap Factory in the Waialua Sugar Mill on Oahu

North Shore Soap FactoryOne of my favorite places to take guests and visitors on Oahu is to the world famous North Shore of Oahu. A day up there usually includes visiting the famous surfing beaches like Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay – but it also includes stops such as a Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa and a trip to the old Wailua Sugar Mill which for more than a decade now has been home to the North Shore Soap Factory.

My friends Jerry and Deb saw that sugar was never coming back and when there was talk about tearing down the historic old sugar mill (the last to close on Oahu) – they knew they had to do something – so they moved their home-grown soap and botanicals operation into the old drying cone. Jerry is a surfer, builder, and tinkerer and over time he converted the old rust bucket building into a full blown soap factory.

North Shore Sugar Mill

Since that time, other businesses have moved in. Some of the best surfboard shapers, glassers, and designers in the world occupy the run down buildings around the property. A coffee roaster moved in. A surf shop moved in next door. Eventually, the Waialua Farmers Market started operating on the grounds.

The great thing about the North Shore Soap Factory is that it is so much more than a soap factory. It’s a museum, because during the course of building the soap works, Jerry and Deb saved all the memorabilia they found from the old sugar mill. It’s also a place to rest and have a free cup of coffee. You can try out the soaps and rubs in the showroom – and it’s one of the best places on the island to find the miracle kukui nut oil – which will help you recover from a sunburn…and which, by the way, is the basis for all their soaps. No nasty chemicals or pig fats used in these soaps.

People have fun at the North Shore Soap Factory – even if they don’t think they will. Sometimes when I have a group of married couples – the women (or the men) might get excited but the rest of them roll their eyes or talk about how they want to see the ‘real’ Hawaii and not take some factory tour. The funny thing is that you can’t really get any more authentic than the Waialua Sugar Mill and once you get there you realize this was a place where men and women worked and supported their families. This was the lifeblood of these islands. Sugar was king.

I grew up watching television and one of the most iconic commercials was always the C&H Pure Cane Sugar from Hawaii commercials. This is where some of that happened. Even better – today it is where something is still happening. This isn’t one those tours of places where people used to work but now tourists are the only work…Deb, Jerry, and their crew are actually creating something

And I don’t mind telling you – I’m a big fan of their products. After you buy a bar (or six) don’t forget to stamp your soaps with the old canoe paddle stamps Jerry created in his workshop. And by all means…take some photos.


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