I’m an early bird so morning flights don’t bother me–in fact, I find them preferable. We were able to take advantage of an early morning puddle jumper from the Big Island to Oahu half-way through our trip to Hawaii, which offered us a few benefits.
First, we had an incredible, birds-eye view of the sunrise over the island chain during our flight. Second, we landed in Honolulu around 7:30 a.m., which gave us a full day to begin our island explorations. And third, we beat the morning rush, uninhibited by long lines at the rental car company or the gridlock traffic we saw heading into Honolulu.
We grabbed the car and headed north to our first stop– the Dole Plantation. I was hoping this tour would live somewhere in between the experiences we had on the two tours we took on the Big Island (a Kona coffee plantation tour, which was fabulous, and a macadamia nut farm and factory tour, which we could have skipped).
Thankfully it did fall somewhere in the middle, offering the informative/educational components we enjoyed about the coffee plantation, with the gimmicky gift shop (where we of course bought something delicious!) of the macadamia nut factory. We arrived just before the huge tour groups and were able to purchase our tickets and hop on the Pineapple Express without issue.
The relaxing train ride takes you around parts of the plantation so you can see the pineapple trees in different stages of growth. There are information signs throughout so you understand the equipment, plants, and processes you’re observing along the way. In addition to the signs, the train ride is narrated, providing additional background.
When we returned from our tour, we spent a little time walking around the beautiful grounds and learning more about James Dole and the history of the company.
We quickly learned that the pineapple is not native to Hawaii. It was introduced by Spanish sailors in the early 1800s during King Kamehameha the Great’s reign, tested for its commercial crop potential by Captain John Kidwell in the mid-1800s, and then transformed into one of Hawaii’s biggest exports by James Dole, who founded the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, later Dole Food Company, in 1901. (If you’re really into pineapple history, there’s more information available on the Dole Plantation website.)
As we were wrapping up our visit, we headed back toward the main building where there were various shops and eateries. Much to my surprise, I discovered Brian had never had a Dole Whip! I didn’t care how cliché it was, I had to order one for us to share so he could have his first experience on the actual Dole Plantation. It didn’t disappoint—yum!
The plantation was packed when we left—I highly recommend visiting right when they open to avoid the crowds. The traffic was also busier as we continued our drive north to spend some time on Oahu’s North Shore.
The weather was beautiful as we pulled into Haleiwa Alii Beach Park— fluffy white clouds to our back and bright blue skies ahead. We pulled out our flip-flops and walked across the parking lot to the sandy beach and water.
There were some decent waves and a handful of people already out surfing, but many people were just arriving and starting to stake out their space along the beach.
We did take a moment to dip our toes in and it was freezing—I quickly made up my mind that I would postpone any swimming I was considering and investigate taking a dip later in the day when the temperature had warmed!
I REALLY wanted to see some sea turtles so we headed toward Laniakea Beach, home to Turtle Beach, which was supposed to be an ideal spot! We managed to find parking along the road and across the street from the beach. We successfully navigated the busy traffic, crossing the street and accessing the sandy shore via the treeline, where we found dozens of other people also hoping to spot a sea turtle.
We waited, and waited, talking to a couple of women who were sharing information with anyone who would listen about how to protect the sea turtles. We learned we were a little early in the season to see the promised shore full of sea turtles basking in the sun, which is more common during the summer months. They mentioned that they had been spotting an occasional turtle out in the water each day, but there was really no rhyme or reason to when and where they appeared–we could be waiting all day, and ultimately see nothing.
I knew there was a chance this would happen given the time of year, but I was still bummed. I was really looking forward to the turtles but didn’t know if I wanted to dedicate an entire day of our short trip making an attempt at seeing one. Brian thought we should wait, so while most people around us came and went, we read the brochures the ladies were handing out, built a sea turtle castle in the sand, and just relaxed, enjoying the sunshine and ocean breeze.
Suddenly, a couple close to the water started jumping up and down and pointing—there among the waves was a huge sea turtle, his head occasionally breaking the surface! It was thrilling—everyone was so excited and we all watched while he made a drive by of the shore before heading back out to sea!
The ladies from the conservation effort were happy for us, knowing we had been waiting for hours. They also recommended two other potential viewing areas near the first beach we had visited. Apparently the turtles sometimes enjoyed sunning themselves on the rocks near the harbor, which were inaccessible to human traffic and afforded them some protection from the thousands of people trying to spot them day in and day out. We decided to check it out and test our luck!
We drove back, found the small harbor area, and walked around a bit without any luck. After a while we decided to try the second spot the ladies had recommended on the very end of Haleiwa Alii Beach Park. We walked over by a sandy ramp into the harbor where a group of guys were learning how to ride their Sea-Doos out into the water and back up onto the shore.
I was sure we wouldn’t see any turtles floating around with all of that noise and activity, but sure enough, we suddenly spotted several just off the shore! Brian grabbed the camera so he could snap some photos while I just stared, yelled, and pointed every time a head popped up.
It was incredible! I wish we could have seen them a little closer or on the shore, but I realize we were lucky to see them at all, and for that I’m extremely grateful!
It was early afternoon and we were getting hungry so we sought out the famous garlic shrimp trucks just outside North Shore proper. This little community of food trucks features all kinds of different food, but we specifically sought out Giovanni’s, a shrimp truck one of the sea turtle ladies had recommended.
There was a significant line, but we placed an order to share and found a spot on one of the nearby picnic tables to wait. They finally called our name and Brian retrieved our food—a colorful paper plate filled with rice and shrimp drenched in fresh garlic and butter.
It was AMAZING—we devoured everything on the plate, and it was absolutely delicious! You have to check it out if you’re anywhere near the North Shore during lunchtime.
After lunch we continued our drive east along the Kamehameha highway, heading toward Ted’s Bakery, a dessert location known for its chocolate haupia pie that had rave reviews online. I’m not a huge coconut fan, but I’ll try anything once and Brian loves pie so off we went!
We headed along the shore, passing beach access to the Banzai Pipeline where there wasn’t a parking spot for miles and noticing how residential it became as we headed away from North Shore. We arrived at Ted’s to a fair line of people waiting for their own piece of pie, and were a little disappointed to find it was a pre-cut piece in a freezer you could purchase to go. We shared a piece in our car, but didn’t find the pie or the place all that inspiring. At least we had a lovely drive out and back along the coast!
We had a bit of a drive back to Waikiki Beach to check into our resort for the evening, so we limited ourselves to one final stop in a little shopping area near North Shore proper to try out Matsumoto Shave Ice. I didn’t think I needed anything more to eat, but our first dessert hadn’t been all that satisfying, and Brian kept reminding me this was just flavored ice and not something that would be all that filling!
The area was packed with people everywhere– shopping, eating, and vying for each parking spot that became available. I don’t know how Brian managed to find us a place to park, but we eventually made our way to the shop and joined the line wrapping around the outside of the building. You could choose a variety of flavor options, and I had read that the pineapple-lilikoi-mango combo was the ticket. We started talking to a gentleman in front of us in line who said the lilikoi (passion fruit) was his absolute favorite, so we felt confident in our selection.
The next thing I knew, we were sitting outside in the shade, sharing a huge pile of shave ice, and reminiscing about the morning flight, Brian’s first Dole Whip, the huge North Shore waves, the sea turtles, and the garlic shrimp. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day exploring Oahu’s North Shore!