North Shore ʻOhana

Desirée and her two girls, Alexia and Charlie moved to Hawaii four years ago. From my home in Vermont, the 5000 miles between us feel like halfway around the world.

Hawaii was the only state I hadn't been to when I departed the Burlington airport late in November of 2017. By day's end, I had my feet in the sand on O'ahu's North Shore, the beginning of two weeks of exploration while learning the broader meaning of aloha with my daughter and granddaughters.

On the morning after my arrival, Desirée and I went for a hike up the Kealia Trail, just west of Desirée's home in Waialua (in the background of the image below). The trail rises quickly from sea level. Expansive views over the Pacific were a welcome change from the dreary November skies I'd left behind in Vermont.

Kealia Trail

On O'ahu's North Shore, surfing is life. I know little about the sport, except what I'd experienced riding ocean waves in a kayak years ago. During the winter months, the swell on the North Shore is big - really big.

Desirée and I drove to Pipeline often to check out the waves and watch the Triple Crown surfing competition which was taking place during the weeks I was in Hawaii.

Desirée, watching the break at Pipeline. Some of the faces approached 20 feet in height.

While Desirée showed me around the local scene, Alexia and Charlie were at school until mid-afternoon.

Alexia, 15, is a sophomore at Waialua High School. Charlie, 5, proudly wears her Waialua Elementary School t-shirt above. Such beautiful faces to greet me at the end of the afternoon.

As the girls were getting ready for school each morning, my daily routine began with dawn walks with Keanu, the family dog. From Desirée's house, we'd pass through an old cemetery at the east end of the neighborhood. Many of the gravestones are inscribed with dates from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. I'd like to know more of the history that belongs to those buried there.

Puuiki Cemetery

Past the cemetery I'd continue along the the lava rimmed edge of Kaiaka Bay before coming to the sandy beach where Keanu loved to pluck coconuts from the water's edge and run with them along the shore.

Kaiaka Bay
Looking west from the path near Desirée's home

The daily routine included checking the local surf reports. When conditions looked good, we'd head for one of the many surf spots to check out the break and watch the action on the waves.

While capturing this image one morning at Pipeline, I could sense the respect that is essential in a surfer's relationship with the sea.

Surfers wait and watch, looking for patterns in the swell and the right moment to enter the water.

Once afloat on his board, this surfer will catch a fast running rip current through the shore break and paddle to the larger swells breaking beyond.

A wave is selected and caught. The ride down its face is quickly over, but the thrill and intensity of those brief seconds lures the surfer back, again and again.

From Pipeline, we moved on to Sunset Beach to watch a few heats in the Vans World Cup event.

Watching the action at the Van's World Cup surfing competition

Even if not drawn by the surfing, the drama of the winter swells rolling in on O'ahu's North Shore holds one's attention. It is immense and powerful.

I processed the image below in black and white, attempting to accentuate the textures and interplay between land, sea, and sky.

Sunset Beach, Pupukea

Ah, the bicycle! A simple, single-speed cruiser, borrowed from Desirée, was all I needed to travel to the grocery store, beach, or trailhead.

Pua `ena Point Beach

Pua `ena Point is where Desirée introduced me to stand up paddleboarding. I was able to stand on the board when the water was flat, but in the wind and waves there was no question about my beginner status. I sat and paddled.

Sunset from Pua `ena Point Beach
Green sea turtle at Pua `ena Point Beach

Green sea turtles are a common sight on the beaches in Haleiwa. I'd walked right past the one in the image above. Fortunately, Desirée got me turned around for a face to face encounter with this ancient creature.

A small pocket beach along the Kaena Point Trail

I rode Desirée's bicycle 10 miles west from her house to the trailhead of the Kaena Point Trail. Hoping to see nesting albatross, I walked the five miles along the shore to the westernmost point on O'ahu.

Laysan albatross

Laysan albatross nest right beside the trail near the point. A smaller member of the albatross family, the Laysan albatross has a wingspan of six to seven feet. The northwestern Hawaiian islands host nearly all of this bird's 2.5 million population.

Kaena Point Bunker

From the point, I hiked to the World War II bunker high on the ridge above. The artwork on the right side of the back wall was well done, adding an extra touch of eeriness to this remnant of Hawaii's relatively recent past.

My next hike was to another World War II defensive position, the Ehukai Pillbox above Sunset Beach.

Bicycling from Desirée's home to the trailhead, I stopped at the Pupukea Foodland to pick up some local fare, a poke bowl (chunks of spiced raw fish over rice), for lunch. Sitting to eat on this beach (below), I was struck by how incredible it was to find such an amazingly beautiful spot within just a few hundred feet of the deli counter.

To reach the pillboxes, it's a short but steep hike from the trailhead at the Sunset Elementary School parking lot.

The second of two pillboxes along the trail has the best view.

The view from the Ehukai Pillbox

Along my route back to Waialua, I stopped to watch the waves breaking over the rocks at Shark's Cove (below).

When Desirée and I had hiked the Kealia Trail on my first day in Hawaii, we'd turned around at the top of the switchbacks, about 1.5 miles from the trailhead. (We had to be at the elementary school in time to pick up Charlie.)

A week later, I returned to hike the entire trail out to the overlook of the the Makua Valley.

Makua Valley

Desirée promised an "epic" day on my second weekend in Hawaii. We left her house two hours before dawn for the drive to Makapu'u Point.

With Charlie still in her pink pajamas, we hiked a mile and a quarter to the lighthouse to take in the sunrise over Moloka'i.

Next up (after a stop for breakfast), was Hanauma Bay, a popular snorkeling destination just east of Honolulu.

I enjoyed drifting with the schools of colorful fish on the expansive coral reefs in the bay while Desirée and Charlie watched from the beach. After a few hours in the ocean, we left the coast to travel to an equally exotic inland destination.

Hanauma Bay

The Manoa Falls trailhead is very close to downtown Honolulu. It's quite remarkable how short the distance is between the very congested population hub of the island and this tropical forest.

It was difficult to capture the lushness of the valley along the trail to Manoa Falls. Desirée promised a setting straight out of Jurassic Park. This trail did not disappoint.

My understanding is that many of the plants have been introduced to the island (like the bamboo in the image below), but they sure made for a brilliant canopy.

Reaching Manoa Falls, we paused to watch the waters cascading down.

Manoa Falls

It was mid-afternoon before we returned to the trailhead. Charlie seemed to be doing quite well, having not eaten for several hours, but we knew she was running on empty. Lunch next.

The next day we drove down the windward (east) side of the island. The coastline that faces the trade-winds remains wet much of the time. Simply turning the corner from the North Shore, this side of O'ahu has a much different feel. Not the laid back surfing culture I'd experienced near Desirée's home, this was a part of O'ahu that felt a bit more mysterious.

Byodo-In Temple

Before heading back to the sunny side of the island, we stopped at the Valley of the Temples where a replica of a 950-year-old Japanese temple was erected in the 1960's to commemorate the first Japanese immigrants to come to O'ahu in the mid-nineteenth century.

The Buddha

On the last day of my visit we headed back to Pipeline to watch a few heats in Round One in the Pipe Masters competition. The surf was a moderate height, but the light south wind made for glassy wave surfaces and good conditions for surfing.

Competitors at the Pipe Masters
The local favorite and reigning champion, John John Florence, rides a barrel at the Pipe Masters Tournament

Thank you so much, Desirée, Alexia and Charlie, for sharing your Hawaiian home with me for two weeks. I love you!



Kevin Rose

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