Too often, the trip from Honolulu to Kahuku is a well-beaten path from downtown to the comforts of a single resort.
Too often, the trip from Honolulu to Kahuku is a well-beaten path from downtown to the comforts of a single resort. But if you’re willing to venture off that route, you’ll find a diverse community where the country is kept country, no bumper stickers necessary. Along with its close neighbor Laie, this is a place where artists and farmers, the religious and secular blend into one very tight community. Lucky for us, it’s easy to step inside and get a taste of the true Kahuku.
They’re called Eco Cabins and, despite looking like brand-new duplexes, they’re made from recycled shipping containers. You can rent one at Friends of Malaekahana, which is just a little west of the state park that shares the same name. All of the rentals are right on the beach, on 40 acres of land that’s gated for campers. The adventurous can get a grass shack—basically four walls and a ceiling—or, for a group, rent Tutu’s Hale, which includes several places to sleep, cook and gather. It’s still camping, and some of the places are dusty and rough around the edges. But if it were perfect, it wouldn’t be camping, now would it? malaekahana.net
Nozawa Farms is the place for Kahuku’s famous sweet corn. “We call it candy corn,” says owner Clarita Nozawa, who’s been farming her entire life. “People eat it right off the cob. We think that’s the best way to eat it.” Corn sold at the stand is always harvested the same day, which means the stand isn’t always open, so if you see it, stop and grab a bag for $5. For a more expensive twist, make reservations at Alan Wong’s—the restaurant is one of Nozawa’s buyers. Across from the shrimp farms, on Kamehameha Highway.
It’s not always open, but Nui Watene’s not-so-mobile truck full of his handmade bone carvings is worth a stop. Parked in the same lot as Giovanni’s, Watene uses the space as a workshop, too, fashioning bone, wood and tusk into elaborate shapes like the spiral koru—a symbol of new beginnings—and ake tonu atu, a twist that symbolizes infinity. “My inspiration comes from my Maori culture. I pass that on through my pieces. For example, if I’m carving a piece and I blow onto it, I pass my mana into that piece when that goes to you.” A self-taught carver, his first piece was inspired by a family heirloom. He reproduced it, humbly, out of pipe. “I didn’t even know how to get bone at that point,” he says. Now he’s making pendants, taking custom orders, creating two-dimensional Polynesian paintings and musical instruments. If you can’t make it to Kahuku for a peek, his next series will soon be available at Na Mea native books. 688-6618, facebook.com/nuicarvings.
This is a community where football is like religion. Every home game is so packed that it’s rumored that Kahuku football supports the entire league with their gate money. So when Kahuku’s high school football team was disqualified from last year’s state championships for having a fifth-year senior, the team’s reaction was simple: “It broke the seniors’ hearts,” says head coach Reggie Torres. He tries not to dwell on it, instead focusing on his packed summer training camps and next year’s team. “Last year we weren’t big but we could move. This year we’ll have size, but we’re trying to work on getting them to move.” Players to watch are junior running back Aofaga Wily, who rushed 1,100 yards as a sophomore, and senior linebacker Benneton Fonua. “This sport is about the kids. It’s about being a role model,” Torres says. And the entire community, it seems, agrees.
How much would you pay to play a par-35, 9-hole golf course, beachfront with ocean views? If you bid under $15, you are ready to splurge on a game at Kahuku Municipal Golf Course, where kamaaina pay $10, and even tourists get a deal, at $12. The super frugal can use their municipal golf card and pay $6. Open all week, the only days you’ll need a tee time are Saturday and Sunday, seven days in advance for card holders, three days in advance for anyone else. But country club golfers beware: Amenities are limited to two soda machines, a practice area with putting green and a couple of flags. Getting there’s easy, but the directions are country: At the high school traffic light, turn makai into the side street. The road dead-ends at the golf course.
For a Turtle Bay beach without the parking fees, try the resort’s undeveloped, public beach along Kamehameha Highway across from the Kahuku Land Farms produce stand. Look for the sign that says “warning” in bold, all caps—but don’t stop reading; It just says to “enter at your own risk.”
Wind Some, Lose Some
Big toys call for big batteries. Kahuku Wind’s array of 12 giant, white windmills contains the largest battery storage system of any wind farm in North America. Besides just being big, the batteries help smooth out the trade winds’ notorious fluctuations by absorbing and releasing energy. To give you a sense of what is being generated, the wind farm can provide 30 MW of power. On high-demand days the island of Oahu uses 1,200 MW.
This is the second wind farm attempted in Kahuku. In 1986, Hawaiian Electric Industries (HECO’s parent company) built a nine-megawatt, 15-turbine farm. The designers had a “terrible experience,” says HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg. “The winds were more volatile than they expected.” He says the initial testing of the location consisted of UH students using balloons to watch how the wind pushed them, and recording results. And then there was the raw material. “The blades were made out of plywood. The salt air rusted everything else,” Rosegg said. The price of oil dropped to $20 a barrel, delivering the wind farm’s coup de grace. It was sold to a private company, but the turbines at the former facility stopped spinning for good in 1997.
Laie Falls Hike
Until the very end, the six-mile hike to Laie Falls is a pretty easy, albeit uphill, trek. The adrenaline really starts to rip after you see the sign that points you to the waterfall lookout. It should say “This is where it gets interesting.” There, the trail turns to razor-edged paths and steep rock walls. The falls at the bottom aren’t huge—probably about 10 feet—but rush quite dramatically. With the peaceful views of the mountains and the ocean you get on the way, this hike is worth a few hours if you have them. There’s no official website for the hike, nor any information from Hawaii Reserves Inc., which owns some of the land (technically, you need a permit from its office to hike). But it’s easy to get there: take the road directly across Kamehameha Highway from Hukilau Beach, go around the traffic circle and stay right onto Poohaili Street until it ends at a somewhat rickety gate with a small sign that says “Laie Falls Trail Head.” Next door to it, someone has posted less-welcoming signs, to keep out of their property in somewhat colorful language. Keep walking down that dirt road (past a panoply of “no trespassing” signs) until the first wooden Laie Falls sign points you to the trail. Despite the dubious beginnings, the trail really is fun. For general information, call Hawai‘i Reserves Inc., 293-9201, hawaiireserves.com.
Take a Snike
It’s worth the walk at low tide to Goat Island, which, despite its popular name, is actually a bird sanctuary. But we suggest bringing your snorkel gear to make it a snike (snorkel/hike), because even at low tide the reef can be sharp and if the tide comes in, well … it’s best to have some fins. To get there, go into Malaekahana State Park and walk east, towards the point. The crossing is about 400 yards wide. Though it’s an accomplishment to get there, the smell of thousands of nesting seabirds and their guano may hasten the return “snike.” hawaiioirc.org.
Poke Pit Stop
Like a lot of things in this town, the shoyu poke at Kahuku Superette was inspired by football. “The owner saw all the kids come in after football practice, buying candy bars. So he said; ‘how about we make poke and rice instead?’” recalls manager Diane Primacio. Owner Tina Lee makes the shoyu from a recipe passed down from her mother’s Korean great-grandmother. Customers make a beeline from the front door to the back counter to fill up on the poke, served over warm rice for a dollar more. There’s a couple types of ahi poke (but seriously, get the shoyu), tako and lomi salmon. For sweet and spicy crunch, get a quarter-pound of the amazing taegu-style dry opae shrimp, Primacio’s favorite. “If she’s in the store making it, she’ll pop one of the warm ones in your mouth!” Kahuku Superette, 56-505 Kam. Highway, 293-9878.
Go for a stroll along the new 1.8-mile Malaekahana Bike Path. Almost everyone walking it’s length is a local, so it is a great place to hear the local gossip and talk story to get the real feel of this community.
Farm Stand Find
Beware tourist trap farm stands in Kahuku that peddle store-bought fruit. The most authentic place is Kahuku Land Farm, which is run by farmers who lease their farmland from Turtle Bay. Of the six farms represented, our favorite was Home Farm, where you’ll recognize Chue Outtaphone by her tiny stature and giant smile. She and her husband, Home, sell two amazing snacks alongside their fresh fruits and vegetables. There’s the banana and steamed sweet rice, wrapped in a fresh banana leaf, which you can peel away like a candy bar wrapper. Or, try the grilled coconut cake, warm little orbs with a tiny touch of green onion inside. With a texture like mochi and a beautiful coconut flavor, they’re immediately addictive. “We’re Laotian, but they’re Vietnamese recipes,” Chue says. “We like to make it less sweet.” On Kamehameha Highway, east of Turtle Bay.
Antiques Road Show
“We’re Kahuku’s largest antique shop,” says Paul Wroblewski, smiling. “We’re also the only antique shop.” Aptly named “The Only Show in Town,” the place is perfect for anyone who enjoys a little kitsch now and then. The dizzying array of objects—from aloha shirts to air-raid sirens to spiky blowfish hanging from the ceiling—is stacked high on shelves. But be warned: this is not a stop for the thin-skinned. Wroblewski is just as likely to tease you as sell to you. Finding the shop is easy, look for the “glass float” sign perched on top of a rusting station wagon out front. On Kamehameha Highway, near the shrimp farms. Tanaka Plantation Stores, 56-901 Kamehameha Highway, 293-1295.
Gunstock Ranch is the real deal. Driving up to this working farm, you’re as likely to see the owner’s kids shooting bb guns at the trees as you are to see anything resembling a tourist. Owner Greg Smith offers a bunch of interesting rides up the hillside to panoramic ocean views—a keiki ride for squirts as young as two or a sunset ride with a campfire steak barbeque. He is also a host to Island rodeos, when horse people from all over Oahu turn up to strut their stuff and compete for jackpots. For the next events anywhere on Oahu, visit thecowboycalendar.com. See all the rides offered at the ranch at gunstockranch.com.
Did you know:
When the Opana Radar Site first picked up the signal from incoming Japanese bombers on Dec. 7, 1941, Fort Shafter authorities disregarded the report as a “blip.” It’s not open to the public, but a sign on Kamehameha Highway, south of Kawela Bay, marks the site.
Fiji Market Curry
A family-owned business tucked in the back of the Kahuku Sugar Mill complex, the tiny takeout window at the back of the Indian specialty market pumps out amazing curry from a Fijian/Indian family recipe. The “pinch of this, dash of that” dishes are made in the back by Mom. Distinct in that there’s no coconut milk in the recipes, you can get tender lamb chunks, tiger shrimp sautéed to order and a rotating vegetarian dish, like eggplant in a curry tomato sauce. Each plate comes a side of fresh-baked roti flatbread or rice. Trust us, get the roti and sop up all the sauce by hand. 56-565 Kamehameha Highway, fijimarkethawaii.com.
Hilton Alves didn’t know what he was getting into when he invited 600 kids to help him finish an outdoor mural at Laie Elementary. “The kids just went crazy, painting everywhere!” he says, plastering fish and sea life well beyond the boundaries of the mural. A self-taught artist who moved to Hawaii from his native Brazil to stand-up paddle race, Alves loves these volunteer community art projects. “I started painting at 20. If someone had showed me how to paint when I was little, maybe I could have started sooner.” His sea life paintings are sold at Wyland Galleries—the artist is his hero—and he spends Sundays at the Haliewa Farmers’ Market selling his work. Ten of his murals pepper the North Shore, mostly on schools, from Kahuku to Waialua. theartofhilton.com.
Ice Cream Social
Nearly two decades before the food truck craze, Jerry Coffman was driving his Lickety Split ice cream sundae truck around Kahuku, Laie and Hauula. Today he has three trucks that pump out soft serve with all the fixin’s: real hot fudge and hot caramel, pineapple, strawberry and sprinkles. He does banana splits, brownie sundaes and floats. Though his mainstay is the North Shore—he winds through neighborhoods and beaches—Coffman’s trucks drive all the way to Aiea and Kaneohe, hitting each community every third day. “If I did it any more, the parents would kill me!” licketysplitoahu.com.
The bread is warm, yeasty and fresh at Tita’s Grill, a family owned restaurant opened by professional football player Junior Ah You. A local boy who spent years on the Canadian football circuit, he moved his family back to Kahuku after retirement. For $1 you can get a slice of the Polynesian bread, slathered in butter. For under two bucks, you can get Samoan panipopo, a roll covered in sweet, thick coconut sauce. There are hot sandwiches and local grinds too, but that bread is the main show. And at the intersection of the only traffic light, this place is a crossroads of the community, and a great place to people watch, Kahuku-style. 56-1101 Kamehameha Highway, titasgrill.com.
Signs of Change
Roadsides on the way to Kahuku and Laie are peppered with handmade, anti-development signs. Some of the messages are clear (“Nuff Hotels Already”), but most aren’t (“Eminent Domain Abuse”). Here’s your primer for what’s really going on.
- The slogan “Keep the Country Country” was coined in opposition to the initial Turtle Bay development in the 1970s. In the 1980s, the city and county gave Turtle Bay the go-ahead to expand to the tune of 840 acres, stretching from Kawela Bay to Kahuku Point. The zoning entitlement permits five hotels and 2,500 units. “We’re not against development, but we are against dumb development,” says Tim Vandeveer, vice president of the Defend Oahu Coalition. The original development was way too big, and would effect wildlife habitats and cause snarls of traffic, Vandeveer says.
- “I think you’ll find that for as many people who oppose any development, an equal number of people would like to have some hotel jobs up here,” says Drew Stotesbury, owner’s representative for Turtle Bay Resort. “But for most people in the community 2,500 units is too much. We think it’s too much also. We’re trying to find out the right size,” he says. Turtle Bay is in the process of drafting a new, court-ordered Environmental Impact Statement to replace the one from 25 years ago; Stotesbury says it will include less than half the original number of rooms.
- In Laie, Hawaii Reserves, Inc.—the company that manages and owns the Mormon Church’s property—wants to replace the 49-room Laie Inn, demolished last year, with a 222-room Courtyard by Marriott Hotel. They say it will create 150 construction jobs, $2.5 million in wages and 125 jobs when the hotel becomes permanent. But the Defend Oahu Coalition is worried about flooding and the environmental impact of “pouring 400 cubic feet of concrete,” according to Vandeveer. More important, he says, is to see the hotel as only the first part of a much larger development proposal, dubbed “Envision Laie.” The Koolau Loa Sustainable Communities plan would create a new Malaekahana Residential Community that includes 800 homes.