Half a century old, Hawaii resort gets a $399 million facelift – Stuff
The concierge reckons I can do it. Turtle Bay Resort, sprawling across a peninsula along Oahu’s fabled North Shore, sits 6.5 kilometres from Ted’s Bakery, known among dessert lovers for its chocolate haupia cream pie (haupia is a traditional Hawaiian coconut pudding).
Guests can borrow a bicycle for up to 45 minutes for free. I check Google maps. It’ll be tight but the app confirms the ride to the Sunset Beach bakery and back is doable in that timeframe. So I time my adventure down to the minute, aiming to check out the bike so I’ll arrive at the bakery as it opens.
A few things, however, put a spoke in my (two) wheels. Firstly, the concierge desk is unmanned when I show up. Then, I take the advice to stay off busy Kamehameha Highway for as long as I can, instead tracing the more pleasant off-road trail that meanders past the resort’s golf course and stables.
I arrive a few minutes past the bakery’s 8am opening but already a dozen people are waiting in line (besides pies, the bakery also sells hot food such as Spam and egg breakfast sandwiches and garlic shrimp). Clearly, I won’t be nipping in and out but I’ve not come this far to fail in my mission. I join the line’s tail and, soon enough, a wedge of Ted’s most famous pie flavour is in my hands.
* Hawaii: Night diving with mantas
* Lombok and the Gili Islands, Indonesia: What Bali was like, 30 years ago
* Turtle Island, Fiji: Why this tropical island paradise is one of the world’s most recognised
The packaged pie goes into my bike basket and I pedal back as fast as I can. “Do I leave the bike here?” I ask the valet as I park my wheels and trot, huffing and puffing and red in the face, towards the front desk. “Yes – and you can leave that with me too,” he says, nodding at what’s in my hands.
Ha! Good humour wafts through the resort like a balmy sea breeze. After all the resort, which turned 50 this year, is basking in the results of an extreme facelift. It used the pandemic downtime well, closing completely from March 2020 until July 2021 and splashing $US250 million (NZ$399 million) on a transformation (the work finally wraps this September).
Previous guests will recognise the bones but that’s about all. The lobby is lighter and brighter, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows that show views across the North Shore. The vibe is barefoot luxury – apt considering this spot is all about connecting to surf culture and that you’re likely to wander in with saltwater hair and a little sand still sticking to your feet. The resort is only an hour’s drive from Honolulu but feels a world away.
On arrival at my room in one of the towers (the resort also features clusters of discreetly located bungalows), my travel companion messages: “How lovely are the rooms!” Uh, mine’s not particularly remarkable. Later, I realise she’s in renovated digs and I’m not. The guest room transformations include a vast surf image plastered along a wall (the photography comes from North Shore artists), ombre curtains, neutral textiles and floorboards.
Not that you spend much time in-room when the great outdoors beckons. Apart from riding bikes and splashing around in the pools, you can take a lesson with the in-house Jamie O’Brien Surf Experience outfit (the North Shore pro-surfer occasionally shows up to surprise guests). The beginners’ surf break is a golf-cart ride away.
The waves roll in, gentle as a lullaby. After my arms tire from paddling out a few times, my instructor matter-of-factly jams his big toe onto my board to tow me out the back. His instructions are so clear and the board so broad that I eventually stand and ride a wave (I can now claim to have surfed Hawaii’s North Shore).
Landlubbers can try horseback riding, head out for a round of golf or linger at the indoor-outdoor Alaia restaurant. One of the signature cocktails here, a mix of vodka, passionfruit puree and prosecco called Don’t Touch the Turtles, is served in a copper turtle so heavy you can barely lift it (especially if you have paddle-weary arms). The drink is a nod to the Hawaiian green sea turtle – or honu – that’s Turtle Bay’s namesake. It also reminds us how to behave if you see the animal that, according to Hawaiian legend, represents the eternal link between land, sea and mankind.
Rooms from US$688 (NZ$1100) a night, including electric vehicle charging, wi-fi, access to the gym, and bicycle rental.
The writer was a guest of Hawaii Tourism Oceania.