Pūpūkea, Hawaii

Photo: Ke Iki Beach Bungalows

Your pre-departure checklist looks a lot different these days. A 10-day quarantine. A Safe Travels account. A negative covid test. Face masks. Hand sanitizer. You’ll do whatever it takes to board that airplane.

That airplane is heading to Hawai’i. Finally. It’s been almost a year—11 long months—since your last flight. At the time, you certainly didn’t know that the world was about to come to a halt. You kept making plans, requesting vacation time, and booking tickets. They were all canceled. You’ve barely left your apartment, much less your state, since then. So you tried not to get too excited, in case things went downhill again, as you started preparing for O’ahu.

The third-largest Hawaiian island is known as the Gathering Place. But gathering is the furthest thing from your mind. You won’t be hitting the hot spots in Honolulu. You’ll avoid Waikiki’s famous beaches. You’ll even bypass the solemn historic sites of Pearl Harbor. For the first time, you’re heading to O’ahu’s quiet North Shore.

Photo: Ke Iki Beach Bungalows

The North Shore has a much different vibe. Its land is covered with lush forest reserves. They’re so green because it rains about 250 days a year here. Its coast is lined with rugged beaches. They’re pounded by epic waves that make the area a winter surfing mecca. Laid-back towns and ancient historic sites lie in between them. While small, unpretentious hotels, not massive resorts, allow you to call the island home—for a least a little while.

Your hotel is in residential Pūpūkea, which is where one of the best reef break on the North Shore is located. Ke Iki Beach Bungalows sit right on Ke Iki Beach, a wide stretch of sand that’s never crowded. The Ke Ala Pupukea Bike Path, which extends from Sunset Beach to Waimea Bay, runs alongside the hotel on one side. Green lawns, hammocks strung between palm trees, and a lanai (they aren’t porches in Hawai’i) are the only things that stand between the bungalows and the beach on the other. Those bungalows, all named after flowers, were built in 1953. Their bamboo furniture, plant-patterned linens, and rickety picnic tables didn’t change much over the years. Then Hawai’i shut down. It gave the Gerstenberger family time for a much-needed remodel.

So you move into the one-bedroom Orchid Bungalow. The second-story space now has stainless-steel appliances, a sparkling bathroom, and strong WiFi. Most importantly, its long lanai overlooks the gorgeous beach. You plan to take long walks along the water, finally take a surfing lesson, and eat poke bowls and tacos from the food trucks that park just steps from the sand. This will be a much different, much slower trip to O’ahu. You’re so ready.

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