USA TODAY International Edition
Go beyond Waikiki to find Laie’s charms
LAIE, Hawaii – Oahu’s North Shore is known for a few things: a slower, more laid- back lifestyle compared with busy Honolulu, stunning beaches and powerful waves that draws the biggest names in surfing. Every day, tourists flock to the Pupukea and Haleiwa beaches to see what the North Shore is all about.
Those who wish to venture even farther, past the northernmost tip of the island to be exact, will be rewarded. About an hour- and- a- half drive from noisy Waikiki – a road trip by local standards – Laie is a small beach town that puts culture and its community front and center.
“Laie is so remote,” said Delsa Moe, vice president of cultural presentations at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie. “You take care of your neighbor. When the neighbor is flooding, the whole community descends upon that yard.”
The town is largely undeveloped, and its beauty is on full display with a rugged coastline and turquoise ocean just feet from the Kamehameha Highway. Local families set up tents along the beach, and they fish and play in the water until the sun sets. On the other side of the road, the misty Koolau Mountains are in the background.
Laie is a place where others are warmly welcomed into its community, especially those wanting to learn about Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures.
Consider spending a few days in Laie during your next visit to Oahu and experiencing the small town’s big aloha spirit. Here’s a weekend itinerary to exploring what Laie has to offer.
A history of aloha
“Laie is a melting pot,” according to Kekela “Aunty Kela” Miller, a local kumu hula ( hula teacher) whose family’s roots in Laie can be traced to when Kamehameha I ruled the islands in the late 1700s. Her family is one of the town’s oldest.
Centuries ago, Laie was a pu’uhonua, or place of refuge, where fugitives could not be harmed, Miller said.
In the mid- 1800s, Mormon missionaries bought 6,000 acres to build a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints Temple and sought to spread their faith to Native Hawaiians. To this day, Laie is a Mormon town ( it’s a “dry” town, but wine and liquor are sold nearby). Laie also is home to Brigham Young University- Hawaii and its Polynesian Cultural Center, the top paid attraction in the entire state.
“We all knew once the temple went up, it was not just for Laie or Hawaii but the whole Pacific Rim,” Miller said. “People from places like Samoa moved here and brought their own ideas. Everybody learned about each other’s culture and had respect.” She adds that the relationship between Hawaiians and the church hasn’t been “perfect,” but residents feel a sense of pride for the strong community they’ve built over time.
This history is what makes Laie so welcoming to visitors when it comes to the aloha spirit, Miller said.
Leave town, aka Honolulu, in the morning and make the scenic drive to the North Shore. Prepare to lose cellular service at some points along the way. Once you arrive in Laie, check into The Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore – home base for the weekend. It’s conveniently located just steps from the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Grab lunch at Pounders Restaurant, which serves up local fare with farmfresh ingredients. Order the ahi poke nachos for the table, a classic appetizer with an island twist. The portions are large, so save room for dessert, such as a slice of mango or guava cheesecake.
Once fueled up, walk over to the Cultural Center, dubbed Polynesian Disneyland.
The center comprises six immersive villages representing six island cultures: Hawaii, Fiji, Aotearoa ( New Zealand), Samoa, Tahiti and Tonga.
Throughout the day, the villages host different workshops, like how Samoans quickly climb up tall coconut trees to gather the fruit, and presentations, like watching the Maori warrior dance, known as the haka, in Aotearoa. There are canoe tours and a tram.
At 6 p. m., the villages close down, and it’s showtime. Head over to the Ali’i Luau Onipa’a, a tribute to Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last ruling monarch. The performances recount her life, including her imprisonment in Iolani Palace for eight months as the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown by Western interests. The show is the only full Hawaiian luau on the island ( most others are pan- Pacific in that they showcase other cultures, such as Tahitian dancing).
“This is the story that is very relevant and front of mind to our people here in Hawaii: Why not present it in a way to hopefully help our visitors understand?” Moe said. During the show, guests can taste Hawaiian fares such as kalua pig, poi, poke and more.
After the luau, guests can attend the HA: The Breath of Life, a dramatic show following a boy’s life that invites the rest of the Pacific onstage with what Moe called “the glitz, the glamour.” Think fire- knife dancing.
Wake up early before the sun gets too hot and head over to CLIMB Works Keana Farms for a three- hour ziplining tour. The tour takes guests soaring through a working farm that grows crops such as lemongrass. Even first- time zipliners will find the tour approachable, with the staff patiently encouraging people how to even eventually hang upside down.
Spend the rest of the day relaxing at the mellow Hukilau Beach, where the community once threw a luau feast called the Hukilau to raise money for the Mormon meeting house after it burned down in 1940. Hula dancers were set up by the road to attract tourists, and tickets were given to tour groups in Hawaii. The beach is far less crowded than those in town and is still a place where the community likes to gather.
Cool off from your beach day at Angel’s Ice Cream, a local institution for more than 20 years. Get a scoop of macadamia nut ice cream or make your own shaved ice bowl by picking from more than 15 flavors, including coconut and guava, and adding condensed milk.
Get breakfast at the Hukilau Cafe, a neighborhood mainstay. The no- frills eatery serves up local favorites such as macadamia nut pancakes and loco mocos, eggs and a hamburger patty served with gravy over rice.
Before heading back to town, make a pit stop at Laie Point Wayside Park, a peninsula surrounded by jagged limestone and rock formations that makes you feel as if you’re at the edge of the world. There’s a popular cliff- jumping spot that was featured in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Accessing the park means going through a residential neighborhood, so be respectful during your visit and don’t jump if you’re not an experienced cliff jumper or strong swimmer.