Kicking it old-school with two hands on the wheel and a few haphazard circles on a convenience-store map, photographer Pauly Vella and his co-pilot Michael decided to hit the open road on O'ahu. "We didn't want to just stay in Honolulu," says Pauly. "We really wanted to get to the North Shore after we heard about its reputation for surf culture. I hired a little jeep, and off we went!"
Hawaii was something of a reprieve for Pauly, whose travels usually revolve around sticking to famil schedules (that's familiarisations, for those not in the travel trade) and making sure he captures the right moments. It's all in a day's work for a professional photographer/Instagrammer, but it usually means one doesn't get much chance to explore the path less travelled.
"I took my mate along with me for a Royal Caribbean Pacific Islands cruise, so Hawaii was a nice little trip beforehand," explains Pauly.
The four-day break was Pauly's first introduction to the 'Aloha State' and a very casual affair. The lads left plenty of room for movement in their schedule, picking up a map from an ABC store – "there are hundreds of them dotted along Waikiki," says Pauly – and following the highway to Haleiwa.
"For me, it was a bit of a relaxing break in my dream location," says Pauly. "We stopped for a quick swim here; a relax there. When I get back to Hawaii, I'd definitely stay in different places rather than trip back and forth from Honolulu every day, and definitely check out the other islands."
O'ahu, 'the heart of Hawaii', is the launch pad of most Hawaii holidays, not surprising considering its assets: capital city Honolulu, historic Pearl Harbour, the Iolani Palace, and iconic ribbons of surf-washed beach, to name but a few.
"Waikiki is famous and definitely appealing – clear water, white sand – but the North Shore is paradise. It's pretty much untouched," says Pauly.
O'ahu's North Shore is about an hour's drive from Waikiki. Dubbed by National Geographic as "one of Earth's most awesome places", the North Shore reveals a more authentic side of O'ahu away from the high-rise hotels. If you're more interested in exploring hidden valleys than your resort pool, or visiting ancient temples instead of outlet malls, it's well worth hiring a set of wheels.
The main attraction on the North Shore – aside from the thumping offshore swell – is Laniakea, colloquially known as Turtle Beach. From a safe distance, visitors can watch green sea turtles sunning themselves on shore, digging in the sand, snacking on seaweed, and wading in the warm, shallow waters.
"We saw about four turtles on the beach and learnt a lot about them," says Pauly. "There's a rule – you can't get closer than three metres to them on the shore and you have to try to avoid them in the water too."
The green sea turtles (or 'honu' in Hawaiian) are usually very docile, swimming around the reefs of O'ahu or slowly shuffling onto the sand, but they have been known to give people a warning snap if things get a little too close for comfort.
"It was so interesting to see the conservation efforts in action," says Pauly. "We tripped back and forth from our hotel in Honolulu just to see them."
Your best chance of spotting the gentle giants is in summer when the surf is calm. Visitors say the optimum time to see turtles on the shore is after 1pm and your best bet for parking is along the Kam Highway.
Volunteers are quick to run in and rope off areas when the turtles come ashore to keep folk at a safe distance, though you can get fairly close if you choose to take a dip in the ocean. Bring your snorkel and, if the waves are gentle, you'll be amply rewarded with sea turtle sightings.
It's not all about watching from a distance on the North Shore. Lanaikea is just a stone's throw from the surfing hotspot of Waimea Bay, where monster 30-footers draw big-wave surfers from around the globe.
About Pauly Vella
Hailing from Sydney’s Hawkesbury region, Pauly Vella is a tradie turned full-time photographer and social media influencer. Pauly’s dreamy landscape and oceanscape snaps have seen him become one of Australia’s most popular Instagrammers.