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Oahu surf mecca has much to offer to landlocked, non-surfer Calgarians

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HALEIWA, Hawaii - Oahu's North Shore may seem like an odd place to visit for a pair of non-surfers from landlocked Calgary.

Legendary surf spots such as Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach and Waimea Bay line a 13-kilometre stretch of coastline on the northern tip of Oahu, with swells up to 12 metres during the winter months. The region hosts the famous Vans Triple Crown of Surfing competition every November and December.

But the area has much more to offer for visitors who — let's face it — can barely stand up on a surfboard.

The North Shore is an easy day trip from iconic, but crowded, Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. But it feels like a completely different world.

"Honolulu's a metropolitan city. Out there, it's very country," said Kira Chong Tim of the Oahu Visitors Bureau.

"You want to get that different perspective of the island."

On a calm day, Shark's Cove is a gorgeous snorkelling spot that's shallow and well-protected from the waves, and where colourful tropical fish can be seen zipping in and out of the coral.

Charming boutiques and galleries line the main drag of historic Haleiwa town, where many buildings date back to early-1900s plantation days. An old sugar mill in nearby Waialua now houses dozens of small shops, including ones that shape the boards of some big-time pro surfers.

It came as no surprise to learn many scenes from the TV show "Lost" were filmed around the North Shore.

While we didn't even attempt to hang 10, my partner and I did have our fair share of beach time on the North Shore. Neither of us are particularly strong swimmers, so we didn't venture much farther than waist-deep into the waves. On a relatively quiet April day at Waimea Bay, the surf easily knocked me off my feet and blasted me with sand.

Haleiwa is about an hour's drive from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu, by the most direct route. But we decided to take the long way around the island.

For most of the 2 1/2-hour drive, we had sandy beaches and clear blue-green water on one side of us. On the other side were verdant mountains, lush gardens, fruit markets and more shrimp shacks than we could count.

Stopping for a picnic lunch at one virtually empty beach park along the way, we encountered a giant sea turtle. Someone had drawn a semi-circle in the sand around the creature, presumably to protect it from curious onlookers.

We found affordable and beautiful "glamping" accommodations through Air BnB in the town of Waialua, about a five-minute drive from downtown Haleiwa. Our hosts warned us our GPS would not help us find the place, instead suggesting we look out for the yellow gate with the "goats for sale" sign. So we knew to expect some rustic digs.

After a few wrong turns, we eventually found our little off-the-grid hideaway, nestled in luscious farmland in the shadow of Mount Ka'ala, Oahu's tallest peak.

Our digs consisted of a large safari tent and outdoor patio. The kitchen and bathroom were powered by a combination of solar energy and propane. We felt immersed in nature, without having to give up any of our creature comforts.

A pair of chickens roamed freely around the property. We were invited to pick fresh papayas and bananas from trees on our hosts' land.

We stayed in for breakfast during our stay, frying eggs over a small propane-fired stove. Fresh fare from beach-side food trucks was a great lunch option. And for supper, there were more great restaurants to try than we had time for. Waialua Cafe had excellent sandwiches and smoothies. Luibueno's had great fish tacos and margaritas. Banzai had terrific Japanese food.

If we weren't already feeling mellow enough, our hosts pointed us to drop-in, pay-what-you-can yoga classes at a church a two-minute drive down the road in Waialua.

It didn't take long for our sense of time to shift. Almost immediately, our schedules synced up with nature; we awoke at dawn to a cacophony of birds and were fast asleep not long after sundown.

Follow @LaurenKrugel on Twitter.


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Oahu Visitors Bureau:

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