Surf's up at extensively renovated Turtle Bay

When guests return to the Turtle Bay Resort on July 1, they will find the 15-month closure was put to good use.

The North Shore Oahu property, which opened in 1973, took advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown to execute an expansive transformation from the porte-cochere to the pools, with brand new options for accommodations, a re-imagined food and beverage program and expanded programming. 

The original plan was to execute the renovations and changes in pieces, working around guests. The pandemic led to a revised plan that the vice president and managing director of the resort, Tom Donovan, said sped up the timeline by at least 50%.

“When the pandemic hit, we looked at it and decided to just go at it and use the opportunity to fix up the hotel and do all the work that [normally] would upset a guest’s stay,” Donovan said. “We installed all new windows, all new railings, we repainted. So everything has a fresh new look, and all that dusty, noisy work is happening now, before guests come back.” 

Donovan himself is a new addition, taking the reins of the resort in October, drawn back to Hawaii after two previous stints by the unique opportunity at Turtle Bay. 

“Turtle Bay is a special place,” he said. “It has a large footprint with five miles of coastline. Of our 1,300 acres, more than 600 acres have been permanently allocated as conservation space, and we have a responsibility as stewards of that land …. The activities and experiences that can be created here are just sensational. Seeing those resources, it’s one of those projects hoteliers dream about.” 

In addition to the general sprucing up of the buildings and property, major alterations are also underway. 

In the lobby, employee offices and a front desk were removed to open views of the pools and coastline. The lobby also welcomes guests with new, large-scale works from local artists Nick Kuchar, known for his vintage-style surf art designs, and Abigail Romanchak, who specializes in Native Hawaiian printmaking.

“Now, there is a 25-seat bar [in the lobby] with a fantastic view of the point and down the coastline,” Donovan said. “We also have all glass on the east side, and I’d say it’s one of the few if not the only resort where you can see sunrise in the lobby and sit in the same place later in the day and see sunset.”

The Surf House is a new addition that serves as a both a retail shop and space for presentations and talks. A new lounge with pool and ocean views, the Club, is reserved exclusively for Vista Level guests, who also receive upgraded amenities and services, such as access to special cooking or mixology classes. 

The terraced pool deck features a new infinity-edge, adults-only pool in addition to the freshly redesigned all-ages pool. New cabanas have been installed along with a revamped pool bar and entertainment area. 

The propertywide renovations were conceptualized by Los Angeles-based architect and designer Dianna Wong, who was inspired by the North Shore’s surf culture. Throughout the resort and in the 410 remodeled guestrooms, Wong featured materials such as reclaimed wood, organic fabrics and hand-stitched leather. 

“It’s the North Shore, so you can’t go too refined,” Donovan said. “They have a bohemian feel. There’s a relaxed feeling here, and we’re truly going for barefoot luxury.”

The cottages, 42 seaside, stand-alone accommodations with sliding glass doors that offer unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean, have been renovated and renamed the Ocean Bungalows. Construction is underway on a new pool that will be exclusively for guests staying in the bungalows. 

As a new offering, there will be 20 beachside glamping tents. The tents have raised wood platform floors, no electricity and no plumbing. There will be communal restrooms for the camping area with solar panels providing power, in addition to fire pits and special programming for glamping guests. The tent area is expected to be ready in the fall, Donovan said, and most will be designed for two people, with some doubles available. 

At the heart of Turtle Bay’s evolving food and beverage program is its 400-acre Kuilima Farm and a general effort to source more ingredients and products from the Islands. 

The new signature restaurant, Alaia, will highlight offerings from the farm as well as a range of products from the North Shore and elsewhere in Hawaii, including sustainably caught seafood. At the new lobby cafe, Hoolana, guests can enjoy Hawaii-grown coffees while watching the sun rise over the bay. 

“We really see the farm as a big piece of what we’re doing,” Donovan said. “We want to continue to use more and more of the products grown on the farm here at the resort and also make it part of the programming. There will be farm stands selling some of the fruits and vegetables and other goods, and we’ll also have farm tours.”

The Turtle Bay Resort is home to two golf courses, an 11,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, horse stables, cultural gallery, tennis and pickleball courts and hiking and mountain biking trails that continue to be expanded. 

Additionally, new custom activities are in the works, including an area tour with a Hawaiian cultural expert and a surf-with-a-pro experience, during which guests can learn the breaks and swell patterns from a top-flight wave rider. 

“We want people to get out and enjoy all the North Shore has to offer,” Donovan said. “Within five minutes of the guestroom door, you can get to almost any activity. We have our own helipad with three active helicopters, and one of the best surf breaks for learning how to surf in Hawaii.

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