Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
This cluster of charming but no-frills beachfront bungalows on Oahu's picturesque North Shore attracts those wanting a mellow vacation on the other side of the island, both literally and figuratively, from Waikiki.
"There's nothing like this anywhere on the island," says Greg Gerstenberger, manager of the Ke Iki Beach Bungalows, sitting in his small home office one morning. From your typical hotel manager, such a line would be an easy PR slogan. But Gerstenberger, who displays an appealing mix of friendliness and back-pain-induced grumpiness, is no typical hotel manager -- for one thing, he's not wearing a shirt -- and Ke Iki is not a typical hotel.
The bungalows first opened in 1953, owned and operated by the late Mr. and Mrs. Talbot, who'd nabbed the beachfront property for $11,000 and, after their deaths, left it to their son and his children. Gerstenberger came on to manage the property in 2000 and lives on-site.
Though the Ke Iki Beach Bungalows are sometimes classified as a bed-and-breakfast, don't expect Gerstenberger to cook you eggs in the morning. There's no restaurant or even a lobby for check-in. Rather, there's a sign affixed to a large oak tree just off the parking lot that instructs guests to ring a large bell, hanging off the same oak tree, for service. With any luck, that ring will summon Gerstenberger, or his wife, or one of their kids. They'll invite you up to the office on the second floor of their on-site home, quickly go through your paperwork, and then direct you to your bungalow, which is identified not by a number but rather the name of a tropical flower. The door to your bungalow will be open, and the key (a real one made from metal, not a plastic card) will be waiting inside. It's more like renting a house on the shore than getting a room at a resort.
The property's location -- on Oahu's mellow North Shore between picturesque Waimea Bay and the legendary Banzai Pipeline surfing beach, and literally on the beach with which is shares a name -- is hard to beat, at least for those looking for a big, peaceful, and relatively deserted beach. Waikiki is an hour's drive, but its crowds and shopping malls seem a world away from Ke Iki's eleven oceanfront and garden bungalows. In lieu of upscale boutiques, the North Shore has roadside fruit stands; instead of chain restaurants, there are shrimp trucks and the famous Matsumoto Shave Ice in the quaint surf town of Haleiwa, a five- or 10-minute drive from the bungalows.
The bungalows are large and utilitarian. There's no air conditioning and beds have sagging mattresses. But they do have well-equipped kitchens, ceiling fans, fast and free Wi-Fi, and small flat-screen TVs with both DVD players and cable channels aplenty. More importantly, you step outside your door, walk a few steps across your yard -- each is equipped with a table, chairs, and a grill -- and you're literally on the beach.
The beach access is so good, in fact, that the hotel has to post "No Beach Access" signs to keep non-guests off the property. And the beach itself is a beauty -- long and wide, with the smooth, slightly coarse, pebble-like sand the North Beach is known for. It begs for barefoot walking. The water can be somewhat less soothing: In the winter, waves can reach over 30 feet and, according to local lore, kill a few people each year. In the summer, the surf is less ferocious but still strong, making the beach more popular for bonfires than for swimming. But if you can score one of the beachfront bungalows, which are well worth the extra cost, the sound of the waves is magnificent.
Guests come from all over the world but share a laid-back attitude. They're looking for peaceful, naturally beautiful surroundings, and they don't seem to mind that rooms are cleaned only before arrival, not daily. I met one man from Oklahoma who had been coming to the bungalows since he was 12 years old; he now returns every summer for a few weeks with his wife and five young children, who looked to be having a blast running along the beach and all around the lush property. Another guest, an older woman, told me I'd have to come back in the winter sometime when the whales come up so close to the beach you can see their eyes. I'm not sure if that really happens, but I'd be happy to come back sometime and see for myself.
Very minimal services. Bungalows are cleaned before arrival, not daily.
The service here is extremely limited. Those looking for a mellow, laid-back atmosphere may not mind -- but guests should expect service that's more akin to what you'd get renting a house, not staying in a hotel.
On Oahu's famed North Shore, an area known for its world-class surfing and located about 45 minutes from the Honolulu Airport and an hour from Waikiki. The North Shore is relatively undeveloped and has few places for visitors to stay, so it feels far less touristy, and far more quaint, than Waikiki -- but it may be too quiet and mellow for some.
Right on beautiful, uncrowded Ke Iki Beach. But she can be a dangerous beauty, with huge waves in the winter and hazardous shore breaks year-round.
The beach access is so good that the hotel has to post "No Beach Access" signs to keep non-guests off the property. Sand is literally just a few steps from the doors of the beachfront bungalows (worth the extra cost over the garden-view bungalows). And what a beach it is: Ke Iki Beach is long, wide, and uncrowded -- the sandy antithesis of beaches in Waikiki. It's bordered by volcanic rocks and has views of lush green mountains. This is what many people imagine a Hawaiian beach to be. In winter, the waves top 30 feet on the beach, making it popular with surfers. (The hotel's information book even includes an account of a monstrous wave, supposedly 100 feet high, that hit in 1986 and destroyed some of the bungalows.) In the summer, the waves are quite small but still strong. There is some opportunity for snorkeling on the beach in front of the hotel, but Shark's Cove, one of the best snorkeling sites on the island, is just a couple blocks away.
At the Ke Iki Beach Bungalows you're paying for location, not luxury, but the eleven units were renovated in the fall of 2009 (shortly after my visit). But step outside, and you're standing on a magnificant, undeveloped beach -- at least if you're staying in one of the five beachfront bungalows, which cost about $50 more a night but are well worth it. (The six garden view units aren't bad either: The lawns are lush, and they're just a few more steps from the sand.) The bungalows may be modest, but they're not without a few modern amenities, including well-equipped kitchens, small flatscreen TVs with built-in DVD players, phones, and free and fast Wi-Fi, plus a great selection of basic cable channels through Time Warner.
No amenites to speak of. But parking is free, and there's coin-operated laundry for guests.
No pool, business center, or fitness center. If you're looking for amenities, and still want to be on the North Shore, try the Turtle Bay Resort. This place is all about Ke Iki Beach: Simply walk out the door and down a few steps and you're on sand. There are also a number of hammocks reserved for hotel guests.
As long as you don't expect the usual amenities of a hotel, this is a solid family choice with big bungalows with kitchens and yards right on a magnificent (if somewhat dangerous) beach. When I stayed there, a family with five young children looked to be having a blast running around the lush, casual grounds and along beach day and night. The father had been coming to the bungalows since he was 12, and he now brought his own kids for several weeks every summer.
Clean enough but not spotless and a little shabby. Beach accessories are scattered around the property. Neat freaks would probably be happier elsewhere.
Bungalows are cleaned prior to arrival -- but after that, guests are on their own. Those staying over a week can pay extra to have their place cleaned during their stay. For the most part, my bungalow appeared thoroughly clean, though there was a leftover plastic fork in the refrigerator and crumbly remnants of a former guest's pizza in the oven. Sheets and towels were bright and clean. The general vibe is beachy and laid back, and that extends to the upkeep: Even with ongoing renovations, the bungalows feel slightly shabby.
Bungalow kitchens come well equipped with everything from plates and glasses to toasters, coffeemakers, rice cookers, microwaves, and blenders. Kitchens are not supplied with any "getting started items" (like coffee and tea) save for paper towels and a fresh sponge. My kitchen, however, had some leftover coffee filters in one of the cabinets, and the management says they will typically leave clean, useful things like coffee filters or condiments for future guests.
Location trumps luxury at these 11 beachfront bungalows sitting just above the sand on the picturesque North Shore. Sure, the bungalows are modest, amenities are zero, and service is minimal. But a beautiful beach is just outside the door, as are hammocks and grills. And Oahu's most famous surfing spots and a charming surfer town, Haleiwa, are just down the street.