When setting your itinerary for any location, you want it to be multi-dimensional. You don’t just want to see Times Square in New York City; you want to sneak a moment away to the peace and quiet of Central Park and find that hole-in-the-wall bagel shop. Who only wants to gaze upon the Trevi Fountain among the throngs of tourists in Rome; you want to bike along Aqueduct Park too. Hawaii is the same way, no matter the island you choose to call your home-away-from-home.
The island of O’ahu would take approximately two hours to drive around. Within that space is a city bursting with skyscrapers, endless beaches, high end retailers, Pearl Harbor, a Division I college and natural beauty in a country setting that will take your breath away. There is a surprise around every corner, and they blend perfectly together.
The Clint Eastwood of Hawaii
If you are following along with our Hawaii blog posts, you know we brought our brood with us for a family getaway. This added a new dynamic to our trip planning since we needed to ensure there was an entertainment factor that we don’t typically worry about in our travels. While we are content to take in works of the Great Masters in museums, our children would rather take their chances in the torture chambers hidden within the walls of the Tower of London than be dragged through a museum. How does one find an appreciation for beauty and keep everyone happy? You find the perfect ranch and become a Paniolo! This was Craig’s opportunity to finally become the Clint Eastwood of Hawaii.
There are a few options when searching for ATV trails and horseback riding in O’ahu. All will take you a short distance from the sandy beaches of Waikiki. You will need to venture to the North Shore. We chose Gunstock Ranch for our western adventure in the islands. There were a few reasons we went with this destination.
First, the reviews on the staff were fantastic. We can all agree that your guides on any trip can make or break your day. You want to be in good hands that make sure you get the most our of your adventure. Second, it is a working ranch full of livestock roaming their 900 acres, making this place feel a bit more authentic. Finally, their website pictures sold us. We knew we wanted to see this beauty for ourselves.
We made our reservations online and selected our choices for the day; Private Off-Road Adventure and the 1 Hour Scenic Horseback Ride. They also offer more romantic options if you are traveling as a couple. We communicated with them several times by text and email after our reservations were made. They were so patient with Jen’s ridiculous inquiries (not a farm girl over here) and responded the same day, even with the six-hour time difference.
Renting A Car
With tickets in hand, next on the agenda was logistics of getting all seven of us there in a timely manner. The city bus for the island of O’ahu is great if you are going a few miles. If you need to venture further out, it may be a bit more problematic due to the length of time to get there. A private vehicle takes 45 minutes to an hour to get from Waikiki Beach to the North Shore, while the bus takes two hours. We are just coming off eleven hours of air travel and would like to minimize travel time.
Anyone that has gone anywhere knows car rentals are a bit hairy right now. Not only to find one, but to pay the prices. Let go of your sticker shock and if you need to, hand the credit card to your wife. Tip: Keep in mind there are smaller rental facilities available other than the big names. When we finally decided we needed to rent a car for a day none of the larger corporations had a vehicle available. We did a quick Google search and found a small one around the corner from our hotel with plenty of options. First Hawaii Rental had a vehicle large enough for all seven of us. Give them a call and ask for Jon.
Our first full day in the Aloha State was all about the North Shore and ranch life. Everyone was fully rested and only dealing with some minor jet lag. We filled up with some incredible coffee and chai from the Kai Coffee Shop (which became our favorite morning stop) and loaded up the large SUV. The car rental turned out to be our best decision ever. Renting a car for at least a day is a must! This allows you to freely explore at your own pace and pull off for any side adventures.
Our kids’ ages range from 16 to 22. We cannot tell you the joy we felt from hearing them oooh and ahhh in the backseat. Between the Pacific Ocean on one side and the mountain ranges on the other, you did not know where to look. It was a true discovery for all of us. We can honestly say it was the best car ride we have ever taken.
After an entertaining car ride, we exited the highway for a trip to another land. A narrow dirt road leads you away from the hustle and bustle. Staff dressed in your standard jeans, flannel, cowboy hat and boots can be seen at every station. Magnificent horses gather at the far end awaiting their next riders, while others are resting from a return trip. A large, shaded pavilion holds picnic tables and a few daring goats looking for a snack. The first part of our day was the UTV excursion, so we headed to the main outbuilding and checked in with the helpful staff.
At this spot, this is a fully guided tour, meaning one of their employees will drive the UTV and you hold on tight! We were split into two groups, and both had amazing guides. Ali and Emily were fantastic. This ranch employs college students from all over the US that have farm experience. Can we just say-what an amazing experience and opportunity! We were blown away by the knowledge they had about Hawaii and the 900 acres we were exploring when they had only been there for a season.
The off-road experience takes you a little further back than the horses can on the trail ride. One of our first stops was the Hidden Cave that was used in an episode of Hawaii 5-0. We were able to climb down and take a look around for ourselves. Then we visited the resident Texas longhorn cattle to feed them some hay blocks (watch out for the slobber.) We made various stops to overlook the North Shore from incredible heights and take lots of pictures. Vegetation we have never seen in our little corner of northern New York passed us by. It is difficult to put to words the experience of flying through a side of Hawaii you never knew existed.
Our favorite part was the overlook location for a lunch break. It’s a spot complete with picnic table, fire pit and swing. It does not get more picturesque than this. We sat down to dig in while the guides gave us some privacy. no one stopped talking. Our souls were smiling with the happiness we could feel from our children. What a place!
After everyone had full bellies and a turn on the swing, it was time to finish up our ride and move on to the second half of our day- horseback riding! Back at the main part of the ranch we had some time to freshen up and take a moment to get ready for the horses. Again, the experienced staff paired us up perfectly with a horse that would suit not only our size, but our personality. All levels of experience are good to go without any worry. After a brief lesson on the dos and don’ts we were called up one by one to climb the stairs and mount up. Everyone loved their horse and was making small talk with their afternoon companion.
With everyone settled and comfortable it was time to begin our journey back to the trails. This gave the island a whole new perspective. We took a slow walk through terrain we have never seen at the base of the Ko’olau Mountains. Again, the guides, Paige and Kate this time, were spot on perfect with their knowledge and expertise. They were patient and kept us informed of anything from historic landmarks to fields they use for storm preparations. The laughter, the chatter and the smiles let us know we made the perfect choice.
All too quickly our hour had passed and we were corralling everyone back to the main entrance. One by one we said our goodbyes to our new friends, stretched our legs, and made our escape out of the blazing sun.
Exploring the North Shore of Hawaii
We had a few hours of the afternoon left and were not quite ready to head back to the hectic tourist area. The car rental agency gave us a great tip on the famous food trucks of the North Shore. We pulled it up on the GPS and discovered we were only a mile away. The best way to describe this would be a marketplace of food and shopping vendors right off the side of the road.
The main attraction is Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, so Jen naturally jumped in their growing line. With only two seafood eaters in tow, we grabbed the shrimp scampi and the lemon & garlic shrimp. We can tell you it is famous for a reason. Jen is still craving the scampi sauce weeks after our return. Tasting the local flavor is some of the best parts of travel discovery. Go find it!
Within the marketplace everyone was able to find some unique souvenirs to take home. We were able to relax and eat under a shaded pavilion that was butted up against a shaved ice vendor. Two staples in one place, how could you go wrong?
The ride back to our home away from home was filled with a satisfying silence. It’s the kind of quiet you only get from an exhausting day (the good kind) and your mind just needs time to process the sights and sounds. Thank you, Gunstock Ranch and North Shore, for a day our family will forever treasure.
Stay tuned for more Hawaii adventures! Thank you so much for reading, and #NeverStopPlanning!
Jen and Craig