The ancient Hawaiians foresaw the importance of Oahu centuries ago when they named the island "The Gathering Place." Hawaii was then discovered by the rest of the world in the 1700s. Slowly, the island built up. Now, Oahu is home to Hawaii's biggest city in Honolulu, and the island serves as the state's economic and cultural heart.
Nearly 10 million visitors touchdown in Hawaii every year, and many of them come through Honolulu International Airport. The city is home to the world-famous Diamond Head Crater, Waikiki Beach, and Pearl Harbor. And the bustling international city boasts the best restaurants and nightlife in Hawaii.
But there's a different world waiting on the north shore. All the way on the other side of the island, you'll find relaxed beaches, small towns and family-run cafes serving world-class authentic Hawaiian food. It's a place to slow down, visit with sea turtles at Turtles Beach, cliff jump into the ocean, and escape the hustle and bustle. This is where you'll find the Banzai Pipeline.
The Banzai Pipeline has two distinct personalities. One is calm, serene and tranquil. The other is violent, loud and thrilling. And these personalities are dictated by the seasons.
Hawaii has just two seasons -- dry and "wet." Well, wet is a little misleading. In fact, it's easier to refer to the seasons like summer and winter.
Summer brings reliably hot and dry days, and the ocean tends to be very calm. This is the best time to visit Oahu if you want to have a safe swim or snorkel, and you want to relax on the beach.
Winter brings the swells, but the "wet" season is a bit misleading. The daytime temperatures during winter are only a few degrees cooler than summer, and it does tend to rain. But the rain is short-lived. Humidity builds throughout the day, and it is relieved by a short rain shower that usually brings a beautiful rainbow. The rain rarely interferes with any outdoor activities.
But it's the swell that turns Bonzai Pipeline violent. Waves can reach over 10 feet at Banzai Pipeline during the winter, and that's what attracts the best surfers in the world.
The summer usually sees larger crowds. The temperatures are hot, it rarely rains, the ocean is calm and the kids are out of school. It makes sense, but this works in reverse at Banzai Pipeline.
The beach is actually less crowded during the summer because winter brings a world-renowned surfing competition to the north shore of Oahu. The best surfers in the world converge on north shore beaches to compete for prize money, and the crowds gather to watch these amazing athletes challenge some of the biggest waves in the world.
Check the calendar if you plan on visiting during the winter. The Triple Crown of Surfing and the Billabong Pipeline Masters are held on the Banzai Pipeline every year.
The beach is made up of soft white and beige sand, and there's an extremely shallow reef just yards into the water. This reef creates those desirable waves during the wintertime, but it also provides families with great snorkeling during the summertime.
You'll find lifeguards on duty at the Banzai Pipeline along with bathroom facilities and showers.
To get to the Banzai Pipeline from Honolulu, simply take H-1 North until it turns into H-2 which eventually turns into Highway 99. Continue along 99 until it merges with Highway 83 with will take you to the coast. Look for the Waimea Bay Beach Park sign on your left, and then turn into the parking lot for the Banzai Pipeline.
Summertime ocean conditions are usually favorable for a safe swim and snorkel at Banzai Pipeline, but ocean conditions can change dramatically in a moment's notice in Hawaii. Always check the surf reports before heading north, and always ask a lifeguard if and where it is safe to swim. Definitely bring your snorkel gear because calm ocean conditions at Banzai Pipeline allow you to access some of the best fringing reefs on Oahu. The crystal clear water and shallow reef allow for ample sunlight which really makes the colorful tropical fish pop. It's some of the best snorkeling in the state, and it's only a few yards off the beach.
The beach's barrelling waves make Banzai incredibly dangerous for any water activities except for surfing, and you need to be an excellent surfer to survive these rips. The shallow reef makes for an especially dangerous hazard should you fall off your board. Only challenge these waves if you're supremely confident in your experience and skill.
You can always check the calendar to see if a surfing competition is taking place at Bonzai. It's a unique way to see some of the greatest athletes in the world ply their trade. Or you can simply rock up on a day with a massive swell to see these surfers practicing. And you can stand right at the edge of the beach just yards away from the competition.
Whether you drive north during the summer or winter, you can always hit other attractions along the way. And one of the best attractions in all of Hawaii sits on the northeast corner of Oahu.
You can experience authentic Polynesian villages at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie. The center offers up the opportunity to visit villages from all across the South Pacific, and you'll be able to learn about these different cultures. You'll also be able to learn a little bit about American history. After all, Hawaii is America's 50th state. Hawaiian history is American history.
The center also offers up one of the best luaus in Hawaii, and they put on a unique show called "Ha: The Breath of Life." You'll be brought Polynesian history through dance, and you'll be treated to a fire show. It's a great way to end a day on the north shore of Oahu.