“The rope was placed there in the 60s and it’s still there!” Sue Murphy laughs looking up at a coconut tree she used to swing from as a child. Her father, a paratrooper in the military, used his military grade rope to make her a swing to play on. The tree stood right in front of her family’s home. In 1966, white sand and the ocean were what she enjoyed while swinging. Now, overgrown plants and trees cover where her childhood home once stood.
Decades ago several homes were nestled along Kawela Bay and the coast of the resort. They were built back in the 1920s, primarily for sugar cane workers. Residents lived in the homes for several years, some for several generations- up until 1986, when the land owner told them they had to leave.
They owned the homes, but not the land. They were told they could take their homes with them, which most couldn’t do. The homes left behind were bulldozed but all the families bonds still remain.
Now nearly 30 years later, dozens of families that once called Kawela Bay home are reuniting for the first time.
“It feels like home when we are here,” Sue says with a smile. “It’s just so nice to see people we grew up with. My son took his first swim here in Kawela.” Her family was introduced to Kawela through her grandmother, who played in the bay every summer. It became a tradition and several generations have enjoyed the area.
Sue isn’t the only one. Terry and Norman Walker can share dozens of tales from Turtle Bay, so can the Haglunds, the Allens and the Melacons.
“When we lived here, we knew how special it was. We always knew,” said Cathy Melancon, who called Kawela Bay home for 8 years near the World War II Bunker. “Everyone embraced each other, took care of each other. No one locked their doors.”
To gather these significant stories, Turtle Bay Resort recently reached out to the families who once lived at Kawela Bay and once called it their home. Those in attendance this past weekend, many of whom have not seen each other in over 30 years, are part of that history. The families gathered to enjoy each other’s company, reminisce and of course- talk story. Things seemed to seamlessly pick up where they left off many years ago, as neighbors and friends, families and loved ones, all co-mingled as they once did. Doors were open, families helped raise each other’s keiki- it was a true community nestled amongst the shady trees and idyllic shoreline of Kawela Bay.
As I spoke with the guests of the event, I was fascinated to learn about Kawela’s past – for instance in the 1960’s a train used to deliver newspapers to families that lived there. And I found it hard to imagine, that this beautiful bay was once BROWN! Run-off from sugar cane fields went into the bay. Sue and others say it reminded them of chocolate milk. They would swim and come out of the bay dirtier than when they jumped in!
The Haglund Family lived at the west side of Kawela for years. Now 61-years-old, Billy Haglund looks at the break he learned to surf when he was seven. Where his family’s small beach cottage once stood is now a multi-million dollar mansion. Billy has returned to Kawela with his mother Nila and son Kawika. He remembers when his family was forced to leave in 1986. His family then moved to Montana.
For some of the family members, it was painful remembering the past. Some chose to move on, while others have stayed connected, watching the news and even revisiting Kawela throughout the years. They have seen the changes that occurred each time Turtle Bay had new owners and management companies. They remember big signs screaming “PRIVATE PROPERTY” and “NO TRESPASSING.” They remember Japanese owners trying to build hotels in the area. Many of them fought to protect and preserve Kawela Bay.
Now the “No trespassing” signs are gone and the gates to Turtle Bay are no longer guarded by security. The resort is open to the community and locals to enjoy as the living room of the North Shore. In May 2014, Turtle Bay Resort, along with the State of Hawaii, City and County of Honolulu, and The North Shore Community Land Trust, established a conservation easement on 665.8 acres of land. This agreement protects Kawela Bay from development.
“It makes me feel really good that the hotel is being good caretakers of the ahupua’a,” Sue says holding back tears. “I’m grateful and proud the hotel is exhibiting good stewardship. Kawela is a special place.”
A special place that many hold close to their heart, and for obvious reasons. This weekend’s reunion brought back so many memories, some painful, but most were of happy memories and a positive outlook for the future, from all the families and friends involved. Turtle Bay Resort is excited to continue to be a steward of the land and ensuring Kawela Bay is a place for locals and visitors to continue and enjoy and create stories of their own, for generations to come.