Chronological / Destinations / Hawaii / United States

Hanging Loose in an RV in Hawaii

As RVers, we had visited every state in the US except Hawaii. That all changed when we flew to the island of Oahu for a travel writers’ conference. Before we left Canada, we booked an RV rental with Hawaii Campers. We found detailed camping information and descriptions of their camper vans on their website.

Bellows Field Campground - hanging loose

Jill and Brad Robins, owners of Hawaii Campers, sent us their rental agreement and insurance requirements well in advance of our departure from Canada. They specialize in VW camper vans that are considered to be minivans, rather than RVs, when it comes to insurance. A minivan is insured like a car, so we were covered for any liability for damage to a non-owned automobile under our own vehicle policy.

Our rental unit, Shaggy, a 1988 Westfalia pop-up camper, came with stove, sink, table, cooler, bedding, dishes, cooking utensils, battery-operated candles, emergency flashlight, DVD player, beach gear, first aid kit, a tent and battery charger.

Hawaii Campers - Shaggy's interior

“You probably won’t need the charger,” Brad told us. “We’ve only had one dead battery and that was because a customer was charging his laptop.”

There are places on the island to pull over for the night, no permits required. However, it was our first time RVing in Hawaii so we decided to go to one of the several state and county campgrounds. Permits must be obtained prior to arrival and the regulations say that tents are mandatory. These parks are not expensive, usually less than $10 per night. Jill told us that Hawaii Campers’ vans parked without tents have never been bothered by authorities, but, we had one, just in case.

We had made the decision to drive to the North Shore, the “surfing capital of the world,” about 40 minutes away from Honolulu. Highway H2 going north, like all the other island highways, was good pavement. When our first campground choice was closed, we stopped at a hardware store to ask if there were any other campgrounds nearby. An employee recommended we stay at a hotel, the Turtle Bay Resort at $400 a night. A customer in the store suggested that we camp at the beach.

“As long as you have a fishing pole either beside your vehicle or in the water, the police will leave you alone,” she said.

The employee thought we would need a permit.

“No,” the woman said, with a wink. “All you need is a fishing pole and no one will bother you.”

It was a hot, humid afternoon. Shaggy had no air conditioning. We drove with windows down, hair blowing, and Hawaiian music playing. Pick-up trucks passed us with surfboards and fishing poles piled in the back. In Hale’iwa, people stood in line to buy shave ice. We joined them and ordered passion-mango-strawberry. It was bright orange, red, blue — and thirst-quenching cold.

Every time we waved, people gave us the surfers’ “hang loose” or shaka, a gesture with thumb and little finger extended while holding the three middle fingers curled. Sometimes for extra emphasis, they rotated their hands back and forth at the wrist. We adopted this gesture as our own.

North Shore - jumping from bridge in Hale'iwa

As we drove over the Kamananui Stream in Waimea, we looked back across the bay to see people jumping from lava rocks into the ocean. Others were sitting on the hot sand with feet and legs at the water’s edge. Everyone was trying to cool off.

Jill and Brad of Hawaii Campers had recommended the Friends of Malaekahana campground. It was beyond the Turtle Bay Resort Hotel. From ancient times, Malaekahana was a magical place, a place of healing for Hawaiian royalty. The campground encircles the lava rocks, wind-swept shrubs and open beach of remote Malaekanhana Bay. The Friends of Malaekahana campground had Wi-Fi and a security gate, so it became our base camp for the rest of our RV trip

After driving by cabins, grass shacks and a thatched yurt nestled among trees, we located our campsite just steps from the beach. It was within sight of new flush toilets. The showers had no doors but did have hot water. Chickens scratched at the dry sand around our camper van. We were told that wild chickens in Hawaii were a result of domestic chickens being swept up and relocated by tropical storms. To us, it seemed like a logical explanation because there were chickens everywhere.

Friends of Malaekahana campground - view from our campsite of Malaekahana Bay

Friends of Malaekahana campground - our campsite with chickens

Our first night, we fell asleep with the sound of the surf and a breeze coming in through the screen of the pop-up roof. Fresh-from-the-farm lychee nuts waited in the cooler, ready to peel for breakfast.

Craig Chapman, owner of Friends of Malaekahana, explained that campgrounds and parks in Hawaii are in pristine areas but are not recognized by the state government as being an important part of tourism.

“Most parks are third world. No amenities. No security,” Craig said. “They are seen as local use only.”

In the Kahuku area of the North Shore, food trucks offered hot, spicy, shrimp in their shells with garlic and butter. Farmers’ markets lured us with the bright colours of fresh fruit: mangoes, strawberries, papaya, pineapple, coconut and prickly soursop. Our parking spot under the shade of a cluster of bamboo was a perfect place for a picnic in Shaggy.

North Shore - fresh fruit stand

The north shore Highway 83 continues down the eastern, windward side of Oahu. Mountains to the right, surfers and sunbathers on the beaches to the left. Fishing poles in the sand, lines dangling into the surf. A tent here and there for shade. Sometimes a porta-toilet.

Shrimp Shack food truck - and Deisha, cook and wait staff

We stopped at Ching’s Punalu’u Store, where The Shrimp Shack, a bright, yellow, food truck, was in the parking lot. The Shrimp Shack has been featured on the Food Network and Travel Channel. Signs suggested how we should eat our shrimp. “Suck. Peel. Dip. Eat.” So, we did. The food truck menu also offered mahi, snow crab, cod, steak, mussels, local corn, tropical floats and tee shirts. Inside the store, we could have purchased spam musabi, a Hawaiian favorite, with a slice of spam sandwiched in white rice and wrapped with nori, an edible seaweed paper originating in Japan. There were warning signs in the parking lot to “Lock your car.” We RVers know that it is important to be street smart. Hawaii is paradise but bad things happen there just like everywhere else.

The price of gas on Oahu for Premium 89 octane Plus was $4.34 per gallon. We discovered that gas stations do not provide washrooms. On one occasion, we were directed to a ballpark where we found clean, modern facilities, with music.

Bellows Field Campground - sand and surf

We checked out Bellows Field, a beach campground located on the Bellows Air Force Station, a Marine Corps Training Area. The campground was not easy to find but we had our cameras out in a flash when we saw the turquoise-blue water and fluffy white capped waves. Maintained by the city and county of Honolulu, the campground requires camping permits. Full washroom facilities are available. The campground has two sides, one for the public and another for military personnel and their families.

North Shore - surf boards

In Hawaii, all beaches are open to the public. It is important to read signs and postings regarding hours and specific regulations at individual beaches .

Shrimp Shack food truck - shrimp plate

Even if we had chosen to stay in hotels instead of campgrounds, our camper van from Hawaii Campers would have been the perfect touring vehicle. Better than any rental car, because we had a stove and kitchen equipment, chairs and cooler, available at anytime, anywhere. It was easy to stop spontaneously beside the ocean and relax with a sandwich, garlic shrimp or farm fresh fruit.

Everyone we met in Hawaii offered aloha, the spirit of giving. The drivers were courteous in the city as well as the rural areas. RVing in Hawaii is not the same as RVing on the mainland of North America. Island remoteness and tropical climate make Hawaii unique. The campground facilities at the present time are primitive, basic. However, by RVing on Oahu, we experienced the freedom, the adventure and the food of the real Hawaii beyond the hotels, as only RVers can do.

Hawaii Campers
Hawaii state parks on Oahu
Friends of Malaekahana Campgrounds
Bellows Field Beach Park Google the park or go to for permits
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