Two ladies rent a campervan to tour the island of Oahu.
By Phyllis Hinz and Lamont Mackay, F175089
We had visited every U.S. state in an RV except Hawaii. That all changed when we flew to the Hawaiian island of Oahu for a travel writers’ conference. While in Honolulu, the state capital, we saw well-known tourist destinations, such as the Honolulu Museum of Art, Doris Duke’s Shangri La, the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, and Pearl Harbor.
After the conference, to experience the real Hawaii, away from the typical tourist areas and hotels, we knew we had to explore the island in an RV. Before we left our home in Canada, we booked a rental RV online with Hawaii Campers. Hawaii Campers offers no motorhomes, but older “vintage” campervans with various attributes and amenities (a total of five different units).
We reserved a 1988 Volkswagen Westfalia with a pop-up roof that the company named Shaggy. It was equipped with stove, sink, and table; a bench seat in the back that pulled down into a bed; and an extra-large cooler. (Only one rental unit in the fleet has a refrigerator.) Cupboards and cabinets held bedding, dishes, pots and pans, battery-operated candles, an emergency flashlight, a DVD player, beach gear, a first aid kit, and a tent.
Oahu has several state and county campgrounds; 12 are beach parks. Fees are low, and state campsites are $18 per night. Permits must be obtained online prior to arrival, and the regulations say that these campgrounds are for tents only. Jill Robins, owner of Hawaii Campers, told us that the authorities had never bothered any Hawaii Camper vans parked without pitching a tent, but we had one, just in case. The island also has places to pull over for the night; no permits are required. However, since it was our first time RVing in Hawaii, we decided to be cautious and go to a campground.
We planned to drive to Oahu’s North Shore, the surfing capital of the world (about 40 minutes away) and spend the night there. Interstate H2 going north, like all the other island highways, has good pavement. We hit the North Shore and drove east toward Haleiwa, watching for campground signs along the way. When none appeared, we thought we might have to stay at a hotel and continue our search in the morning. We stopped at a hardware store to ask about nearby accommodations; we learned we could park at the beach. In Hawaii, all beaches are open to the public. As it turned out, all we needed to do was set out a fishing pole in order to be okay.
Oahu benefits from trade winds that help to moderate the humidity and heat, which was good, because Shaggy had no air-conditioning. We drove with windows down, hair blowing, Hawaiian music playing. Pickup trucks passed us with surfboards and fishing poles piled in the back.
At Haleiwa, a town on the North Shore, kids were jumping off a bridge into cool water. Surfboard shops lined the main street. The aroma of sweet barbecue sauce wafted from a rack of flame-blistered, rotisserie chickens set up in front of a food truck. Thai delicacies were available from another truck across the street. Midtown, people stood in line to buy shave ice. We joined them and ordered passion-mango-strawberry. The cones were bright orange, red, blue, and thirst-quenching.
When the locals saw Shaggy, they gave us the surfers’ “hang loose,” or “shaka,” gesture, with thumb and little finger extended while keeping the three middle fingers curled. Sometimes for extra emphasis, they rotated their hands back and forth at the wrist. We liked it and adopted the gesture as our own.
Continuing east along the North Shore, we drove over the Kamananui Stream in Waimea. We looked back across the bay to see people leaping from lava rocks into the ocean. Others were sitting on the sand with feet and legs at the water’s edge. In the Kahuku area, the number of food trucks increased; the majority sold shrimp. The servings typically were “lunch style” and included a choice of rice or macaroni or green salad.
The bright colors of table after table of fresh fruit lured us into a farmers’ market. On display were mangoes, strawberries, papayas, pineapples, coconuts, and fruit we had never seen before, like prickly soursop. All were available either whole or peeled and cut up in baggies for convenient eating while we drove.
A campground at Malaekahana State Recreation Area was on the Hawaii Campers’ list of recommended places to stay. At the entrance, a hand-painted sign stood next to a weathered Hawaiian carving. A faded surfboard leaned in the garden. The campground encircles lava rocks, windswept shrubs, and the open beach of the remote Malaekahana Bay.
When we were there, the campground was run by the Friends of Malaekahana Park, but now it is called Malaekahana Beach Campground, as the lease to operate it has been awarded to a different group.
After driving by cabins, grass shacks, and a thatched yurt nestled amongst trees, we located our campsite just steps from the beach. It was within sight of new flush toilets and showers with hot water. When we used the showers, we had to be creative. It was good to have a friend to hold a beach towel between the shower and the outside world, because, keeping with the rustic quality, there were no shower doors. Our home base for the next few days had Wi-Fi at the office and a security gate that closed at 7:00 p.m.
Several families of chickens scratched at the dry sand around our campervan as mother hens taught their young ones to forage for food. 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 chickens were everywhere.
Our first night, we fell asleep to the sound of the surf, with waves splashing on lava rocks, and a welcome breeze coming in through the screen windows of Shaggy’s pop-up roof. Fresh-from-the-farm lychee nuts were in the cooler, ready to peel for breakfast.
State Route 83 continues from the North Shore of Oahu down the eastern, windward side of the island. As you travel clockwise around the isle, mountains are to the right and beaches are to the left. Also, wind and weather generally come in from east to west. Surfers rode the waves. Long fishing poles protruded from the sand, leaning lazily in the direction of the water, lines dangling into the surf. We saw a tent here and there for shade, and sometimes a portable toilet. We discovered that many fuel stations in Hawaii do not provide rest rooms. On one occasion, we were directed to a ballpark where we found clean, modern facilities.
We stopped at Chings’ Punaluu Store; the Shrimp Shack, a big, yellow food truck, resides in its parking lot. Signs at the Shrimp Shack tell you what to do: “Suck. Peel. Dip. Eat.” This truck has been featured on the Food Network’s “Beach Eats” and “Unique Eats,” as well as on the Travel Channel. Besides a variety of shrimp, the menu offered mahi, snow crab, cod, steak, mussels, local Kahuku corn, tropical floats, and (inedible) T-shirts. Inside Chings’, a grocery and convenience store, we could have purchased Spam musabi: a slice of Spam surrounded by white rice and wrapped with nori, an edible seaweed paper originating in Japan.
An example of a municipal campground is Bellows Field Beach Park, located on the beach at Bellows Air Force Station. 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 whitecaps. This campground is maintained by the city and county of Honolulu, and camping reservations are required. We attempted to make a reservation online but never received a reply. The clear, shallow water with a sandbar off the fine, soft, sandy beach provides perfect waves for body surfing and body boarding. Full washroom facilities are available. The Beach Park part of this area is for the public, and another campground at the facility is strictly for active-duty military, retired career military, National Guard, reservists, and others with authorized ID.
Everyone we met on Oahu offered us the aloha spirit of giving and generosity. Drivers were courteous in the city as well as the rural areas. Even if we had chosen to stay in hotels instead of campgrounds, our campervan from Hawaii Campers would have been the perfect touring vehicle. It was better than any car rental, because we carried food storage and preparation equipment. Shaggy made it easy to stop spontaneously beside the ocean and relax with a sandwich, garlic shrimp, or farm-fresh fruit.
RVing on the island of Oahu is not the same as RVing on the mainland of North America. The campground facilities, at the present time, are primitive. None have hookups. However, by camping on Oahu, we experienced the freedom, the adventure, the food, and the feeling of the real Hawaii.
Hawaii Tourism Authority
1717 Mott Smith Drive
Honolulu, HI 96822
Get permits and make camping plans prior to your excursion. Be sure to check campground rules. Typically, pets are not allowed, and generator use is forbidden. Bans on alcohol possession may apply.
Malaekahana State Recreation Area
Malaekahana Beach Campground
56-335 Kamehameha Highway
Laie, HI 96762
Other state camping facilities
Sand Island State Recreation Area
Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area
Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park
Q&A WITH “THE COOKING LADIES”
FMCA members Phyllis Hinz and Lamont Mackay are known as “The Cooking Ladies” throughout the RV community. They have presented seminars at FMCA Family Reunions and are featured online in RV blogs as well as on their own tasteful website: www.thecookingladies.com.
We asked Phyllis and Lamont a few questions about their Hawaii trip and for a recipe, too.
Q: Did you see any motorhomes while you were on Oahu?
Phyllis: We didn’t see any equipped motorhomes like we see on the mainland of North America. Probably because the locals don’t see a need for them and the campgrounds are rustic, with no hookups.
Lamont: Fully equipped motorhomes would not be utilized to potential without proper hookups.
Q. How was the weather, and when is a good time to visit?
Phyllis: When we were there (June), it was very hot. The Westfalia didn’t have dash air-conditioning, so we drove with the windows open. At night, while in camp, we were thankful for any breeze that came through the screens.
Lamont: We were fortunate that the serious winter surfers (winter brings the highest waves to the North Shore) had departed. During the high surfing season, the campgrounds and beaches would be jammed.
Q. What recipe most reminds you of your trip? Would you share it?
Phyllis: I’d like to say we had a Spam recipe to share, because the meat is so popular in Hawaii. They even make a form of Japanese sushi with it. Loco moco is another famous Hawaiian dish. We created this loco moco recipe for our new travel and grilling cookbook, to be released in the spring of 2016.
4 tablespoons butter, divided
4 tablespoons diced onions
4 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 teaspoons water
4 ground beef patties
2 to 3 cups cooked rice
4 tablespoons chopped green onions
In a saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add the onions. Stir and cook until the onions are tender. Add the beef broth to the saucepan and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat.
In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with the water. Stir the mixture into the beef broth. Cook and stir until the gravy is thickened.
Preheat a grill on high for 10 minutes with the lid closed. Using a pair of long-handled tongs, oil the grate by wiping it with a piece of folded paper towel dipped lightly in canola oil.
Reduce the heat to medium-high.
Grill the patties for 5 minutes on each side with the lid closed or until the internal temperature registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
In a frying pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Cook the eggs to desired doneness.
Divide the cooked rice between four individual plates. On each plate, place a beef patty on top of the rice. Pour gravy over the beef patty and the rice. Top everything with the fried egg. Garnish with the green onions. Serve immediately.