Hawaii on a Budget

Transportation. Hotel included.

We went to Hawaii and Oahu and stayed for two and a half weeks for less than $2,300. Hawaii has a reputation for being very expensive, some of which is true and some of which is not true. Food at resorts was very expensive (we stayed far away!) and grocery store items were much more than on the mainland. Eating at local restaurants and food trucks seemed more than reasonable to us—we found that unless we were super hungry that a “regular” plate lunch would feed the two of us pretty comfortably. ($7-$11).

Our vacation lasted 18 days and exclusive of airfare (a set cost regardless of how long you’re on the islands), we spent $61/day for the two of us. Not too shabby! As with any vacation, your emphasis might be in other areas. Although we had places to stay on Oahu, it did not appear that camping (particularly on the North Shore) would be difficult with standard stealth camping precautions. Here’s our budget breakdown:

Two round-trip tickets from Phoenix to Honolulu- $861
Two round-trip tickets from Honolulu to Hilo- $338

One tank of gas in cousin’s car: $50
Gas for friend’s car: $20
Rental car on Big Island: $346
Gas on Big Island: $110

Safeway (food to cook for a week, 6-pack of beer): $132
Walmart (bagels, salami, cheese, crackers): $35
Eating out (mostly plate lunches, two shaved ice cones, two 6-packs): $280

About $50?


Relaxing on our bed
Showers are abundant at public beaches

Big Island: Lava, Part 3

After our hike to the lava, we were both pretty tired so we spent most of the day relaxing in the sunshine. At four, Forrest asked me if I’d be willing to hike back out to see the lava by night. I was a bit hesitant at first but agreed—I’m definitely glad I did!

We set out under ominous skies.
By the lava at dusk.

There was considerably more traffic at the flows in the evening with a couple more groups of independent hikers there and at least two tour groups. Being out at dusk was totally worth it though—just amazing to see the lava glow. I also really liked seeing how much further the lava had made it towards the ocean since we’d left in the morning.

Cool ripple formations
Lava on the move
Ocean entry at dusk

After we hiked back to the car we were famished so we headed into Pahoa and pigged out on pizza. Nothing ever tastes so good as a good post hike meal!

If you go, be aware that the lava will eat your shoes. Forrest bought these when we left Missoula so had less than a month of wear on them and the lava left them looking like this:

My well worn shoes fared even worse…

Big Island: Lava, Part 1

After leaving Volcanoes National Park, we headed for the Hawaii County lava viewing area to get a better sense of where the lava was flowing and how we could see it. We’d learned at Jaggar Museum in the park that the lava was flowing and entering the ocean near the park boundary. The official word was that you had to join a guide service to go out on the lava.

Ocean view from the hike

At the viewing area, we spoke with the attendant who just happened to be a resident of the community at the end of the road. He told us that the county had hired people like him to tell us not to go, that we’d be trespassing on private property, and that the county had condemned all the recent flows and closed them to the public. The general word around the viewing area was that “those who are going to go, go. Otherwise, hire a guide.”

Our first glimpse of the steam plume

With the local guides charging about $100 (or more) to walk the two plus miles over the lava, we decided to go for it on our own. We headed out just after dawn by following a trail near the Kalapana Village Cafe towards the water. Upon reaching the ocean, we made a right and followed the coast towards a group of trees on a raised chunk of rock. After scrambling up onto the rock, we followed a path through the trees and along the water. Continuing further to the west, we left the vegetation just as the plume from the ocean entry was in sight.

Forrest and the ocean entry

Ocean entry

Watching the lava enter the ocean and actually extend the land was particularly facinating to me. The ocean entry wasn’t the only show, however, there was a good sized lava flow to see (and play with). Seeing and hearing lava was an absolutely astounding experience. Forrest had been sure to grab a stick so he could play with the molten rock. There was no one else on the ground at the flow so we had everything all to ourselves.

Forrest approaching the lava flow
A totally different kind of red rock.

After playing with the lava for a bit, we headed closer to the ocean entry for a better view.

Up close and personal with the ocean entry

F also decided to boss the lava around a little bit:

Forrest tangles with Pele.
Lava and a rainbow

We covered somewhere around four and a half miles on the lava. Going out and back plus our time at the flow took us somewhere in the ballpark of four and a half hours.

Big Island: Hawaii Volcanos National Park

At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we stopped off at the visitors center to get a feel for what is in the park. Unfortunately due to increased volcanic activity most of the Crater Rim Drive has been closed since 2008 along with the trails in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater. We watched the videos in the theater and began to get excited about seeing lava up close and personal (more on this coming soon).

Enjoying the steam vents

Leaving the Visitors Center we headed for Jaggar Museum. Along the way, we stopped off to see the steam vents and the overlook in the crater. At the museum, the plume from Kilauea was slightly visible through the mist. Since the weather was rather damp, we opted to check out Chain of Craters Road before picking a hike for the day. Along the way, we stopped to walk through the lava tube and drive Hilina Pali Road.

Looking into the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater
View at the end of Hilina Pali Road

At the end of Chain of Craters Road, we walked out to where the lava had flowed across the road in 2003. It was really impressive to see the volume of new rock that so easily disrupted our piddly road system. From the sea plain, it was also really impressive to look inland and see the older lava flows coming off the hills.

End of Chain of Craters Road
Forrest is pretty sure it doesn't have to be closed....
Forrest is pretty sure it doesn’t have to be closed….
Anyone know how the rock gets cool rainbows like this?
Anyone know how the rock gets cool rainbows like this?
End of the road
End of the road
Lava flows over Holei Pali
Lava flows over Holei Pali

After our walk on the lava, we headed mauka (“towards the mountains”) to find ourselves a delicious plate lunch for dinner.

Big Island: Our Private Green Sand Beach

During our explorations of the Big Island we stopped at a beach for lunch and to enjoy the sunshine. The beach was packed but we did meet a local who suggested that we check out a green sand beach south of Ocean View. He warned us that the road required pretty good ground clearance and as long as we just went to the green sand beach that we wouldn’t need 4-wheel drive.

Our private ocean view

We made a quick stop at the grocery store for a six-pack and also picked up some food for dinner (garlic mahi mahi and a BBQ mix plate). The unmarked road to the ocean lead us almost six miles south down a bad gravel road (a pickup would handle the road just fine).

Arriving at the ocean, we had the beach all to ourselves. The small beach had green sand and pounding surf. There was rain visible on the horizon but where we were the sun was shining. A rainbow was visible over an isolated area of salt-and-pepper sand with one palm tree.

A private beach at the end of the rainbow
Rental car glamor shot

We decided to spend the night on the beach and do some more exploring of the lava and of the private beach the next morning.

Beautiful sunrise

We clamored all over the lava flows following a jeep trail. Along the way, we found cool lava formations and some deep cracks in the lava. The sunrise was absolutely beautiful and we still had the whole beach to ourselves before trekking back to the car and making our way back up the gravel to the highway.

At the edge of the lava flow
The Secret Beach
Our green sand beach

Big Island: Pololu Valley Sunrise

Having looked out over Waipio Valley and the tour bussed we decided against hiking down, instead we headed for the northern end of the Kohala Reserve. We spent the night in Waimea, woke early and arrived at the trailhead very early. As the sky started to lighten we began our descent into the beautiful valley.

With the sun not peaking over the horizon it was still a little bit brisk so we decided to spend some time exploring the valley. There were a bunch of cool little trails through the jungle-like vegetation. It appears that plenty of people spend time down in this valley: lots of fire pits and other fun signs of human presence.

Jungle trails
Mr. Snuffleupagus’ cousin
Looking up the (wet) valley
Enjoying the driftwood rope swing

After our explorations, we returned to the beach to watch the sun come up over the water. We were the only people on the beach for the beautiful sunrise.

Reminds me a little of Northern California. (Except for the black sand, of course.)

Forrest even had a bit of fun on the way back up the hill:

Beware of falling rocks.

Big Island: Mauna Kea

We landed on a new tropical island and within an hour we were standing at the top of a really really big mountain: Mauna Kea—13,796′ above sea level!

Mauna Kea from Saddle Road

Going to the summit was one of my goals for our trip to Hawaii so we’d done a fair amount of research about the road to the summit. Most of the guides said that it was a very rough 4-wheel drive road however we found both Saddle Road and the Mauna Kea Access Road to be in very good condition.  The Access Road is about 15 miles long and all but about 5 miles are paved. This road is easily driven by any vehicle, not just 4-wheel drives. There were little rental cars all over it.

4-wheel drive is *not* necessary.

Winding road to the summit of Mauna Kea.
Mauna Kea observatories

At the top of the mountain, there is a short path to the summit high point. There isn’t much of a view because the mountain is so broad and vog often blocks views to the south towards Mauna Loa and Hilo.

It’s a pretty crazy feeling to leave the lush vegetation around Hilo and drive up into the empty cinder landscape. Getting in to the car the air was sticky and warm but up on the summit was windy and 50 degrees!

13,796 feet above sea level
Benchmark Love
Summit views


Haiku Ladder History

Oahu’s Haiku Stairs (or Haiku Ladder or Stairway to Heaven, depending on your preference) reach above Kanohe on the island’s northeastern side. These steep stairs are officially off-limits to the public, however they are often climbed by people looking for an amazing view of both the leeward and windward sides of the island. Although the stairs themselves are an attraction, they have a very interesting history. (We hiked to the top via the leeward side.)

During World War II, the Navy decided they needed a long range communication system to facilitate pan-Pacific operations. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported that “Authorities decided that a sending system must be built of such a magnitude that it would reach to the waters of Australia and India and even to Allied submarines near Tokyo bay.” (October 25, 1946.)

To avoid building a tower tall enough to carry the antennae needed the cables were instead draped over Haiku Valley. Before the construction of the current ladder, in 1942, Bill Adams and Louis Otto (both men had worked on Hoover Dam) scaled the valley walls by driving steel spikes into the wall. The spikes were slowly replaced by wooden ladders and steps and the metal steps were finished in 1953.

The communication station was powered by a 200,000 watt Alexander alternator. It powered the station from its commission in 1943 until it was transferred from the Navy to the Coast Guard in 1973. Under the Coast Guard, the station became part of the Omega Aid to Navigation system. The Omega system was operational until 1997 when it was replaced by the VLF network. The Hawaiian component of the network is now located in Lualualei (on Oahu’s leeward side) and its antennae are comprised of two 1503′ guyed masts.

Today, the Haiku Ladder, although technically off limits to the public, can be used to attain the 2,800 foot mountaintop of Puu Keahiakahoe. You can also see the CCL (continuous communication link) building that was installed by the Coast Guard when the Omega equipment was installed.

Stairway to Heaven, Oahu Island News, January 2004.
David Jessup’s Haiku Valley history.