When planning our a visit to Kaua’i, an island I had not been to for over a decade, I thought back to may last trip to Oahu. Specifically, the jolt of envy I felt when I passed a campground there. Hawaii seems like the perfect state to camp in. I’ve done it before and felt I could do better. However, with a family, I can’t just lay on the hard ground in a mosquito net and hope a large local centipede doesn’t curl up in my armpit while I sleep. I needed a little more structure.
One of the many times, while driving, that you can't help but take a photo with your phone.
Our friends who owned a VW Westfalia recently sold it, then missed it so much that they bought another. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to rent a VW van while in Hawaii? Anywhere we went, we would be home. We wouldn’t be renting a car and paying for some room we didn’t want to be in and would, in the process, be having a little less environmental impact. Anna took my musing to Google and found just that.
Kaua’i’s hottest camper rental scene is Kauai Camper Rental. Owned and operated by Josh and Sarah, who grew up in Kaua’i; they have thought of EVERYTHING. Mosquito nets, flashlights that work, USB charging, blankets and a kapuahi ʻaila māhu. Whats a kapuahi ʻaila māhu? You know that thing, when you need to eat, so you use a fixed apparatus that furnishes heat for warmth, cooking, etc. (really its just Hawaiian for stove according to http://wehewehe.org) and its all wrapped up in a beautifully restored Volkswagon Westfalia.
Kauai’s Homeless Locals. The chicken population gets photographed by adults and chased by kids. Apparently they keep the centipede population as well as other bugs at bay.
So what is it like hanging out in Kauai for at least four days in a Westfalia (four days are the minimum for reservations)? Our first night we were excited. We got a Kumu Camp campsite at Anahola Bay. We ended up parking next to other van campers who had been Wastfalia’ing it up for a week. When I mentioned it would be our first night, they said their experience was “interesting.” Later they clarified that they weren’t sleeping well. However, besides waking up before the sun rose because we were on mainland time, we slept like champs every night, all night. Windows open, mosquito nets working overtime.
Our van was named Mr. Salt and he was a great fit. We were stopped by several locals and asked about our experience. They had heard about renting the campers and planned on trying it out… as locals. I never went over 60 miles per hour and felt like I was doing the earth a favor by not having an air-conditioned hotel room with every disposable and plastic-wrapped amenity possible.
We had to visit Waimea Canyon. The lookout is nice, crowded and easy. The hike to Waipo’o falls is a little slippery and, at least where we ended up, anti-climactic. All along the trail, everyone would say we were almost there, just a quarter of a mile more. I kid you not, for miles. When I brought that up to the next person who said that, he told me not to worry because just around the bend I would see the Starbucks and the Jamba juice. The soft, comfort loving tourist in me almost wished that was true.
Kalihiwai beach is fantastic and not very crowded. After giving up on ever finding Secret beach, we went there. Secret Beach was on our radar, however. We were intrigued. Would there really be a bunch of old hippies doing naked yoga? Google maps does not know where Secret Beach is. At one point Google maps took us down a dead end road. We parked the van, popped up the top, fired up the stovetop and grilled our lunch.
Our good friend PY recommended we go to Hamura’s Saimin. This place is local all the way down to the haircuts. It's on a backstreet in Lihue and the pie is as good as the noodles. I don’t think they have a website, you gotta look that up for yourself.
Saimin in regular, special or super-sized sumo bowl.
Titus Kinimaka Quiksilver Surf Shop was where we went in Hanalei for rash guards, board shorts, board rentals and surf lessons. I rented a board while I was there named the Autopilot. Shaped by Bill Hamilton, it was perfect for someone who spends a lot of time on a Wavestorm.
Titus Kinimaka's Hawaiian Surf School.
More than once on our way back and forth from Hanalei Bay we stopped at Hanalei Bread Company. It is not easy to choose what you want there. Sandwiches, pastries, donuts and some addictive bread made out of poi.
Hanalei Bread Company.
Kilauea Bakery & Pizza is another satisfying baked goods spot…. also pizza.
Kilauea Bakery & Pizza.
Coconut French Toast at Kountry Kitchen in Kapaa is Sweet bread, with toasted coconut & coconut syrup. Yes yes, its probably not good for you. But this is a vacation. Right?
Kountry Kitchen's Coconut French Toast.
The plate lunches at Trucking Delicious were one of the many food cart decisions we did not regret. They are happy to direct you next door to the Hanalei Liquor store for drinks to go with your meal.
Also, in the same shopping area, is North Shore Charters. We were picked up for our Na Pali boat tour and taken to Captain Gary at Anini Beach. In a rigid inflatable boat (not cozy, but fun) we were shown forbidden waterfalls, pristine sea caves, the place where they shot King Kong in the 70s, and the inspiration for Puff the Magic Dragon (it's not what I was told the song meant.)
Nawiliwili Bay, Lihue.
Truth, living in a van can be exhausting. Even though I was comfortable, my camping muscles had not been used much since Boy Scouts and I missed indoor showers. Did I ever eat in a real restaurant? Not one I want to write about... because I was living in a van, an adventure I highly recommend. Full disclosure… we also stayed in an Airbnb and a hotel on this trip…