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Hawaiian Westy vacation, Feb 2011 (Big Island)
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Sodo
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 10:00 am    Post subject: Hawaiian Westy vacation, Feb 2011 (Big Island) Reply with quote

Trip report ( in a RENTAL Westfalia Camper )

We went to the Big Island of Hawaii in Feb 2011, and rented a 1987 VW camper from http://www.happycampershawaii.com/ in Hilo. It was a GREAT vacation. We are a family of 4, with 2 girls, age 9 & 11.

I grew up in Hawaii (1966-1979), and have been back many times, so I have a pretty good idea where to go on the Big Island. But when I was there in the 70s, I was not a "Westy camper" person so Hawaii in a Westy was a 'new' experience for me. We were on the island for 2 weeks, and spent 5 nights in the camper, the rest of the time were able to stay with friends.

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The camper that they set us out in was an 'automatic'. I had never driven an auto Vanagon, and this worried me (since I have a 173hp Subaru in my Westy). But my worries were unfounded, it was a wonderful car, I was amazed. One thing about Hawaii is the pace is slower, which is fine because there's so much to see. We would drive along at 45mph (by choice) and there would be NO CARS piling up behind us. And then when we get out on the big roads, the van could get right up to 65 easily. I was surprised at how far off my own misconceptions of the VW automatic (and WBX too!) were. "The setting" probably had a lot to do with it as we were in no hurry whatsoever. It sounds like I'm trying to whitewash the performance of this auto/WBX, this is not the case, I was completely happy with it.

We are 15-years-experienced Westy-Campers, and this van was setup with everything we needed. All silverware, plates, bowls, canopener, salt+pepper, spray-nonstick, ziplock bags and a roll of tinfoil...... and much more. Sheets, blankets, beach towels, it goes on and on. Check their website for the full list of stuff, there's more. ( http://www.happycampershawaii.com/Meet_Our_Campers.html ) This made the whole trip so much more do-able, because all we had to do was pack our bags for a normal "Hotel" trip, and when we arrived, the van had everything ready. Incidentally, we packed with "carry-on" only (NO checked luggage). Remember that everything you bring has to fit in a Westy.

One thing to note, for those who have "higher standards" (if it can be called that) the plates were scratched, and the silverware was all mismatched. This didn't phase us, it's exactly as our westy is at home. Everything was clean, but 'used'. Some people, who need their disinfectant wipes and stuff, might have a problem using tinfoil from an opened box (not us!). Genuine "camper" types get to appreciate this unique opportunity.

These vans in the fleet are all ~25 years old, I can't imagine how this can last much longer. If you're intrigued by this opportunity, the time to do it is now. We called 1 month in advance, and were barely able to squeak in (to get a van reservation), and only 5 nights were available. Keep in mind that this is your "hotel" and your "rental car", for less $ than a Hotel+car, and you have un-crowded beachfront locations. It was fantastic.

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First night in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, at Namakani Paio Campground. Elevation 4000 ft, it wasn't cold. We checked out the park, there are so many things to see. The volcano was erupting at the time, (but not raging, as it is today!). We walked out to the lava flow, (from the Kalapana side) and tossed big rocks into the gooey lava (have video!). In great hindsight, we should have brought a grill and Ahi steaks.

After that we camped at beachfront locations. There were no crowds at these beaches.

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2nd,3rd nights on a little fishing side road near Punaluu beach. This required careful driving on pretty rough lava roads. This little access road is recommended only for experienced offroad drivers. We were wondering if happycampershawaii would have preferred that we not drive their camper there. Then one of the happycampershawaii staff showed up in a Syncro Westy. Busted. But he only asked us "if everything was OK with the van".

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4th night at Kiholo bay. Easy drive in. There is lots of loose beach gravel/sand here, you have to watch for and stay on the packed roads here. Don't go into the sand or loose gravel you will be stuck immediately.

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(click on this it is a little movie)

At Kiholo bay there was an underground pool (A lava tube half full of fresh water). It was cool and clear. (this is a little movie)

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(click on this it is a little movie)
There were two "holes" that you could jump into, with a ~30 foot tunnel between them. The cave also extended onward into the black, we didn't go far into the darkness, we stayed near the two openings. (another movie)

I'll post more photos as I get time.
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Last edited by Sodo on Wed Mar 09, 2011 10:06 pm; edited 15 times in total
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Hallvalla
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 10:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

fun fun fun

Love the Big Island. Post more pics if you got 'em.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 10:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great pictures!

If I ever get back to Hawaii, that's how I'm traveling (I hope)! Very Happy
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 10:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow -- We have enjoyed the Big Island in a rental car but your way looks sooo much better. Thanks for the report!

PS - Do they did sell Loco Moco?
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 11:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I ate 5 LocoMocos. The cafe at Kalapana, and Tex Drive Inn (in Honokaa) were the best!

=================

When we first arrived, we rented a 4WD jeep. Which was great, because we went down into Waipio Valley 3 days in a row. Waipio has a long, black sand beach, and very few people. It is one of my favorite beaches. If you don't have a 4WD with a "4L" on the transfer case, etc (not any old AWD car!) you'll have to walk down, about a mile of very steep road. Or you can pay to ride the shuttle down, it runs every 2 hours, and you don't need reservations; just drive to the Waipio Lookout and wait for the next shuttle down. I'm not sure I'd drive my Syncro down that road; I'd want something that is guaranteed to not pop out of gear on decel. It's hella steep, and no 2nd chances, no way to stop if it got away from you.

Here's a photo on the beach at Waipio valley. While we were there, someone godlike turned the waterfall "on" for us. I have been to Waipio many times since the 60s, but have never seen the waterfall running, it's always been diverted (for irrigation). It has to be one of the most beautiful beaches on Hawaii, uncrowded, remote, and to have a "new" waterfall feature was just incredible. Sorry for the crusty photos, they were taken with the "still photo' feature on the video camera, and some iPhone photos.

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Here's a Waipio photo looking north (from a 2007 trip). Waipio is not a crowded beach. But it's off the beaten path, and for example, the 'bathrooms' are a row of blue plastic porta-potties. There is no running water or electricity in Waipio valley, and no stores or services. But there are houses, people live there. Incidentally, tourism in Hawaii currently is way down, it's a good time to go, there are more good deals and even the 'popular' places are not crowded.

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On the beach at Waipio we met a kite-surfer, (Casey) who captains a whale-watching boat over on the Kona side (out of Puako bay). We could see whales breaching from the beach at Waipio, but Casey said it's much better up close, and urged us to come take a ride on his boat, which we did.

Here's a photo from his boat. We had many closer encounters, but didn't "get" the photos. I have some good video though. Casey Cho is a native Hawaiian, with an extensive knowledge of Hawaiian flora and fauna. He has had a varied career, including time as a National Park Ranger. Casey's tour did not disappoint, and neither did Casey's knowledge of whales and their habits (and many other Hawaiian plants, animals, beaches, etc) what a great tour guide he would be, if he wasn't either whale-boat_or_kitesurfing every waking hour. Casey's website is here: http://www.adventurexrafting.com/WhaleWatching.html

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(click on this image - it is a little movie of 3 whales jumping)

Here is a photo climbing a banyan tree in Kalakaua park, in the center of the older part of Hilo. The girls loved climbing this tree. In this photo we're about 15 feet above the ground.

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We drove out to Kalapana to see the lava flow. It was advancing very slowly. We had to walk about a mile to get to the 'action'. Not knowing what we were actually going to find, we didn't bring a grill and steaks. 20/20 hindsight....


Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.

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(click on this - it is a little movie of me hassling the Lava)

Here's a photo of a turtle at Punaluu trying to hide with pretty good camouflage. There were lots of turtles (and lots of whales too).


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I know quite a bit about the Big Island, and will try to answer (on-topic) questions for anyone considering a Westy trip.
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Last edited by Sodo on Wed Mar 09, 2011 10:09 pm; edited 21 times in total
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 12:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

WOW. That's got to be THE way. So have you booked for a 2 or 3 week trip in the future? Wink

I used to give lectures (with excellent massive slides) at schools and libraries about Whales, Dolphins & Man, and another series on The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly (sharks). I was so enamored with them and it was so much fun turning several hundred kids (all sitting on gymnasium floors > showing the slides on a wall so they were huge) onto the wonder of their majestry!! Sure wish I had those slides, I'd be doing it still for sure! My favorite line was "Do you eat chicken (pause), fish (pause), hamburgers, (pause)? Well would you like to be called 'killer person' (overwhelmingly loud)" NO! "So don't call Orcas' KILLER WHALES"!!! Made my point with a very large breaching Orca But the Humpbacks are definitely the performers!
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 1:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sodo, thanks for the great posts. We've been contemplating the same kind of vacation with this outfit for the future. It looks like you didn't stay in any of the organized campgrounds -- my initial concern from TripAdvisor is that many of the campgrounds are loud with lots of partying. Would you say this is unfounded, or it depends...?

On another note, I inquired about their red Syncro for sale. Did you get a chance to look at it? If so, what did you think? PM if you like.

Again, the wife and I are really stoked you posted this trip report as it might be in our future as well.

Thanks!


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 1:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think this thread might be my way out of a Disney cruise...
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 1:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Never been to the Big Island, but want to go. My Great Grandmother was born on the Big Island and would like to see where she is from. She was in the first girls' graduating class at Kamehameha in 1897...
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 1:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am writing this message from Spencer Beach state park on the Big Island of Hawaii. I too am renting a happy campers van and I tell you the campgrounds are not loud party spots at all. In fact alchohol is not even permitted. The campgrounds here are not like in the states, with pull in spots and RV hookups. It is more like a picnic area with tables and bathroom facilities. You park in the parking area and pitch your tent if you have one. Since we have a van, we slept in the parking lot which close to the beach. I met 3 other Happycampers customers last night. You can see more of the campgrounds from the state website, also happy campers website has a map of many places to stay.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 2:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

We saw about five of the happycamperhawaii fleet buzzing around the island while we were there.

==========================

From Spencer Beach, walk about 3/4mi south on the Ala Kahakai trail, there is a little whitesand beach called "Mau U'mea", you may even have it all to yourself!

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Mau U`mea beach

==========================

South of Kona.....
Hookena beach was not too crowded, but the camping area was full of tents (longterm tenters), and they had all the picnic tables covered with stuff. These were locals, but not hawaiian locals, more like old-school VW van owners. Cool Cool

Hookena was OK considering how small the beach area was and how full it was. You camp in a dusty parking lot at Hookena. Wild roosters, feral cats run around.....and there are wonderful, solar heated showers. It was not touristy, and out in the ocean there were whales popping up constantly. There was half a picnic table with 'exchange vegetables and fruits', for example. Hookena was small and busy, but not noisy. We originally planned to camp at Hookena, but changed plans and went on to Kiholo Bay.

Kiholo bay is a much larger beach and was not crowded, but there were also longterm campers there. At 7: in the morning they all left to go to work (!) probably at the big hotels along the coast.

We drove around for about a week (in a 4WD Jeep) before we got our Westy, so by then had a better idea of where we'd go (with the Westy). It does take a little while to get situated, and find your comfort zone. Happycampers recommends the easy and safer camp areas, they are usually good enough. If you damage their van you have to fix it. Shocked[/img]
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 5:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The feedback has me committee toward a HappyCamperHawaii vacation for sure. Isn't there another Westy rental company on the island or is that on Maui?
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 5:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't know anything about campers on Maui. I think (?) the happycampershawaii folks have a home (and a Syncro) in Eugene, OR.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 6:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I visited the BI in June of last year on a business trip. Sadly I was only there for a few days and was busy the whole time, but I can honestly say that it's a glorious respite from mainland realities. I drove a rental Chevy HHR around the entire perimeter, but spent most of my time in Hilo. What's truly amazing is the sheer number of micro-climates on that island. You'll be driving along and in a blink of an eye you've clearly entered another bioregion with a whole different array of flora (not much indigenous fauna there anymore). There's even a full fledged desert complete with cactus...that one caught me off guard.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 6:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sweet!!

I didn't know there was a new rental company in Hilo,the other one closed about 2 years ago if I recall.

A friend of mine who rents some on O'ahu got some vans and parts from him.

It seems that you got a nice time there.That's cool!! Cool
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 7:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This post is great.

I planned on doing this in 3 years for my wife's 40th.

Maybe they can hire ALIKA to keep their vans running forever Wink

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 8:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Uh-oh...photos deleted (above). Better repost with some vans in the scenery this time!

PS - love this thread!
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 8:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm on O'ahu. Wink

Funny,because almost 3 years ago the company that shut down were looking for somebody,good at everything (sales+mechanic)
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 9:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Aloha Campers is the one on Maui:
http://www.alohacampers.com/
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 09, 2011 1:04 am    Post subject: Hawiian westy vacation, Feb 2011 (Big Island) Reply with quote

This post is great, having lived here all my adult life, have to say that I love hearing about your trips around the Island. Singler3360 don`t let your trip advisor let you miss out on anything here, there are no campgrounds there are lots of roads to the beach and at anytime you are welcome to camp, drink, even have a fire on the beach, showers at some beaches. Everybody is friendly and "no make bodda" so you can completly relax and slow down. Remember the locals are American too. We only want your wallets and cameras when you go swimming. Just kidding! I have my westy syncro in Calif. for when I visit The Big, Big Island. Everybody have fun when your here, enjoy everything, but don`t take home any rocks, eh! mo` betta you leave `um fo Pele, Aloha Jim
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