POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 8, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 2:29 a.m. HST, Aug 14, 2010
Adventurous by nature, Jill Robins and her husband, Brad, lived in a tent for more than two months before renting a house when they moved to the Big Island from Australia in 2006. "We camped in different areas of the island and got to see every nook and cranny of it," Robins recalled. "It was an amazing experience! We enjoy camping because you live so close to nature and see things that you don't normally see. One day we saw an owl, a donkey, goats, a red cardinal and lots of fish in the sea. Had we been staying at a hotel, the only way we would've seen all that in one day would've been on the Discovery Channel!"
In 2008 the couple settled on Oahu, where Brad worked in construction and Robins as a nanny. A getaway to Maui that year marked a major turning point in their lives.
HAWAII CAMPERSMeeting place: Usually Ala Moana Center (other sites can be arranged). Pickups and returns can be scheduled daily by appointment.
Rates: $125 per day for Daphne (accommodates four people; rent for six nights, get the seventh free), $135 per day for Daisy (two adults only, $50 off for booking a full week) and $150 per day for Tiki (two adults only, $50 off for booking a full week)
Notes: Plan on attending a 45-minute orientation session. All rentals include unlimited mileage and 24-hour roadside assistance. Smoking and pets are prohibited. Evidence of such is subject to a minimum $250 cleaning charge. The vans use premium fuel. If you book a seven-night rental and arrive on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you'll receive free round-trip airport transportation and a lei greeting.
A few hours into that trip, Robins knew she wanted to own a "Westy." "All I could talk about was how our van was going to be -- plush, comfortable and cozy with the finest things it could carry," she said. "My idea was to convert the van into a nice hotel on wheels. We bought Daisy two weeks after we got home. She's a real beauty -- an extremely rare hardtop camper van -- and she gave us the blank canvas for our company."
Hawaii Campers launched in January 2009 and has been on a roll ever since. It now has three Westies in its fleet. Brad keeps them in tiptop shape, inside and out. Robins decorates, shops, handles reservations and inquiries, and puts the finishing touches on each camper before it's rented.
The vehicles are equipped with everything from kitchenware, linens and towels to a tent, a guidebook and map of Oahu, and a DVD player with a selection of movies. Dubbed the Family Fun Bus, Daphne also comes with games, crayons, toy rafts, bubble sticks and baby wipes. Tiki promises a romantic ride. Think chocolates, candles, wine glasses and a top-of-the-line Alpine touch-screen CD/DVD player with a drop-down monitor.
"We offer stress-free camping," Robins said. "You can cruise around Oahu, enjoying its beauty and grandeur, and not worry about having to head back to your hotel at the end of the day because your hotel travels with you! You can stay in a different place every night if you want."
In addition, the daily rates for a camper are cheaper than what you'd pay for a rental car and hotel room; you can cook your meals, saving money on dining out; and Hawaii Campers stocks its vans with beach chairs, boogie boards, snorkeling gear and a cooler, making it easy and economical to plan a seaside outing.
Perhaps best of all, van camping is a great way to bond with your loved ones because you're sharing the entire experience together. Said Robins, "You've heard the saying 'It's not about the destination, it's about the journey.' That perfectly describes vacationing on Oahu in a camper!"
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.
WHERE TO CAMPThere are many state and county campgrounds on Oahu, but you must obtain a permit in advance to use them. Kamaaina rates, including the permit, at Ahupuaa o Kahana State Park, Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area and Sand Island State Recreation Area are $12 per campsite per night for up to six people and $2 per night for each additional person (maximum nightly fee is $20). Children ages 2 and under are free.
» Sand Island State Recreation Area is open for camping on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Ahupuaa o Kahana State Park and Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area are open daily except Wednesday and Thursday. Call the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks at 587-0300 or visit www.hawaiistateparks.org.
» It costs $6 per person per night to camp at Malaekahana State Recreation Area. The park is open every day, and there's a two-night minimum stay. Children under three are free. Call the Friends of Malaekahana at 293-1736 or check out www.malaekahana.net.
» City and County Campgrounds: Camping is allowed at 13 City and County of Oahu facilities. Free permits may be obtained at the Parks Permits section on the ground floor of the Frank F. Fasi Municipal Building (650 S. King St.), Kapolei Satellite City Hall (1000 Uluohia St.) and Wahiawa Satellite City Hall (330 N. Cane St.) from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. County campsites are closed on Wednesday and Thursday. Call 768-3440 or check out honolulu.gov/parks/camping.htm.
» Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden is open for camping on Saturday and Sunday. It's a good idea to apply for the required free permit a month in advance. Call 233-7323 or peruse www.honolulu.gov/parks/hbg/hmbg.htm. Open daily, Camp Mokuleia is a private campground that charges $15 per person per night, including hot showers. Call 637-6241 or go to www.visitcampmokuleia.com.