Camping in Oahu - recommendations, tips?
January 21, 2020 4:03 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I are travelling to Oahu, Hawaii for 8 days in May. We'll be in Honolulu for about 3-4 days, and then we're planning to camp on the east and/or north shores. We're looking at staying in state or country parks, like Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park.

We're experienced campers in both campground and back-country style camping, but that experience is limited to Canada - and while we know what to do about black bears (tie your food up) and grizzlies (just pray), I don't expect that will be of much use in Hawaii.

What are the natural hazards that one should be aware of? Human hazards?

We'll be travelling around in a rental car with a light weight tent. We're considering renting gear from Hawaii Camplife, to avoid having to bring it in on the plane (our sleeping bags, for example are bulky and very warm).

I'll have to follow up about other things to do on Oahu later, as there are so many I'm overwhelmed. But I thought I'd start with camping logistics.
posted by jb to Travel & Transportation around Hawaii (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh - and I know about booking in the state/county parks, and that many are closed on Wed-Thurs. I'm really interested in the sort of information that might not be on the main websites: should we be checking for ticks? How bad are the mosquitoes? Where do you buy propane when there is no Canadian Tire?
posted by jb at 4:06 PM on January 21, 2020

I camped here literally 2 days ago and it was amazing
The open air showers are hot and appreciated, the beach was empty and beautiful, you can snorkel even in north shore in winter because of the reef, it felt safe and the staff were exceptionally friendly. Highly recommend
posted by yodelingisfun at 7:19 PM on January 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

The weather is predictable and perfect, typically between mid 60s to 80s. There is likely to be a rain shower in the afternoon. A friend visited years ago and just slept on the beach. I live in Maine and camp; you will need very little equipment in Hawaii. There are lots of food trucks with good food, so you don't have to cook unless you want to. Go to a luaua, touristy, but you'll still learn some Hawaiian culture and have fun.

You'll see signs advising you to lock up valuables, heed them. There is local poverty and homelessness, so visiting wealth may be appropriated. That said, the Aloha Spirit is real, be friendly and kind and it will be reciprocated.

Consider renting a Prius; you can leave a Prius set to On, and charge phone, laptop(with an inverter), etc. I have an immersion coil that plugs in to the cig. lighter to boil water for coffee. The car will use the hybrid battery, and start the gas engine once in a while to re-charge. I sleep in mine on camping trips and can leave the fan or heat running. You can get a tent extension for the back and have lots of fresh air.

Oahu is not that big; we stayed near Kaneohe and drove to Honolulu, traffic can be heavy, but you can plan around it. Have a drink on the beach at the Royal Hawaiian, it's got a rich history.
posted by theora55 at 6:21 AM on January 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I grew up in Hawai'i and went camping fairly often with the Girl Scouts or with my family. It's a great place to go camping! It's super temperate, and even when it does rain, it usually doesn't hang around too long, especially since you won't be there during the rainy season.

In addition to what mattdidthat mentioned, you may also see the occasional mongoose. They're not hazardous and they pretty much keep to themselves, but I mention them just in case you see one run across a road off in the distance and think "what the heck was that??"

I think the insect life is going to be the bigger consideration, wildlife-wise. You'll definitely want bug spray to keep the mosquitos away when you're out and about during the day, but tents are pretty effective at keeping them out, so you probably won't need to rent a mosquito net if you're diligent about keeping your tent zipped up (you sound like an experienced camper, so you probably already do this!)

As for ticks, I think the ticks that live in Hawai'i aren't carriers of Lyme Disease, and there also aren't nearly as many of them? You may want to double check this, but I can't recall ever getting a tick bite while camping. Mosquitos are definitely the primary concern.

Centipedes are relatively rare, but they're big and fast and can bite on both ends. They SUCK. They prefer small, dark, hidden places, so you may not encounter any unless you're camping near a rock pile or something, but if you keep your shoes outside your tent at night, keep them upside down and kick/shake them a bit before putting them on, just in case.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:47 AM on January 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: you probably won't need to rent a mosquito net if you're diligent about keeping your tent zipped up (you sound like an experienced camper, so you probably already do this!)

Yes - in Ontario, the mosquitoes don't just bite, they gang up and drag you into the woods to feast. Fortunately, my partner is much tastier than I am and they usually swarm him.

Thank you for the warning about the centipedes!
posted by jb at 7:36 AM on January 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've lived on Oahu for the last, let's see, 25 years. I consider myself an avid camper, if somewhat out of practice, largely because Oahu is sadly not a great place for camping. The weather is almost always excellent and you have nothing to worry about in terms of critters except the centipedes noted above, which are definitely a thing. Some sites will have some mosquitos, but it's nothing compared to places I've stayed on the mainland. You'll want something to stay out of the rain, but you hardly need anything more than a light blanket even in winter.

The problem is that there are so few decent campgrounds. There are only two I'd be able to recommend. The first is Malaekahana, mentioned above. It's on the beach and set far enough away from the road that you don't feel like you're camping in a parking lot. And actually, since you mention Kahana, my understanding is that the campground there is right on the water (which is nice) in the very small area between the highway and the beach, so that you're never more than 50 yards away from the traffic on the main highway out there, which is not so nice.

The other campground I'd look at is at Bellows. It's a beautiful beach, one of my favorite places on the island. You'll need to get a permit, and permits do sell out. The main downside here is that in former days it could be a bit of a party spot for locals, i.e., loud music and partying til late at night. (NB: by "locals" I don't mean anything more than "people who live on Oahu." I myself have partied at Bellows.) I think the City started cracking down on that a bit, and in truth it's been a few years since I camped there, and even in the bad old days it wasn't really that bad. But you're not going to feel isolated at Bellows (or anywhere else on this island, for that matter).

The above assumes that you want to be at an "official" campground. Plenty of people just set up a tent at a beach. I wouldn't recommend this.
posted by lex mercatoria at 10:19 AM on January 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: lex mercatoria: thanks for the specifics.

We do wish to be at official campgrounds (public or private) for all the good reasons (security, respecting property and nature). And I've realized that Oahu isn't really the place to wilderness camp - we're camping more for the cost and also just to be (a little) closer to nature than we would be in a hotel or hostel (we also don't like using vacation rentals, since they take away from local housing). But I'm travelling with a naval historian, so Oahu is the number one place for him (we're planning about 2 days on museum ships); perhaps on another trip, we'll have the opportunity to visit the Big Island or Kauai and get more off the beaten track.

I did notice that there seem to be two Malaekahana campgrounds - one is the Malaekahana Beach Campground run by Kama‘aina Kids, and the other is the state recreation area - I gather that the recommendations have generally been for the Beach campground?

I was thinking of staying at Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park to both see that state park (interpretative activities, archaeology, trails), but also because it's not too far from He'eia State Park (also managed by Kama‘aina Kids) where we're planning to spend at least one day kayaking & snorkeling. But are there places you'd recommend for camping closer to He'eia?
posted by jb at 12:12 PM on January 22, 2020

Best answer: It's been years since I've camped there, but yes in former days there was the State campground at Malaekahana and a private campground run, at that time, by the "Friends of Malaekahana," but perhaps there's been a transition since then. The Friends' campground was generally cleaner and more attractive, although it was pretty run down as well. It's been so long I honestly can't tell you how accurate that assessment is now.

Kahana is a beautiful valley and bay, and worth visiting, but I would personally not stay at the campground there. Most pictures of the campground are probably taken to show off the bay, and not the major road a biscuit toss away, with nothing at all screening you from the traffic.

As I said, Malaekahana and Bellows are the only two places I typically recommend, but you might try looking at Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden. I've never camped there, since it's kinda in the middle of town, but it's in a nice spot and just a few minutes' drive to He'eia.
posted by lex mercatoria at 4:23 PM on January 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

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