**The printed story with photos can be found at The Good Life Magazine, February 2016 issue. The unedited text is below...
Every fall for the past 4 years, my husband Willy and I have embarked on a multi-week family road trip with our two kiddos. It is a chance for us to re-connect as a family through camping and adventuring. This year, instead of remaining in the Continental United States, we decided to branch out and do our first ‘exotic’ road trip. Since our kids are now 8 and 6, I wanted to start exploring parts of the world with them that are highly inconvenient/less enjoyable when traveling with toddlers. For our first airplane-necessary road trip, we decided to explore the Island of Maui in a 1989 pop-up Volkswagen Westfalia camper van. I’ll preface my story by saying that the trip I am about to describe is not for everyone. If a Hawai’ian vacation to you means poolside drinks and over-priced luaus then please don’t attempt our style of vacation. However, if you are comfortable with adventure and the unknown, then this may be the next trip for you.
I first came across the ad for Aloha Campers when I was searching for tent camping options on Maui. We knew we wanted to visit the island but didn’t want to be stuck in one location for the entire trip. We also weren’t interested in visiting Maui for the resort experience. A vacation for us means the opportunity to see new plants, animals, birds and aquatic life. It also means hiking, sleeping under the stars and (at times) putting ourselves as far away from civilization as possible. We knew that logistically, it was going to be difficult to bring all of our camping gear with us on an airplane. Renting the Westfalia seemed to be the best solution to our problem…..enough sleeping space for 2 adults and 2 kids, a small fully stocked kitchen and the ultimate freedom to explore. This was going to be a great trip!
We landed in Kahului, Maui at 2 PM in the afternoon and caught our shuttle to Kihei where we first became acquainted with our home away from home for the next 6 nights; a 1989 Steel Blue Volkswagen Westfalia pop-up camper van. Brandon, her owner, briefly acquainted us with her quirks and showed us the location of several essential features including the jumper cables and an extra screwdriver….just in case…. We threw our packs in the back and prepared for departure. As I was about to turn the key, one of the mechanics knocked on the passenger side window. Willy rolled it down and the guy threw us a big smile…. ‘Her name’s Stella!’ he shouted through the window. We promised to take care of her and headed out in search of a grocery store and a place to spend the night. We made a quick stop to a local pawn shop and purchased a set of snorkel gear for $8 and a fishing rod and reel for $25. We were set!
Camping on Maui was an interesting experience. Lately, the islands have been getting a reputation for being un-friendly to tourists. Although this may be true if you are touring around in an ȕber fast cherry-red mustang convertible or a shiny new Jeep Wrangler, this isn’t the case when cruising the island in an old Volkswagen bus that tops out at 50 mph. People love these vans. Even though we knew we were running the risk of stepping on the toes of locals during our camping trip, we found that it was easy to make friends when traveling along in Stella. People would wave, throw us solid shakkas and made a point to come over and say hi and have a look inside the van. We discovered that Westfalias are a hot commodity on the islands these days. Very few of them still remain in private hands. They are a throwback to a time when surfing and good vibes still ruled the island; before the mega-resort complexes became king. We had no trouble backing the van in to some prime on-water camping. Often, we were peacefully nestled between old-school surfers who had been living on the beach for years.
Truly, this trip was amazing from Day 1. We hit up nearly every public beach on the island; snorkeling 2 or 3 times a day in warm, pristine azure waters. We spotted more sea turtles than we could count, saw octopus and eels and more fish than an aquarium can hold. The only beaches with trash in the sand were those adjacent to the mega resort complexes. Those beaches also held the least diversity of sea life and the cloudiest waters. The county beaches set aside for locals were well maintained and uncrowded. They often had showers, bath houses and sometimes a playground.
Because of the mobility the van afforded us, we were able to drive the infamous road to Hana and could spend several nights exploring the more remote areas of Maui. We hiked through bamboo forests, slogged up muddy trails that wound beneath wild papayas and banyans to hidden waterfalls, explored freshwater caches within ancient lava tubes and spotted elusive native birds in their jungle homes. Willy fished the rugged inlets along the North Shore and the kids made sand castles from dawn until dusk with intermittent pauses for boogie-boarding and snorkeling. We dined on fresh pineapple and star fruit, tiny sweet bananas, creamy avocados and sugar cane.
When it was time to return Stella, we were all overcome with sadness. We had become attached to our nomadic life in the van. Living on the beaches of Maui for that brief period of time was certainly one of the best adventures of my life. I am overcome with happiness that we could all enjoy the trip together as a family. I am already planning our next vacation. Who knows what possibilities the future holds? But I wouldn’t hesitate to repeat our Maui road trip. Indeed, I would return to van life in a heart-beat…..and my family would too.