I wasn’t sure what I signed up for when I accepted a last-minute invite to Maui, Hawaii. I was even more concerned when, after the tickets were booked and we were days away from arrival, we still didn’t have a place to sleep. The island can be an expensive romantic getaway…especially when you don’t book in advance. I hadn’t even considered camping on Maui. But, thanks to a cancellation at Aloha Campers, we scored a VW Westfalia camper van and had a rental car and hotel all in one!
My parents laughed when I told them, remembering a time when I was 12 or 13 and all I could talk about was how I had wanted a Volkswagon van. I would point them out on the streets and tell my parents I was going to have one someday. It took a few years, and though that dream had long passed, it did finally come true…at least for a week. And it just might be recurring now…
Despite my young dreams, though, I still wasn’t really sure what I’d gotten myself into. It sounded cool, but six nights in a car? And then we picked it up and got the tour. Our Westy, which we nicknamed Bertha, was well loved. She had dents in her exterior, missing parts in her interior (no A/C) and not a lot of power. But she also had a propane kitchen, two beds (one of which was a pop-up tent so we could actually fully stand while cooking), a working stereo and lots of space to settle in with our backpacks and camping gear.
We promptly found some reggae, rolled the windows down, feet out, and were on our way around the island. Locals waved to us as if we were one of them, since most of them didn’t know it was possible to rent such a van, and she wasn’t marked with any advertising to give it away.
The best part of Bertha was that she allowed us to explore with virtually no plan. Time to relax? Let’s drive to the next beach! Hungry? Let’s pull over and cook! Or find a good restaurant and go! Tired? Back up to a roadside cliff and open the rear door to the stars. Maui has very little industry and not a lot of light pollution, so the stars are brilliant. On Sunday evening we joined the drum circle party at Little Beach (every Sunday starting at 4pm), and literally watched the moon chase the sun, followed by Venus — all in a perfect line.
Perhaps my favorite part of the whole trip was waking up in the middle of the night or early morning and looking out at the sky, with a light sea breeze on my face.
The beauty of camping in a van as opposed to a tent is that you can pick up and go by simply closing the doors, so the annoying set up and clean up of traditional tent camping is eliminated. But it’s important to know, before you go camping on Maui, that it’s technically illegal to camp on the side of the road or on most beaches (you’ll see “no camping” signs posted). However, if you only stay one night in each spot and show up after dark, you’ll mostly go unnoticed. It’s not illegal to “take a nap and watch the sunrise,” so who’s to say how long a nap can be? We also heard from several locals that having a fishing pole out will prevent any hassling since many people do fish through the night. We never had a problem, despite once being honked at in a beach parking lot. But after one toot, security left us alone.
Here’s a list of legal camping in Maui for those rule followers out there:
Camping Maui — Legally — in Drive-In Campgrounds
- Kipahulu Campground –This was the only “legal” campground we stayed in and it is definitely noteworthy. Located just past Hana town, on the back side of Haleakala Volcano inside the Haleakala National Park. It’s a big grassy area without designated campsites (park anywhere you wish!), and an unrivaled view of the Milky Way. Other perks are that you can walk from your campsite to visit the park’s Seven Sacred Pools, bamboo forest, ocean lookouts and some amazing waterfalls. Keep your receipt from visiting the volcano at sunrise and you can enter for free within three days. If you have an annual national park pass (highly recommended), you’re all set!
- Hosmer Grove Campground – This is the only other drive-up camping in the park, located just under 7,000 feet, which is typically in the cloud belt. Ever wanted to spend a night in heaven? It will be cold but there are BBQ pits and pit toilets!
- Camp Olowalu – This campground offers both tent and car camping with hot showers, drinkable water, and flushing toilets…all within steps to the sandy shores, and within minutes to some of the best shopping and dining on the island, in Lahaina.
- Camp Keanae — About halfway to Hana, Camp Keanae offers a big grassy area for vans to park with great views of the ocean and the stars. They have a fitness center, hot showers, flushing toilets and big fire pits as well as a full size gymnasium and game field. Call in advance as they do book up.
Waianapanapa State Park — Another one off the Hana Highway, this is a remote camping spot with shoreline hiking trails and is within walking distance to a black sand beach, blowholes and natural arch. You must get a permit in advance here.
Needless to say, I’m a convert and I wouldn’t want to do Maui any other way. Renting the VW Westy was the best way to adventure around the island without having to be back at a hotel each night. It allowed us to watch the sunrises and sunsets from a new location each day, enjoy star-filled skies without the light pollution of the resort/city and ultimately have a getaway unlike any other.