Hawaii for backpackers

This article mostly refers to travelling through Maui, which is one of 8 islands that make up the state of HI, USA.

Somewhere on Maui

Hawaii should/could be a country on it’s own. It is a culturally rich region with deep historical ties to the islands. Hawaii’s history is a story of brutal colonisation that is gruesome and i urge you to read up on how it came to be a STATE in the United States of America. Before travelling to Hawaii, i think it is important for everyone to introduce themselves to Hawaii’s history and that will give you a greater appreciation for the land and it’s people. Here’s a post by Mahealani Joy which puts it into perspective — 

Now, on to how Hawaii(or Maui rather) as a tropical paradise. Hawaii usually paints an image of beaches, sun, sand and surf. It IS all that but i am hoping to paint a broader picture that I experienced as we attempted to travel frugally through the paradise island of Maui.

Image from http://jarfur.tk/hawaiian-islands-map/


A car is most definitely necessary to make the most out of the island. It also gives you a roof over your head when you can’t pitch your tent(in emergencies only of course). There are many car rental companies but 2 local companies that are family run are 
- Kihei rent-a-car : http://www.kiheirentacar.com/
- Aloha rent-a-car :
These are local businesses that provide exceptional service and are genuine people. Renting from these companies means you are supporting local businesses and that goes a long way. 
Let’s talk about prices — We rented an old Nissan Sentra from Kihei rent-a-car for 1 week and it cost us 290USD . Mind you, this was during the high season(Christmas/New Years period) AND i called in the day before to make the booking. They also don’t have an underage surcharge(so long as you are over 21 years old) and there isn’t an absurd deposit demanded. They take care of you and are incredibly friendly.

On the other hand, you could also rent convertible Ferrari’s and ride around the island in style. There’s something for every whim and budget.

Our trusty red trudger


You can do all-inclusives, luxury retreats and even cruise-liners. You can stay in one place and enjoy a week-long vacation sipping on Mai-tai’s and drinking fresh coconut water. Sure, Hawaii is a romantic holiday destination which most travellers don’t go to unless it’s on a honeymoon or some other occasion with a well planned out holiday. Let me open this up a little and assure you that Hawaii (Maui and other islands included) has something for everyone.

Kipahulu campgrounds

Backpack around with a tent and you will be enjoying some of the most stunning campgrounds and secluded spaces imaginable. Laws are not as severely enforced here and as long as you are respectful and not a dingus who has no respect for the land, you can camp mostly anywhere(discretion advised). As with everything, my approach is to chat with everyone and listen to what the local people have to say(by locals i am referring to Hawaiian folk). We really met some great people who led us to amazing places to pitch our tent and gave us a greater cultural understanding of the Aloha way of life.

Here are some stunning camp spots ;

Kipahulu campgrounds — Access to a black sand beach with some hectic waves and a fresh water pool for wading. This campground has bathroom/shower facilities and barbecue pits. This is a reservation based campground but if you just show up without a reservation, mention you were unable to book before hand and the groundskeeper will not give you any trouble. Be friendly and smile, always.

Don’t touch the turtles though!

Paia beach — Not a legal campground and i would say camp here at your own risk. Highlight of camping here was the opportunity to see about 50 sea turtles in the middle of the night come onto shore for their slumber. It is a beautiful beach with bathrooms and surfers.

Haleakala Crater campground — Unfortunately, we did not stay at this campground but it is another stunning spot to pitch your tent as you are about 6000 feet high and have the opportunity to wake up to one of the most beautiful sunrises you will witness. Highly recommended by everyone i met.

City lights from the top of the crater.

If not staying here for the night, be sure to make the drive or hike up to the crater to catch the sunrise. It is absolutely beautiful.

There are plenty more campgrounds but these are just some of the spots that i would go back to if i were in Maui.

And then there is THE backpacker hostel to spend a night scrubbing yourself clean and mingling after a week of tramping around an island.

Banana Bungalow Hostel — http://www.mauihostel.com/

The recreation area. It is paradise in heaven.

I have stayed at various hostels and this hostel is definitely in the top 3 hostels. Incredibly clean, well maintained and with numerous FREE tours heading out everyday with the hostel staff who know what they are doing makes this place a must stay for anyone on Maui. The ambience of the place and the people make it what it is. Although a little pricey, it is the cheapest accommodation available on Maui(trust me, i checked EVERY other accommodation resource). But heck, i wouldn’t mind paying more to stay at this hostel. 
Don’t worry if you can’t book a bed online, just show up and they can sort you out. If they don’t have any beds available when you show up, they will welcome you to pitch your tent in the back for about 15USD which is just as well because you will definitely be having an amazing time whilst you are there.


Hawaiian food is very meaty. Spam is a staple food together with healthy amounts of chicken and pork. Needless to say, the seafood is delectable. With a healthy amount of japanese and filipino influence on their food, the marriage between these cultures has brought about some very interesting foods. Here’s a few things that you will be eating whilst there :

Musubi — This is basically a large sushi roll. So imagine a bed of rice with a large piece of most popularly Spam or chicken(teriyaki or fried) on top tied together with a chunky piece of seaweed. This will usually cost about 3–4 USD

Saimin — This is the local name for ramen noodles with a twist. Expect Furikake seasoning and spam as the most popular. Usually around 5USD

BBQ chicken plate — Really common amongst food trucks and most streetside dwellers. picture a massive piece of chicken prepared with the best teriyaki sauce you can imagine. Lay that on a bed of rice and couple it with a side of macaroni salad(or corn and peas). It is simply delicious and not decidedly unique but all the more bang for your buck. This will set you back about 10USD.

Pork — They have various different ways of preparing pork. Namely Kalua Pork and Lau-Lau pork. both are distinctly unique and worth a try. Kalua pork is shredded pork with cabbage and some secret ingredient to create a deceptively rich flavour. Lau-Lau pork is pork cooked in some sort of leaves that i did not recognise. It is definitely a bit less visually stimulating but all the more delicious once tasted.

Seafood — Seafood is generally very expensive when eaten at restaurants. That being said, Mahi fish is similar to cod and quite delicious. My experience with seafood revolved around fishing with locals and picking shells off the rocks and eating them fresh. The terrain around the island proves for some interested shells that are uniquely edible. I wish i could name them but the local names escape me. Fishing is entirely legal along the shores of the islands so if you have a knack for fishing, by all means head to a shore, chat up some locals and ‘throw some net’. No net? walk along the rocky shoreline with a butter knife and crack shells off the rocks for an array of fresh oyster-looking goodness.

Poi, Taro and Lilikoi — Taro(or yam) plays a big role in the island diet. They make various things out of them one of which is caled Poi. You can get this at most grocery stores. It is a bag of purple mush that you add a tiny bit of water to and eat with a spoon. This is an acquired taste(much like vegemite). The assortment of fresh fruits found on the island are a fruit lover's haven. Lilikoi’s(or passion fruit) are everywhere and absolutley delicious. Couple that with an abundance of Pineapples, Guavas, Coconuts, Sugar Cane and more Lilikoi, you will have no trouble getting the natural vitamins you need.

So next time you think of Hawai’i, think of an epic camping trip with stunning waterfalls, thrilling hikes and the aloha lifestyle that you won’t forget.

We will meet again!

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