Last year for the first time ever we decided to do what we called a mystery trip! What that meant for us was that we got time off work approved and then waited for a cheap flight deal to determine where we were going to go. We ended up finding a really great deal to Hawaii through Scott’s Cheap Flights. We did a little research and decided on Maui! After we booked our flights we started looking for an Airbnb or boutique hotels which is what we typically do when we travel. Turns out most of the Airbnbs on Maui are not cheap! So our cheap trip was becoming more expensive. We started looking into other options and quickly came upon several camper van companies. There are a few companies you can book through on Maui, we decided to go with North Shore Vans (https://www.northshorevans.com) and we would highly recommend them! The owner (Chris) was great and super helpful!. He picked us up from the airport and dropped us back off at the airport after we returned the van.
The van is your lodging and your transportation for your trip all in one which makes seeing all of Maui really easy. We found the van to work out really well for us, it allowed us the freedom to explore the island without having to make sure we got back to one spot each night.
You will see vans pulled off to the side of the road on small beaches and other locations all over the island. Legally you are not supposed to do this, you need to book a spot at a campground with your van each night. This was a shorter trip for us, we only had about four and half days on the island so we picked a couple different campgrounds to really make sure we could see as much of the island as possible.
This is where we stayed:
Camp Olowalu: Start Here
This place can fill up fast so it is recommended that you make reservations ahead of time. We spent our first two nights here. This was definitely the nicest campground we stayed at. They have hot showers and nice bathrooms. There is also a small black sand beach on the property. Tent camping and van parking spots are available, as well as tentalows and cabins if you want to do some glamping. There are chickens all over this property, they are not shy and will walk right up to your tent or van! They did not bother us at all and would typically quickly run away if we got too close to them. There is also a large group of stray cats on this property if you walk along the path near the beach. The cost for a night here is $20 per person. We also headed back here our last evening before taking a late flight home since the last campground we stayed at didn’t have showers. To stop in here and just use their hot showers the cost is $10 a person. This campground is about 15-20 minutes from the airport which makes it a great place you start your trip. It is also a good central location if you want to go up to Lahaina or over to Kihei/Makena/lava fields!
Camp Kaenae/YMCA: Awesome views, but bring bug spray!
Reservations are recommended here as well as it will make checking in easier, but it was almost empty while we were there. This campsite is just about to the halfway point on the road to Hana. You likely won’t have cell phone reception here so making sure you already have your spot reserved is very helpful. The cost here is $30 a person – which is honestly a more than it’s worth. They do have hot showers and bathrooms. There are spots for van camping and tent camping here. The night we were here it was very buggy which we were not prepared for. If you can handle the mosquitos, the view out to the ocean here is amazing! One final word of caution – make sure you bring food to cook on the grill/stove. We had planned to stop at a BBQ food stall on the way but that place was closed and there were no other options close by. You are in the middle of the Road to Hana and there was literally nowhere to eat. We ended up eating pretzels and trail mix for dinner. Also the night we were here there was only 2 other vans so for the most part we had the place to ourselves.
Kipahulu- Haleakala National Park: This is about 10 miles past Hana. This park is where the seven sacred pools are located. The campground here has no showers, it does have vault toilets. Van and tent camping are allowed here. They do not take reservations ahead of time, but they had a lot of campsites. We arrived late in the afternoon and had no trouble finding a spot to park. It will cost $25 per vehicle to enter the park. Your park pass is valid for three days and also allows you to drive up the Haleakala volcano and even stay at the Hosmer Grove Campground within the three days. There is no additional fee for camping. The van parking spots are very close to the water. If you are tent camping you can camp even closer to the water if you like. We walked along a small path in the morning to find a quiet place to do our yoga and we passed several small tents in small openings along the path/trail with great views of the water.
Here is a list of other campgrounds on Maui that you can legally park your van for camping:
Wainapanapa State Park
Hosmer Grove -Haleakala National Park (uses the same pass as the Kipahulu campground!)
Check out North Shore Vans Website for more information on each of these locations and links to each campsite where reservations are needed- https://www.northshorevans.com/campgrounds
We were recommended to grocery shop Mana foods in Paia which is actually a small, health food store. They have fairly good prices however they didn’t have everything we were looking for, so we ended up having to go somewhere else to get a few other random items. There is a Costco and several other big name stores near the airport. We went to Walmart since it was the first one we passed after leaving Mana foods. If you are looking for any toiletries, sunscreen, or alcohol Mana foods won’t have these items for you.
Also something we didn’t consider is that all of these campgrounds do have grills so you can cook food. The van also had a small gas camping stove for cooking. The van does have a cooler for keeping food cold. The cooler is sitting in the hot van all day while you are out exploring so we did find we had to refill it with ice almost every day. We relied on snacks and stopping for food along the way each day since we were on a shorter trip. Camp Olowalu is within 15 minutes of several small towns so you can definitely eat at restaurants when staying here. The other places we stayed were along the road to Hana where food options are very sparse. There are restaurants in Hana, so we got take out when we were there the next afternoon and kept that in the cooler for dinner the night we stayed at Kipahulu-Haleakala National Park.
The back of the van had a bed, storage for all of our stuff and a sink. Simple dishes and silverware were provided as well as a map of the island with points of interest to help us make the most of our trip. There were also curtains to cover the windows at night when we wanted to relax in the van. There were also lights and a power inverter to charge phones/ipads, etc.
We found the camper van to be a really nice way to see the island. We would highly recommend this to anyone looking to travel cheaply! You always hear that Hawaii is not a cheap place to travel but trust us when we say this is the way to do it! It isn’t your typical Hawaiian vacation but we loved every minute of it! We haven’t visited any of the other islands yet but there are camper van rental companies on the other islands as well and we are looking forward to exploring those islands in this way as well!
For more on the Road to Hana check out our post here: Road to Hana Camper Van Adventure