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Rent a van and see the Big Isle in style


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POSTED: Saturday, June 13, 2009

One of Teri Fritz's first van-camping experiences in Hawaii was a trip to Spencer Beach Park where she and her life partner, Bud Turpin, hoped to catch a great view of a total lunar eclipse.

               

     

 

HAPPY CAMPERS HAWAII

        Pickup and drop-off locations can be anywhere in Hilo from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
       

» Office hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

       

» Rates: $115 a day, including unlimited free mileage, a full tank of propane gas and 15 gallons of water for cooking and cleaning. There's a five-day minimum from April 1 through Sept. 30 and a seven-day minimum from Oct. 1 through March 31. Kamaaina rate is 10 percent off whatever minimum applies.

       

» Phone: 966-6074 or toll-free (888) 550-3918 from the other islands

       

» E-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

       

» Web site: http://www.happycampershawaii.com

       

» Notes: Maps, booklets, brochures and Big Island phone books are provided with every rental. Campground reservations and permits are required in advance and can be arranged on the Internet. To make reservations for Hookena Beach Park, go to hookena.org/camping. For all other parks, peruse ehawaii.gov/Hawaii_County/camping/exe/campre.cgi (county parks) and hawaiistateparks.org (state parks).

       

Fritz had moved to the Big Island just five months before, so she remembers the exact date of that spectacular phenomenon: Aug. 28, 2007.

“;We set up camp under the stars and watched the fantastic show,”; she recalled. “;Even better, after it was over, we went to sleep right there. That's the beauty of camper vans; you can fall into bed wherever you're at. It's a wonderful way to travel!”;

Growing up in Oregon where there are nearly 100 state and federal campgrounds and even more privately owned facilities, Fritz spent many weekends exploring the great outdoors with her family.

“;We rented RVs and camped next to lakes and rivers,”; she said. “;We had a lot of fun hiking, fishing and water-skiing. I have so many fond memories of those times.”;

Later, when Fritz had her own children, vacations often meant van camping in the backwoods of Oregon, Washington and Montana.

“;My three kids loved those trips,”; she said. “;A camper van takes you to places far away from crowds and your hectic everyday life to enjoy the peace and beauty of nature without any intrusions.”;

As the owner of Happy Campers Hawaii, Fritz believes she's found her dream job. She rents five fully restored 1987-1991 Volkswagen Westfalia pop-top campers to visitors who want to forgo resorts and instead get acquainted with the Big Island in a comfortable home on wheels.

The “;Westys”; are equipped with two full-size beds, a propane stove, a sink with running water, and ample cupboard space and storage bins. Fritz stocks the vans with everything customers need for their island adventure—from bedding, towels and dishes to flashlights, cleaning supplies and pots and pans. Additional items can be rented, including tents, folding chairs, sleeping bags, barbecue grills and CD players.

“;Camper vans give you freedom and flexibility that you can't get if you're staying at a hotel,”; Fritz said. “;You can sleep in a different place every night if you want, and you don't have to keep packing and unpacking. Everything you need goes with you in your traveling vacation rental.”;

Two months ago, Fritz welcomed a couple from Anacortes, Wash.

“;They looked really tired and frazzled,”; she said. “;The few days before they arrived were extra-busy, and the husband was using a cane because he had blisters on his feet from running around.”;

When they returned their van a week later, the transformation was amazing.

“;They were smiling and rejuvenated,”; Fritz said. “;They had driven completely around the island, and said they wanted to come back next year to do it again.”;

Fritz relishes the opportunity to assist customers with plans for such memorable escapes.

“;I want the camper-van experience to be magical for them, just as it always is for me,”; she said. “;I love to talk to people, find out what they want to do on the Big Island and help make it happen. My reward is seeing the vans return with a full load of relaxed, happy campers!”;

 

TOP CAMPGROUNDS

Hookena Beach Park. The pluses: Great snorkeling, a beautiful white-sand beach, clean restrooms and outdoor showers with warm water (the pipes are above the ground so they're heated by the sun). The downsides: It gets crowded on weekends, and there have been complaints of late-night partying.

Isaac Hale Beach Park. This popular surfing spot has new restrooms and outdoor showers. The county maintains a boat ramp nearby, and half a mile north is Ahalanui Park, famous for its natural thermal soaking pond.

Laupahoehoe Beach Park. Swimming and sunning aren't ideal here because the waters are rough and the beach is rocky, but it's one of the island's prettiest campsites. Wade through tide pools or play Frisbee on the large lawn. Picnic tables are set right at the ocean's edge.

Namakani Paio. It can get chilly because it's at the 4,000-foot elevation of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Avid hikers could spend several days here exploring more than 150 miles of trails. There's ample parking, a large pavilion and a bathroom but no showers. For $3 per person per day, you can use the community showers at Volcano House's adjacent cabins, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Punaluu Beach Park. Poor visibility and choppy waters caused by strong winds sometimes disappoint swimmers and snorkelers. There aren't any showers, but there are nice pavilions and the restrooms are clean. Tour buses often stop here during the day because endangered sea turtles like to lounge on the beach. It's cool and quiet at night—perfect for a stroll on the black sand.

Spencer Beach Park. Make reservations well in advance because this park tends to fill up quickly. Amenities include well-maintained indoor showers and favorable ocean conditions for bodysurfing, swimming and snorkeling. Hike the Ala Kahakai Trail to secluded coves; this walk is especially impressive from November through March when you can see humpback whales cavorting offshore.


Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Bulletin have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.