Car camping is…almost…impossible on the Big Island!

by Jennifer

I’m not going to lie. I was in a bit of a panic all day because car camping is impossible to arrange on the Big Island, and I had no backup housing planned.


While on the Big Island, you better have a tent and an intent to hike to a campground or a room booked each night that you are on the Big Island.

For about $28/day – taxes included – the cheapest car rental I could find on the Big Island. Compact. Chevy Sonic. Never heard of it before, but it serves me just fine.

There are no inconspicuous back roads to park one’s car and sleep in it. You are either on a highway or in a residential or commercial area there are no shoulders that provide you a legal, safe, or sound place to sleep. I made the mistake of not paying heed to the messages on forums Β that car camping did not exist on the Big Island .

Reaching Hawaii National Volcano Park at 5p, I drove around relentlessly looking for a spot to park and sleep for the night. By 6:30p, after searching Volcano Village and other nearby neighborhoods, I had given up, and unfortunately on my Sprint Network had no reception to search for an affordable hostel or Airbnb room. I headed toward Hilo, an hour away, determined to find a church parking lot of reception to book a room.


Plaguing me was my impending first student meeting through Synocate, at 6am Hawaii time. I’d be chatting with a prospective student and her parents about her college admissions goals, while one of the Synocate staff listened in.



Where would I find a quiet place to speak with her with decent wifi?Β 

Luckily, a half hour from where I slept, I found a Starbucks that opened at 4am. I had time to research more of this student’s interests before my successful Initial Consultation call with her at 6am.

Where could I secure a decent night’s sleep before the call?

Where did my problems begin?

First off, I underestimated the amount of time it would take to drive from Kona International Airport to Hawaii Volcano National Park.

2.5 hours of driving, nonstop, with many junctions with speed limits of 25 and 35 and winding roads slowing down the 75 mile stretch to reach it.Β As a result, I arrived at the Visitors Center 5 minutes before it was set to close. The very nice ranger there explained to me the back country camping procedures and showed me campgrounds I could pay to park at, as I was too late to gain a Back Country Camping permit from the Back Country Office that closes at 4p.

The permit is free. However, you cannot bring your car to the campground. You have to home miles to reach one. Without a tent and sleeping pad, this would not be an option for me.

So after a magnificent view of the crater of Kilauea and a call to Sandy to break up my panic, I drove north towards Hilo.

Warming up my hand over one of the many streaming craters at Volcano National Park.

Finally, an abandoned house, next to the highway!

Yes. This post is about doing something super sketchy. Since leaving the animal rights position, I dropped my income to a sum total of $0, aside from a little petsitting income I made while in NYC for a week. It’s been this way for over a month now, and as a result I have been looking for ways to reduce my living costs till I line up work again.

My sketchy house looked like this. I was always too tired and too afraid of being conspicuous photographing the place to take a photo of it.

It’s a little outrageous to try to live so meagrely as I had purposely accepted and worked a lot of hours before I left NYC for the activist job, to bolster my savings. However, it had been so long since I hadn’t been earning money, that this circumstance weighed on me daily, and so I took up the challenge of living as cheaply as possible.
From the highway it looked empty, but I had to be sure, so I peered in as far as I could through a side window. The room looked empty from that angle. Seeing a masterlock attached to a fence have me further peace of mind as three are generally attached by mortgage companies trying to sell an empty home. I’d probably be safe to sleep there through the next morning.

:: update ::

Success! Conquered car camping on Big Island. One of the few according to the Internet.

I successfully spent 2 nights sleeping there undisturbed.

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