Aloha from the Sassy Pants Diary, where I share the joys of getting older, “mojo maintenance”, staying Sassy forever & this beautiful Hawaii life I live!
The move to Maui can be taken lightly, or with annoying amounts of obsessing. I chose the latter method. If you are a youngin‘ just out of high school, or college, go ahead and grab your backpack and one checked bag, and go crazy exploring the island life. Be prepared to turn vegan involuntarily due to the cost of food, and be open to sharing your pad with other like-minded would-be surfers and free spirits. If you are over sixty and looking for more of a retirement experience, make sure your backpack is full of money, cause you are gonna need it! Also, make sure you don’t have any major health problems, as some of the health care options can be pretty sparse on some islands. That being said, Hawaii is one of the healthiest places on the earth, where people tend to stay active well into their 90’s or beyond, and happily “above-ground”, much longer than anywhere else in the U.S.
If you are retired military, Oahu may be the better choice for the 60+ crowd, as you can take advantage of the PX and Commissaries on island too, as well as better and more health care options. If you retired with full benefits, you will have easy access to free healthcare, of course. While all this is a strong pull towards Oahu, you will have to tolerate some of the worst traffic in the country. Metro rail is currently under construction there. We are hopeful that it should ease some of the traffic congestion. If you are older and in love with the less populated islands, realize that people commute via air to Oahu for health care procedures, all the time, and often in less time than some folks do on the mainland in cars. We have Kaiser Insurance and have had to do this a couple of times for procedures not available on Maui. They pay for the flight, for yourself and one companion usually, which is a nice benefit.
I’m a Washingtonian by birth. We are blessed with amazing health care there and awful, awful traffic problems. One bonus is that the Washington metro area is full of educated folks. We talk a lot and take everything a bit too seriously. Politics, history, government surround you there, like an invading horde. It’s difficult to shut all that out, to be honest. The bubble you’ve heard about is real! It’s definitely a lovely part of the country though, with four real seasons, blemished usually only by the month of August, when the humidity destroys the life as you once knew it, though with global climate change, the nasty season is lengthening I hear. For me, I found the heat and humidity of Maui much easier to deal with than Washington, D.C. The trade winds make all the difference here. But, if you like to be in the thick of things, where it all happens, Hawaii is not for you. It’s as close to living in another country, while still being in the U.S. as you can get. Just watch our local news, when you visit and you will see what I mean. In truth, it’s more about the local experience, rather than national headline news and, frankly, we like it that way.
So, to me, the first real consideration when moving to Hawaii should be the weather. Are you going to miss the vast variations from hot to cold? Do you already live in a hot area and feel adjusting to Hawaii should be pretty easy? Of course, the Hawaiian Islands consist of eight main islands in the State of Hawaii (Hawai’i, Maui, Lana’i, Moloka’i, Kaho’olawe, Oahu, Kauai and Niihau), though there are a total of 137 islands and atolls altogether, mostly uninhabitable. Some areas are prone to flooding. Some struggle with the effects of VOG, the gases that come your way off the volcanoes, if you live on the Big Island, and some parts of Maui, mainly. You gotta listen to the weather reports to know which way the wind is blowing, though if you keep your windows open at night, figuring out if it’s a Claritin day or not, should be pretty easy.
Weather has a big presence in Hawaii, with first of the month Tsunami warning horns (and incoming missile alert, recently added, though I can’t remember which is which…really should look into that one of these days.) The need to always be prepared with medicine, food, water, etc…in case of a weather emergency. The fabulous thing, however, is that people help each other here like nowhere else I’ve seen. If rains and winds take down trees that block the roads, locals usually get out their chain saws and get busy, long before government types show up. Any power outages that happen are usually dealt with quicker than I’ve experienced on the mainland. The local government is responsive to the people, because we are neighbors and friends. You will find that the weather is a frequent topic of conversation here, which may seem silly to some, since compared to the mainland, it may seem very much the same each day. But, getting the surf report from our weather man Guy Hagi, is really one of life’s joys that shouldn’t be missed! It’s the little things here. A little rain. A little change in the winds that bring a break from the heat, or better surfing conditions.
So, when picking your island, just realize that there are really quite a lot of weather variations here…maybe not compared to the mainland, but variations nevertheless. Granted, we do have some of the most beautiful weather in the world. But, a careful planner life myself needs to do research. Visit the areas that interest you and go there at different times of year. Hawaii has 9 to 10 of the world’s 14 climates in the world. (See: https://www.hawaiimagazine.com/content/hawaii-has-10-worlds-14-climate-zones-explorers-guide-each-them) So, if a particular island, or a particular town is calling your name, consider the zone it is in and make sure it’s what you are looking for. All one has to do is watch the news and see the effects of recent volcanic eruptions on the Big Island and flooding in Oahu and Kauai, to realize that weather, while usually beautiful here, has potential to shift abruptly and remind you that you are not in Kansas anymore. Volcanic eruptions happen. Flooding and Tsunamis can devastate communities. If you have a choice, buy up the mountain a ways, check your local flood zone and volcanic eruptions maps.
You will want to factor in whether you care for, or need (due to health reasons), a drier zone. A wetter zone, like Hilo, may have a tendency to flood, or have mold issues. The physical beauty of the greener/wetter zones can be quite astounding. You can raise your chickens and organic gardens there, with little effort. In the desert areas, like South Maui, you may want to pull out your grass, if you don’t want to spend a fortune on watering everyday and lay down lava rock (which can be quite beautiful too), and plant drought-tolerant plants. The sunnier/drier areas tend to attract more tourists of course, so if that’s a consideration, you may want to avoid those areas, or look for a happy medium, between wet and dry, which all islands have. That being said, if you are going to start your Hawaiian Island journey as a renter, be spontaneous and go where the vibe draws you in.
If you fall into the 30-something to 50-something crowd, with kids, make your decision with more caution and consideration. In many cases, you will need to put your child in a private school, especially if they are gifted and talented, or the college-bound sort. We initially started by putting our daughter in a public charter for the first three years. The first two years were acceptable. The transition to middle school was pretty bad, in terms of control of the classroom and general disorganization. There also seemed to be more personal problems in the kids’ lives that found their way into the already dramatic nature of middle school life. We switched to a Catholic school for 7th and couldn’t be happier. Of course, it comes at a cost of about $10,000/annually. We defray the costs as we own a Ohana (cottage) on our property, that we rent out.
About a quarter of all home owners in Hawaii have an Ohana. It is an excellent way to subsidize your living. Some folks rent out their Ohana through Airbnb and other companies, which is both lucrative and controversial, as it does eat into the local housing market. (There is an ever-growing population of homelessness in the islands. Efforts are being made to build more affordable housing, but it will be sometime before supply catches up to need. Don’t become one of them. Know that moving to the islands will require an acceptance of the high cost of living.) You will likely need more money than you think to move here. If you can find a property with a decent Ohana to buy, jump on it. You can’t imagine the security it will give you!
So, education is a main consideration, for sure. If you are a home-schooler, then the sky’s the limit. Live where your heart tells you to live! To find out more about this option, check out: http://hawaiipublicschools.org/. Beyond public schools, know that there are many wonderful private schools in the islands. (Though in the wealthier residential areas, to be honest, your child can often attend the public schools and sit next to the sons and daughters of the movers and shakers on island, and get a quality education. There is the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree factor. These children often have parents with high expectations of them, which raises the level of the classroom.
But what do you do if living in a wealthy area is not an option for you, but you still can’t get Hawaii out of your head? If you are a talented fixer upper sort, you could buy a distressed property in one of those rich neighborhoods, do the work, live in it for a while, then sell for a nice profit. Again, buying a home with an Ohana can really open up options for you. What many, even wealthy folks do is put their kids in public schools, or less expensive private schools until high school, then apply and transfer them to one of the college prep schools. These are often very competitive institutions, with demanding entry requirements, as well as limited openings. This is what President Barack Obama did after all, as he is a graduate of the one of Hawaii’s best private institutions – Punahou School (https://www.punahou.edu). Just know that your child will need great grades, test scores and extra-curriculars, and interview well. Fortunately, most private schools have very generous, often full-tuition scholarships for the students in need, who they want in their school. So, while schooling can be a challenge in Hawaii, if you are a dedicated parent, who loves to do your research and get the scoop on the real deal, you will probably do just fine here. I know we did.
We found it was best to talk to local people for recommendations too. They know what’s what. While it may be hard to tear yourself away from the beach on vacation, I would schedule some interviews with the schools you are considering in the areas you are drawn to. While most private schools here schedule open houses twice a year (and if your vacation syncs up with them great, take a few hours and go), many schools will meet with you individually and, even, schedule interviews and testing for your child. I highly recommend subscribing to Honolulu Magazine, as this publication is both beautiful, fun and informative, but has an annual private school review of all the islands. It is really an awesome issue!
Finally, weather, high cost of living and schooling aside, are you passionate about these islands, because that’s really the only thing that matters. Do you want to become a part of them, true kamaaina, or be a perpetual outsider living here a few years, then going home? I believe if you are a truly sensitive and intuitive person, if you have the Aloha spirit inside you, if you are a person who leads with your heart, not your mind, Hawaii may be right for you. This is a place of community, of “Ohana”, or family, where people do what is pono, or right, where they have a sense of kuleana, or responsibility, towards the land, the ocean and each other. It may seem “airy fairy,” but if this is you, doors will open, messages will come to you, leads will be left that take you on a path that is your own and one day, you will find yourself here and happy, unbelievably happy, to be so blessed to call the Hawaiian Islands your home. Mahalo for listening!
Stay Beautiful and Sassy!
Mrs. Sassy Pants