Base Camp Hawaii

Slip the tourist shackles for a 24-7 Hawaiian adventure
By Carol Greenhouse
  |  Gorp.com
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Aerial view of Waipio
Your base camp awaits: Aerial view of Waipio (Photo © Kirk Aeder)

It took three round-trips down a road angled like a hypotenuse to deliver two couples, two teenagers, and a week's worth of gear—a double kayak, a pair of surfboards, a 100-square-foot tent, a half-dozen cords of kiawe wood (for baking gourmet dinners over the fire, of course), assorted hammocks, and one well-worn game of Travel Scrabble—to sea level. Once it was all unloaded and the cars were stashed, there were then the waist-high fords to ferry it all across a churning river and the quarter-mile slog over hot black sand to our camp on the far flank of Hawaii's Waipio Valley.

Our mantra by nightfall: "Adventure isn't for lightweights."

But swinging barefoot in our hammocks at lunch the next day, we congratulated each other on slipping the bonds of the standard weeklong whirl of rental cars and chain restaurants that's stock-in-trade for so many Hawaiian vacations. And for the whole glorious week to follow, God was in the details: no cars, few people, nowhere more important to be than boulder-hopping to the valley's highest waterfall or paddling the river that flows into the sea.

And that's how the concept of base-camp retreats was born. Waipio Valley and its twin, Waimanu, were obvious choices for dropping out in search of under-the-radar adventure. Were there other places where unconventional travelers could eddy out of Hawaii's mainstream (and wholly congested) flow in favor of some single-minded outdoor exploration?

There certainly are.

So here are the rules of the game: A week is needed to do justice to the activities that follow. Some may choose to devote all their time to a single activity, kayaking Molokai's untouched North Shore, say. Natural multi-taskers may want to mix it up by renting a hard-tail and tackling that island's 100-plus miles of über-singletrack. Either way, the important thing is that once settled, nobody has to drive the ubiquitous red Geo Metro from one simple-minded attraction to the next. A bike ride here, a hike there, a paddle elsewhere—your own kinetic power is all that's needed to navigate your week's slate of adventures (sure, a boat motoring from harbor or a quick moped ride to you day's diving might technically break the rules, but you're on Hawaiian time so don't be so uptight).

Some base camps suggested here will drop you in the lap of hammock-ready seclusion. Some are for novelty-seekers, like the berth on a 50-foot sloop. Some are fairly ordinary—the condo on the beach at Maui's Ma'alaea Bay springs to mind. What they all have in common is that each offers uninterrupted access to crazy, call-in-sick-the-last-day fun, the kind that ends with a self-addressed postcard reading, "Wish you were (still) here."

And if that isn't the definition of the perfect Hawaiian vacation, it should be.


Published: 25 Aug 2003 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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