Living on the Big Island of Hawaii

An Editorial by Jim Sky

You may be tired of hearing how wonderful Hawaii is.  Comfortable year round weather, lovely beaches, great fishing, sweet music.  It's all true.  I have lived here just 7 years, which makes me a newcomer by most local standards.  But it is clear to me that this is where I would like to be for many years to come.  In a way, one is always a guest here. Living on the slopes of the largest and one of the most active volcanoes in the world, keeps you in touch with the impermanence of things.  It is not that you feel constantly threatened by molten lava, but all around you are the signs that the island is the ultimate dictator of its own fate. No one's place here is reserved forever.  

Freshwater pond at the the black sand beach in Punaluu. Image Radio-Sky Publishing 2004

Of all the Hawaiian Islands, Hawaii ( or more often said: The Big Island ), is the largest and most affordable. Life flows here in a slow and patient pace. Many people work hard (sometimes at several jobs) to get by, but on their days off work they often resynchronize with the calm heartbeat of the ocean waves.  You often hear of people operating by "Hawaiian Time", something more akin to about where the Sun is in the sky than to which digits appear on a watch.  This drives some "mainlanders" who are used to strict schedules and appointments a bit crazy.  But one has to wonder which approach to life is better. When there is no time to hug your children or "talk story" with your neighbor because a digital clock tells you so, can this really be so sane?

The Big Island is extremely diverse in its people, its landscape, and weather.  You can drive from a desert to a tropical rain forest in just a few minutes. Some folks gather snow in their pickup trucks from the top of Mauna Kea and build snowmen on the warm sand of the beach.  There are many financially poor people here and many of the worlds wealthiest people a few miles away. The population is racially and culturally composed of many groups.  As you might expect, most of the people who were born here can point to an uncle or auntie from some place else.  There are distinct vestiges of this or that origin, and there is a rich healthy blending. People are like people everywhere in most ways, some good, some bad, but overall I would say that the concept of Aloha lives in Hawaii.  

I have read that about half of the people who move to Hawaii leave within two years. I can make a few guesses as to why that might be so.  Perhaps, the main reason people fail in building a life here is that they come with a head full of pre-conceived ideas of what life should be and they cannot make adjustments to these expectations.  They come with the thought that they can simply relocate their previous ways of life to this beautiful, warm paradise.  Some believe that they can change Hawaii to suit themselves but soon find that this is not possible and that this attitude is not appreciated.  Sure Hawaii changes. New businesses, homes, and services can be found in many places on our island. But change comes most readily here through patience and a building of trust. Hawaii has been looted and abused many times over the years. If not for the legal and cultural brakes to instant change, this probably wouldn't be a paradise at all.  

So if you are the kind of person who feels they must make the world suit you and not bend yourself to fit into your environment, I think you probably won't make it in Hawaii.  The second reason I suspect many people don't make it here is related to the first. What is it that you value and need?  If you value convenience shopping over open spaces; if you value the symphony orchestra or rock concerts over the calls of native birds; if you are tied by your health to a big hospital; if you need the "security" of a big corporation to work for; if you have small children and and need the best private schools for them, you might not want to move to Hawaii.  I am not trying to place a value judgment on any of these things. But you need to seriously evaluate your needs and values before undertaking such a big step.

Lastly, I think some people just don't make it financially, even on the Big Island, (which I mentioned before as the most "affordable").  Have a good cushion of several thousand dollars saved up before you move. Have enough money to buy a good car (or ship yours) and have enough money to live a year if need be.  It might take a while to find you financial equilibrium.  For some with huge resources, this is not an issue, but I have seen many young people come and go as soon as their money ran out.  Have a plan.  Execute it. Don't wait for the right idea to come to you while you are lounging on the beach.  That will be too late.  Be aware that there are very inexpensive ways to get by here.  You can buy bulk groceries at Costco and fresh produce and fish from local people.  You can live in a tent while you build your house!  You can't always pull that off in Vermont.  You might have to do several things for a living to get by in Hawaii, a little of this and a little of that.  It is actually probably a better way to live than 8 to 5 in the same cubicle every day, but it requires more creativity and flexibility.

Is it possible for someone with modest resources to buy a home and live in Hawaii?  Yes, but you better hurry!  Some parts of the island are already the exclusive domain of the wealthy, but there are places where you can still buy an acre or so of land for about $30,000.  An acre with a nice home can run from about $225,000 up.  (Just a few years ago these prices were $10,000 and $125,000 respectively!) These affordable areas may be found on the southern end of the island ( Kau District) and in a very wet district on the east side (Puna). Recently (2007) the inventory of available land and homes has been increasing.   Baby boomers are retiring and moving here. Before you get serious about moving to Hawaii, visit, preferably for a month or more, and explore the entire island. Go grocery shopping. Talk to people. If after this serious investigation you still think it is for you, find a real estate agent you can trust and who knows the area. I suggest you visit my friend's website at :