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Big Island The Island of Hawaii
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Old 07-23-2011, 03:42 PM
236 posts, read 528,406 times
Reputation: 144


I'd like to buy some land on Hawaii (Big Island) within the next few years, use it as a vacation and winter residence initially, and eventually probably as a retirement place. I'm thinking 1-3 acres in a fairly rural area.

For starters, I'd like to keep it pretty rustic and basic, since I won't be there that often initially -- maybe just a few weeks or months at a time. I'd basically like to just set up a large tent or camper (either camper-van or pop-top) and stay there when not at the beach or exploring the Island. (I like to camp, and don't have a problem with minor temperature fluctuations, etc.)

I've seen websites by people who built their own little cabin on their own land, had composting toilets, etc. I've also read about people living on tents on their own land. But I've also seen on here that this is only permitted for short stretches, on a temporary basis, and/or while people are building permanent structures.

I know some areas (Puna, etc.) are more flexible with this stuff than others, but I'm wondering what the basic guidelines are on this -- what are the exact laws re: camping on your own property, how long you can do this, etc., and how strictly these laws are generally enforced. For example, if you have a few acres of land, and no one can see your tent/camper, would this ever even be an issue? Is Hawaii a live-and-let-live place, as it appears, or do authorities tend to snoop around?

Finally, I saw a thread where living in a camper/RV was deemed extremely undesirable on the Islands. While I have no desire to live in an RV, it does seem that purchasing a newer VW Camper and using it as temporary shelter while exploring the Islands would also be pretty fun. What are the downsides to this if you have land to keep it on -- does the sun bake you too much, even with the Pop-top up?

Anyway, I fully understand the various concerns about homelessness, etc., in Hawaii and on this board, but it would seem that the analysis would change somewhat if someone is living on their own land, even if it's in a non-traditional format. And I'd rather buy the land soon and have a place to vacation now, and build on it over time, vs. waiting 10 years until I can do everything all at once.

Thanks in advance for any insight you can provide, greatly appreciated.
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Old 07-23-2011, 03:48 PM
236 posts, read 528,406 times
Reputation: 144
P.S.: I know some areas get very rainy, but I don't mind tenting/camping while it's raining, I actually kind of like it. (With the right fly/raincover, it's not usually a problem.) I know theft is a concern for random campers, but do people frequently go onto other people's land to steal stuff? Or is that mainly an issue in tent communities, etc.? Are people's vehicles frequently broken into on private land, or is that mainly at the beach, etc.? And is a camper van any less secure than a house with windows that can be broken, etc?

Finally, if someone wanted to build a small bamboo vacation cabin, maybe on an elevated platform, would the local zoning people create major problems, or is it somewhat more relaxed than mainland government, given the local environment? What kind of permit requirements would in fact apply to such dwellings?

Again, any info is appreciated.
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Old 07-23-2011, 05:57 PM
Location: Kailua, Oahu, HI and San Diego, CA
1,176 posts, read 5,198,878 times
Reputation: 742
Alex, you posted the same message twice. If you click the red triangle at the upper right of the second posting, and say that this is your message, you accidentally posted twice and would the moderator please remove it, I think they will.
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Old 07-24-2011, 06:23 AM
12 posts, read 20,632 times
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Congratulations for buying land. its really great. but you should be careful with paper works and those all things. and choose a beautiful place.
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Old 07-24-2011, 08:56 AM
Location: Na'alehu Hawaii/Buena Vista Colorado
4,464 posts, read 8,816,763 times
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You can buy a one-acre lot in Hawaiian Ocean View Estates (HOVE), which is on the very south end of the Big Island near South Point. HOVE has 10,000 one-acre lots, some with vegetation and some that are all lava. The subdivision starts at 2500 feet elevation at the highway and goes up to around 5000 feet. Most of the upper third of the subdivision is off the grid. HOVE is pretty much a live-and-let-live place. Historically you could build whatever you want and live in whatever kind of shelter you wanted, even old school buses, shipping containers, and lava tubes. I would think that given the scarcity of building inspectors that you could still live in whatever you wanted. Only problem is that HOVE is on catchment, and some parts of the subdivision get more rain than others. And in last year's drought, no-one got rain. There's a free faucet in Waiohinu, and there are always people there filling up various containers. The community well that's been in process for years in HOVE may finally be open soon.

There are probably areas in Puna that are still free-wheeling, but I'm not as familiar with that part of the island.
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Old 07-24-2011, 02:50 PM
Location: Pahoa Hawaii
2,082 posts, read 4,436,517 times
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There are many places in Puna where you can build what you want/live how you want. You should however check before you buy property to see what CCR's if any are tied to the land. You'll get a lot more grief from a homeowners association than the county.
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Old 07-24-2011, 11:57 PM
111 posts, read 191,827 times
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Although Leilaniguy may be correct in that you can get away with building something where and how you want, it is still not strictly legal. Be aware that any money you spend building without permits may be lost in the long run and fines may also be imposed by the county. If you are okay with that, then fine. I have traveled many islands in Oceania and using things without permission is not looked at as wrong. Nobody owns anything and if it is not being used by you then someone else should be using it if it is needed. Any item can be the 'it'. This is cultural and may not fit in Hawaii today, but in times past it was normal behavior.

If it were me. I would build with all proper permits and I would not leave anything unguarded for any length of time. Or else I would make lots of friends in your neighborhood who will watch out for your things. But then again, can your really impose that on your friends and neighbors? They may not be able to live up to your expectations.

I do hope you have a fun adventure. I think I would choose to camp with a tent and give everything away at the end of your trip so you don't have to fly it back home.
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Old 07-25-2011, 01:03 PM
Location: Pahoa Hawaii
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Of course it's better to have everything permitted, improvements have much less (or zero) value without them. The county however has a minimum house size of 240 sq. ft. while most subdivisions with covenants demand over 800 sq. ft. They also usually require a 2 car carport while the county requires none. Many subs. also prohibit livestock of any kind, even though the land is zoned for agriculture.
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Old 07-25-2011, 03:20 PM
Location: Moku Nui, Hawaii
9,153 posts, read 17,423,748 times
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Well, there are a few difficulties with such short time residency. Either you will have a problem with thieves or you will have a problem with unchecked vegetation depending on the lot you choose.

There are a lot of lots which would fit your qualifications in Puna and Ka'u. What sort of lot do you want to end up with? Depending on how close to services such as shopping and hospitals for your retirement home would probably influence your choice of lot. Then decide if you want to have a retirement home with a garden and fruit trees or if you wanted a maintenance free moonscape lava lot. Those two choices alone would limit the areas you'd be searching in.

You might be able to find a lot and then have a driveway and house pad dozed out on it and then use that as a camping space for your vacations. You could either bring camping gear and keep it in a storage locker when you weren't using it or rent an RV from the RV renting folks or have an RV here, although you'd probably want to park it in a secure location when you aren't here. It may not work building a small cabin unless it were either watched by neighbors or could be completely closed up impregnable although just about anything can be gotten into if someone is determined.

Depending on the lot, topography, foliage and elevation, it might be a hot place to camp or not, but it won't be mainland hot. Temperatures here rarely get over 90 degrees.
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Old 07-25-2011, 11:27 PM
236 posts, read 528,406 times
Reputation: 144
Thanks for the responses so far. I know I want a place with vegetation, so I could have some privacy, and eventually crops. One thing I like about the VW camper idea is they have fairly large watertanks, so I would have an independent watersource that would be fairly easy to fill at the community tap.

I do see the risk of having stuff stolen. This is one reason I like the idea of an elevated platform, or even a treehouse, but I guess with a high enough ladder, you could get into pretty much anything. I would definitely try to befriend my neighbors, and maybe even let them use the property when I'm not there in exchange for keeping an eye on it, but I understand that's not guaranteed.

I've heard RV's are almost non-existent on the islands, and aren't really rented out much. I prefer the idea of a smaller van anyway -- easier to get around on more roads, more compact, more efficient, etc. While I've considered renting a VW camper from Aloha Campers, it makes more sense to me to buy one for $10K as opposed to renting one for $1000 for a week -- even (or especially) if I end up selling it for a similar price after 1-3 months.

I don't mind being off-grid, or relying mainly on catchment -- I think it's cooler (as well as cheaper) to be self-sufficient. Ultimately, I'd like to rely on solar panels and wind for my electricity needs, with maybe a little propane for a fridge, stove, etc. I imagine I could also get more for my money off the grid, and have more privacy in those areas, with less instrusion.

I think the best idea for now is to take a long vacation out there (maybe 2 months), ideally purchasing a small vw camper, and touring the Island so I can find the spots I like the most, and that will be most ideal for what I want. Then, I'll know better where to buy, and what the neighborhoods are like. I know public camping is fairly restricted, but maybe there are some private campgrounds that will let me park the camper there for long stretches. If nothing else, I imagine I could get someone to let me park/camp on their land for a certain amount every week. That seems like a lot more fun than having to pay a large amount for a hotel, along with a large amount for a rental car. And I could explore a lot more effectively in that manner, it seems, camping at different spots on the Island.

At the end of my vacation, I could sell the van to someone else, or pay someone to let me park it in their garage, etc. And whether I buy the land during that trip, or a later trip, I could keep the van parked in that garage, and keep my large tent, etc., inside the van. (With the fridge, stove, heater, bed, etc., those things are pretty self-sufficient, so I wouldn't have to store much more.)
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