What is it Really Like to Live in Hawaii? – Cost of Living in Hawaii.
I did have the advantage of having a sister already living in Hawaii and years of Hawaii vacations under my belt, but there were quite a few differences between visiting Hawaii and actually living here.
Hawaii is definitely a paradise, I love it and I don’t think I’ll ever move, but there are several aspects that require an attitude adjustment. Here are some things to consider if you’re thinking of moving to Hawaii.
We Have Seasons in Hawaii, They’re Just Subtle.
There’s an old joke in Hawaii that we do have seasons: whale season, mango season, tourist season, hurricane season, and coffee season. Ha ha ha. We basically have the equivalent of two seasons, spring and summer, or just warm and warmer. For the most part, the temperature fluctuates between the 70′s and 80′s.
The hottest temperature ever recorded in Hawaii was 100 degrees in 1931 in the town of Pahala on the Big Island, but that is extremely rare. It hardly ever gets hotter than the mid 80′s or cooler than the 60′s, except in the higher elevations where it can plunge into the 40′s. Our idyllic weather is the main reason I moved – I just couldn’t take another day of cold and fog.
There are times that I miss the snap of cold at the beginning of fall, the changing colors of the leaves, the smell of wood fires, and even the new styles of boots and sweaters. In the spring, I miss the incredibly beautiful flowering bulbs, trees, and our brilliant California poppies. However, I really don’t miss having to bundle up just to warm up the car for a simple quick trip to the store. The only preparation I have to make for a trip to the store is to put on shoes.
We do have subtle changes in seasons, like when the plumeria begin to bloom in May just in time to make lei for graduation, or when the wild poinsettias suddenly burst with colour when it cools in October. Plus, each month brings a new festival to look forward to – everything from Hawaiian music and cultural festivals to the Maui Onion or Kona Coffee festivals. There
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The Creatures in Hawaii
There’s a Gecko on my Cake!
This picture is of Geronimo, the Madagascar gecko who lives behind my refrigerator. I know that he’s a male because I have caught him with his girlfriend “in flagrante delicto” shall we say. Not only is he not afraid of me, he will stare me down if I try to get him to move.
I named him Geronimo because he has a penchant for leaping off the top of the refrigerator directly into the food when the door is opened. One time he leapt onto a freshly frosted birthday cake, ran around the outside, and jumped into a glass of orange juice. We put the glass outside, only to have him reappear in exactly the same spot days later.
Hawaii is literally crawling with geckos. The Madagascar geckos, obviously stowaways from some ship, have slowly decimated the population of the more docile Common House gecko. Unless your house is hermetically sealed there is no way to keep the crafty buggers out. I used to pay my kids a quarter for every gecko they captured and took outside, but as teenagers they’re no longer interested. I just can’t bring myself to kill them, so I’ve made peace for now. I’ve learned that geckos don’t like Pine-Sol, so if you wipe it on walls or window ledges they’ll stay away.
However, I will never make peace with the cockroaches. Like many other warm states, we have large cockroaches that we call “B-52′s”. Every house in Hawaii has them, and if someone says they don’t they’ve either just bombed or they’re lying. You cannot leave even a morsel of food out at night or they will move in and never leave. I’ve actually gone into the bathroom at night and found a B-52 drinking the water out of my toothbrush – seriously, it couldn’t have chosen something else? But, bait traps usually work well if the population isn’t too high and you really can’t escape cockroaches in the tropics.
The good news is that Hawaii doesn’t have snakes, never has. Our Department of Agriculture is very vigilant about preventing snakes from entering the state since they would be absolutely devastating to our native bird population, which is what has already happened in Guam. Frankly, I’ll take an obnoxious little gecko over a snake any day.
The Language of Hawaii – Olelo Hawaii
It’s been said that Hawaii is a melting pot, but I prefer our Senator Inouye’s description of a beef stew, where each of the individual ingredients keeps its own character but also contributes to the greatness of the whole dish. Hawaii is the only state that has no racial majority, with the highest percentages of people being Japanese-American and Caucasian, 23% each. English is our primary language but pidgin English is often spoken by local people, especially at home.
I love pidgin, especially when it comes to storytelling. There is nothing funnier than a story told in pidgin and our state is blessed with some incredible storytellers. If you are new to the islands, don’t even attempt to speak pidgin until you’ve been here awhile.
The Hawaiian language is everywhere and when you move here you have to learn at least a few words just to get around. When I first moved to Hawaii, I got a job working in a wholesale clothing store. One day, a customer came in with a huge bundle of t-shirts that he wanted to return because they had “pukas” in them. I had no idea what pukas were, but I knew what “ukus” (head lice) were, so I wasn’t too thrilled with the prospect of accepting the return. Luckily, the gentleman pointed out the pukas, which were tiny holes left from dropped stitches.
It wasn’t until I started working in a public elementary school that I learned the real beauty of the Hawaiian language, just like our kindergartners do when they start school. It’s amazing how many incredibly descriptive words can come out of an alphabet with just twelve letters: a, e, i, o, u, h, k, l, m, n, p, and w. I know a little girl whose name is Puamaeole which means flower of never-fading beauty – wow.
Our Hawaiian Studies teacher, Kupuna Pohaikalani, graciously translated my name into Hawaiian and came up with La’ikeila, or glorious calm of the sun. You tend to carry yourself a little more proudly when you’re the glorious calm of the sun! Whether you move to Hawaii or just visit, please always show the greatest respect towards the language.
If you do move to Hawaii, this is what you’ll need:
- A fan (or three) – most rental units in Hawaii, unless they’re in apartment buildings, do not have air conditioning. An inexpensive fan is a necessity for getting a good night’s sleep.
- Bug spray – one cockroach that is out in the open means a lot more in the walls. If you’re worried about toxins, try roach bait or sticky traps
- Inexpensive slippers (flip flops) – since it’s customary to take off your shoes before entering someone’s house, you’ll need shoes that are easy to get off and on. It’s helpful to keep a pair in the car in case you get caught in the rain and don’t want to ruin your shoes.
- An umbrella (or two) – if you think that the rain in Hawaii won’t be a big deal because it’s warm, think again! Weather in Hawaii can be very unpredictable and even warm rain can ruin your clothes and chill you to the bone. It’s best to keep two inexpensive umbrellas, one for your house and one for your car. I even keep one in my desk at work.
Cost of Living in Hawaii?
We Call it the Paradise Tax
The median price of a house on the island of Oahu (where the majority of the population lives) is $599,000. Now, if you live in New York or San Francisco, that might seem reasonable, but for most people that price is astronomical. But Oahu is an island with a finite amount of space and real estate prices reflect that.
While people on the mainland United States spend an average of 30% of their income on housing, it’s common for us to spend over 50%. The farther you get from Honolulu, the more reasonable the prices become, unless you live near the ocean. Real estate on the outer islands of Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai is much less expensive. When my husband and I moved to the Big Island in 1993 after having sold our house on Oahu, we were able to purchase a house that was 1,000 square feet bigger with 4,000 square feet more land for $50,000 less than we paid on Oahu. We also have a view of the ocean, which we could never have afforded on Oahu.
90% of the items that are sold in stores have to be shipped here by either boat or plane. However, we do also have big box stores like Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Target and warehouse stores like Costco. I’ve read on the internet that we supposedly pay $7.50 a gallon for milk. Seriously, who pays that much for milk?
We do have dairy cows in Hawaii, as well as chicken farms, and our local beef is free range and grass-fed, no factory farms for us. There is an incredible bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables to be found from road side stands to grocery stores. On top of that, anyone with even a postage stamp-sized yard can grow their own fresh produce. In my yard I have mangoes, lemons, limes, pineapple, bananas, avocado, and coconut, all organically grown. There’s a strong movement to eat locally in Hawaii and the blessing is that everything grows so well in our mild climate that friends and neighbors often have a surplus.
We do save money by never buying winter clothes, firewood, or heating oil.
Top Five Lessons I’ve Learned About Hawaii
- RESPECT! Differences are not deficits. You will need to show an open mind and a respectful attitude to everyone. So what if poi isn’t your favorite food, smile and say thank-you. Local people usually won’t say anything if you’re disrespectful, but they will rarely give you a second chance.
- Be prepared to be hugged and kissed by people you’ve just met. It’s traditional to give a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek to old friends and newcomers alike. This was surprising at first, but now it’s one of my favorite things about living here.
- People will identify you by your race or ethnicity. Coming from uber politically correct San Francisco, this was a big surprise. However, this is just a means of classification, not racism. In the entire 27 years I’ve lived here as a haole (white) girl, I’ve encountered exactly two instances of outright racism. Big deal.
- Don’t tell people how much better they do things back where you came from originally. Hawaii is unique and there are a lot of complex reasons why things are done the way they are. If you compare us unfavorably to another place you’re likely to get the response “Well if you like it so much why didn’t you stay there?”.
- Greet everyone with aloha and a big smile. It’s truly infectious and it will open doors you might think we’re closed.
Is Hawaii All That I Expected?
Yes, and more!
The picture above was taken from my back deck. Yes, the deck does have termites, but somehow that doesn’t matter when I get to see a priceless view like this in the evening. I love the weather, the incredible wonderland that is the ocean, and the people. The pace of life is slower, but I truly believe that’s a much healthier way to live. If you have an open mind, an open heart, a generous spirit, and a love of nature, then this little chain of islands in the middle of the Pacific will be paradise for you too. A hui hou – until we meet again.