Hawaii in a Campervan | PART 3: Haleakalā National Park + Hosmer Grove Campground


After diving, we took (free) hot showers at the public pool, ate pu pu platters and fish and chips for lunch, and went souvenir shopping at a nearby strip mall. I bought a turtle necklace (which you will be seeing a lot of from this point on) and turtle magnet because after our diving trip, I was now one with the turtles.

We “hung” our wet clothes and towels inside the Westie in hopes that they would dry and set off for Haleakala National Park.


As we drove past lava fields, jamming to Izzy, and the five other songs that were on constant repeat on any given Hawaiian radio station, we heard a strange sound, one that we didn’t recognize. When we picked up speed, the sound became louder. When we slowed down it was not as obvious.

Turned out we had left our pop top open while driving. I have no idea why we even popped the camper since we obviously didn’t sleep in it the previous night. I think maybe we had popped it so that we had head room to change out of our wet clothes inside the van? We pulled over and fixed the problem but talk about stupid.


We left the coast behind and drove up into the clouds towards Hosmer Grove Campground, our home for the night.

Unlike many of the campgrounds we researched back then, camping in Haleakala was easy. No permits or reservations were needed, no complicated rules and restrictions, campervans were allowed, and it was first come, first serve. The best part? It was FREE. We easily found a place to park our Westie and since our camp was practically already set up, we had time to take a hike through Hosmer Grove.


Hosmer’s Grove dates back to Hawaii’s territorial days when a forester, Ralph Hosmer, decided to experiment with this patch of land by planting 85 imported non-native tree and plant species. In the 1920s this seemed like the thing to do, but in today’s world this would be strictly prohibited. The mix of alien vegetation and native Hawaiian shrubbery has often been referred to as a “biological battleground,” a pretty serious sounding description for a forest.

The hike itself was rather short and easy. It began near the campground, passed through the ‘alien forest’ and ended in an open overlook area with native shrubs. This area supposedly was how Hawaii looked centuries ago.


Rediscovering this painfully awkward photo made me laugh. A friend and I had just completed a summer adult gymnastics class in SF and learned how to do handstands and front handsprings! Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? I was pretty proud of myself. That entire summer I practiced handstands everywhere I went — even at work! And what better place for a handstand than a forest in Haleakala National Park? Made total sense at the time.


I’m afraid that our photos only became worse/creepy/weirder from this point on. i don’t know what got into us — maybe being 100 feet below the water, and now slowly rising waaaaay above sea level messed with our brains even more than usual.  I took so many photos of us being total goofballs while hiking around in Hosmer Grove. Most of those have been omitted from this post…

Hosmer’s Grove lies just in the park’s cloud belt at around 7,000 ft. In the daytime, we enjoyed pleasant 60 degree weather and stunning cloud ribbons illuminated by the setting sun.


// PHOTOGRAPHY 101 NOTES:** Photos with the sun at the back can be tricky to photograph since metering one area will usually over or under expose another area. This can be used to your advantage depending on your creative vision. If you look at the photo two up, you can see that no flash was used and that the predominant lighting source is the rim light captured in my hair. The light reading was taken at the brightest spot (the sun or clouds) thereby underexposing the darker areas. If you were to take a reading in reverse — say focus on the darker areas and take a reading off those, then most likely the sky would become overexposed and washed out. Compare it to the photo directly above where both the background and foreground (me) are illuminated and show a lot more detail. This was accomplished by using a flash. I typically like to shoot with natural light so I rarely ever take photos like this. As such, I relied on my old camera’s on-camera (short range) flash which is evidenced by the dark shadow on my lower half. Using an off camera flash and/or diffuser and/or standing a bit closer to the camera and/or shooting in RAW and editing post production would probably alleviate this issue. In the photo below I believe the light reading was taken somewhere in the mid-range to create a more even exposure without the use of flash. You will notice that while the shadows are somewhat lighter, the sky is also brighter and slightly overexposed and there is less detail in the clouds. This type of exposure is good for creating sunflare style photos, or as we like to call them, SITH (sun in the hair ) photos. //


Our sanity somewhat returned once we reached a meadow where a perfectly placed bench allowed us to catch the sunset.


One of the best things about campervan camping is how easy it was to set up for the night since everything was all in one place. No lugging crap to and from the back of our Subie. No trips to the water spigot to get fresh water. ‘Camping’ this way felt so luxurious compared to what we were used to — and we loved it! That little van was really all we needed in life. Looking back, this became a real defining moment in our lives because it was when we realized that what we both craved out of life was simplicity. The less we had, the happier more free we felt. Our lives in SF at the time were pretty crazy: long hours and a nonstop city lifestyle. I think we both felt like we were at a crossroads of pushing forward with the life we knew or making a change. The change didn’t happen overnight, but this was definitely the starting point of a path we saw ourselves traveling together; one where we realized we could be happy living with less in order to experience a lot more. A lot of profound thoughts came out of that beat up old Westie. This mentality is still something we work on daily (hello, shoe collection!) but our ultimate goal is to camp as many places as we can in a little camper. And it all started here, in this van, over a gourmet dinner of instant yakisoba noodles topped with fried Spam and a hard boiled egg, all lovingly prepared by Sly.


Night fell and a million stars danced in the skies while a slice of moon smiled down on us.

Can you believe I took these night photos with an old point and shoot camera? They are kind of blurry and a lot grainy but it really captured the mood of that evening.


We popped the top of the camper and tried to fall asleep. Except…we had ignored one small detail about our campground. At 7,000 feet nighttime temperatures dropped to near freezing. We didn’t have sleeping bags or even heavy coats, only our polartec fleece North Face Denali jackets. It was the coldest night sleeping outdoors that I can recall, mostly because we were so unprepared. We put on every single layer of clothing we could find and even then we were still too cold to sleep. The icing on the cake was that our van was parked at an ever-so-slight angle which wasn’t noticeable when sitting in the bottom level but was unmissable when trying to sleep. Sly rolled into me every 10 seconds, pinning me against the side of the ice cold metal campervan walls. It was absolutely miserable.

On the plus, our suffering was somewhat short-lived  — we had to be up at 4am to catch the sunrise at the summit.

// **I do not consider myself to be a photography master by any means so my tips are rudimentary at best. Despite this, questions on photography are probably the number one type of question I’m asked. I don’t ever plan to write a formal post on 
photography but when applicable (this just happened to be a good example) I try my best to include info regarding photo gear, basic technique, or editing tips. Hopefully someone out there finds this info helpful. ** //

You Might Also Like

  • Kevin
    August 19, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    SITH explained!

    Keeping good thoughts…

  • veronika
    August 31, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    now i hope to see some SITHs from you!