Stairway to Heaven

Travel Oahu on a Cheap Budget

This guide is very similar to my guide on how to Travel Maui on a Cheap Budget.  As an avid backpacker traveler around the world, every year I learn more about traveling cheaply and on a low budget, between my seasonal jobs.  In this guide I will go over how I lived on Oahu for two and a half months RENT FREE and on a low budget so we could continue traveling after Oahu, Hawaii.  I will not re-hash the camping gear I used.  If you aren’t a backpacker, hitchhiker, tramp, train rider, or whatever you want to call yourself and you’re interested in checking out my list of hitchhiking gear, please continue on to Hitchhiking 101.

Before I came to Oahu I already found a job prior to my departure on the North Shore working at Pacific Skydiving Center.  I booked my ticket using Skip Lagged to find the cheapest price and arrived a few days early to my start date, because it was the cheapest fare and this gave me time to find a nice, cozy spot to camp.  Since I did not have a place to live in Oahu yet, nor did I ever quite find one while I was there.  I camped on the North Shore in the woods and the beach away from the home bum camps.  One day while I was hitchhiking into town to grab food from the local market (since the bus does not run up that way…a 4-mile walk in and 4-mile walk out) I was picked up by a local Hawaiian whom offered me a work-trade opportunity.  In turn for landscaping her yard over the duration of my time on Oahu she would let me camp on her land for FREE.  So it ended up working out.  I am not suggesting this kind of random fate happens to everyone, however, if you’re deciding to travel to Oahu and you want to stay there as long as you can to travel other islands, than sacrifice comfort.  There is nothing wrong with camping, whether legally, illegally or at a cheap campground.  Public beach showers are less common on Oahu compared to Maui and Kauai, but there is ONE on the North Shore off Dillingham Highway.

Camping on Oahu

If you’re going to camp with a PERMIT or with NO PERMIT, be smart.  Just because you pay money for a PERMIT does not mean it’s the smartest idea to set up a tent in the middle of the beach where everyone can see you, whether it’s Oahu or any other island for that matter in the world.  Try to be stealthy and most importantly avoid the city, avoid Waikiki and Honolulu because methamphetamine is more of a problem down that way then towards the North Shore.  Avoid the tourist pits near Honolulu and Waikiki and check out the beaches along the North Shore, around Ka’ena Point and dabble in some hiking as well.  There are plenty of beautiful things to do in Oahu that are quite cheap or even free which do not involve you spending boat-loads of your hard-earned cash in one sitting.

If you decide to go the permit route please keep in mind that it costs $18/night for non-Hawaiians and you can only camp for 5 consecutive nights…meaning if you camp for five nights then you need to go to a legitimate campground like the one across from the Dillingham Airfield – Camp Mokule’ia.  I only camped illegally for the duration of my 4 months in Hawaii so I am unsure of the facilities this campground offers or the cost of a nights stay.

Much like Maui we lived off the same food in Oahu.  We foraged fruits when at all possible.  We bought vegetables and fruits from local Hawaiians at food stands rather than Malama Market.  We avoided eating out as most restaurants lacked cleanliness, and the food just tasted horrible, but occasionally we splurged.  Since we had access to electricity we used a hot-plate to cook most of our meals which involved stir fry and rice dishes, among soups.

Transportation on Oahu

Hitchhiking like I said before was possible on Oahu.  The further away from Honolulu and Waikiki we were the easier the hitchhiking.  We stuck to thumbin’ it or signs and in most instances just walking by the side of the road warranted a ride after much passing traffic for the more desolate regions of Oahu.  Electrical outlets were sparser than on Kauai and Oahu, but we found some while hitchhiking around the island.  Although I do remember finding a few free outlet (like across from the gas station in Waialua by the old sugar factory at that gazebo) while wandering around.  Also, keep in mind the bus is fairly cheap and offers a few transfers as long as you are within the time-frame of your ticket.  I believe it’s $2.50 for a fare and in most cases it’s worth it.  The bad thing about Oahu compared to Maui is that the public transportation DOES NOT OFFER DAY PASSES, so pay attention to how many transfers you’ve used and if you need a new ticket.  $2.50 is very reasonable, you can check out the bus fare route and timetables here.

Please Note:  Rental cars are EXPENSIVE in Hawaii, not so much on Oahu, but I remember them being super expensive on Maui during the weeks leading up to Christmas.  So…if you don’t want to backpack and hitchhike around because that is out of your comfort zone, then please DO NOT travel here during Christmas…it’s the most expensive time of year.  We looked up pricing while we tramped around Maui and the cheapest rental car was 100+ USD not including insurance and the cost of gasoline…this was per day.  It’s not worth it.

Points of Interest on Oahu

Now, honestly out of the other islands we traveled on a low budget, Oahu took last place out of my favorite islands.  Its commercialized nature, congestion and abundance of tourism took away from its beauty.  Downtown Honolulu reminded me of a small version of New York City and unless you prowled along the beach, you would not even know you were near it.  But, there were a few places on Oahu, that we just needed to see with our own eyes, no matter how far a hike.

1.  Stairway to Heaven – Haiku Stairs – Oahu, Hawaii

Stairway to Heaven
Don’t look down – at the last rung on the Stairway to Heaven Hike in Oahu, Hawaii. The stairs definitely shook up there in the intense 40+ mph winds…

Before we became newlyweds we always dreamed of hiking the Stairway to Heaven, also referred to as the Haiku Stairs, on the island of Oahu.  It was constructed by the Army Corp of Engineers sometime in the 1940’s for military operations and has since been left abandoned for some years slowly rusting away from oxidation.  The trail has officially been closed to the public since 1987 and trespassers who are caught will receive a fine of about $1000 USD.  The reason for closure was partly due to lawsuits involving the deaths of multiple hikers in a landslide that took out 20 foot of stairs towards the beginning of the trail costing the government a hefty sum in legal fees.

If you decide to hike the Stairway to Heaven then make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.  It is illegal, if you walk straight past the security guard you will get a fine.  Do not hike it on questionable weather days and also take note that many people hike this trail multiple times without ever seeing the views we did in the photo, simply because of the ceiling of cloud cover blocking view of the city below.  The best time to hike it is either right before sunrise or before sunset as you may get to see the city below and the beautiful view that comes along with it.  We camped on one of the rungs and continued our hike in the morning.  This was by far one of the most epic hikes I have ever done in my life, even better than Mount Humphrey’s Peak, Havasu Falls in the West Grand Canyon, Haleakala Crater to the Kaupo Gap and the Kalalau Trail.


2.  Sacred FallsOahu, Hawaii

Sacred Falls Oahu
The view of Sacred Falls on the island of Oahu. A sketchy hike with a lot of potential falling rock, which can be deadly, but the view is breathtaking.

Sacred Falls in Hau’ula on the North Shore of Oahu was a hike I did by myself as my wife had already left the island for her new seasonal job in Alabama. I don’t recommend hiking this alone guys. I cannot stress this enough. This is also a very dangerous hike for a reason, which is why the park has been closed since May 9, 1999 when 8 hikers were fatally killed by rockfall. Hiking this on any day less than 100% sunshine is just plain stupid and you will get injured or killed. It’s not a joke. It’s why the first offense of criminal trespassing is a hefty fine of $2500. This is honestly a hike I would never do again. I enjoyed it, but it was not worth the risk. There are too many falling rocks, no where to go if a rock slide did happen as you’re in between a narrow valley with nothing but mountains around you. But it’s up to you.


3.  Shark’s Cove – Oahu, Hawaii

Shark's Cove Oahu
Trippin’ on Shark’s Cove. Photo credit to Nate.

I really enjoyed checking out Shark’s Cove with a buddy of mine.  The sunsets and tide pools make it miraculously stunning and if it’s low tide it makes for a great snorkeling destination, as does the whole North Shore of Oahu when the tide is low.  Check out Shark’s Cove and across the street there are a number of food trucks with great food. Some of the only food I actually enjoyed eating on the island other than what we made from our skillet.

4.  Ka’ena Point – Oahu, Hawaii

On the North Shore of Oahu at the northern most peninsula is Ka’ena Point.  Many days I walked, hitchhiked or rode my cheap bicycle to the point and spent my day looking out at the ocean from an old abandoned military pillbox located along the cliff of the point.  This trail takes you all the way to the satellite and if you really wanted to I believe it connects to the Kealia Trailhead, which makes for a long multiple day hike.  But, trust me, hike out there right before sunset and climb the ridge.  Sit down on the pillbox and you will see one of the most epic sunsets of your life, and you might even get lucky and see a few whales or two.


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