Moving to Hawaii Island

How we Shifted to the Slow Lane

Books by the authors of HiloLiving




We moved to Hilo Hawaii in November 2007 after years of visiting Hawaii. This website has the story of our move to Hawaii Island from California and describes how we picked our neighborhood in Hilo, the moving decisions we made including shipment of our cars, household possessions, and our process of setting up utilities and licensing our cars.

We published a book YOUR IDEAL HAWAII MOVE: A Guide for Moving to Hawaii Island which contains the information on this website and much more to help people with the many choices that must be made at moving time. It also helps with the complexity of setting up utilities and services on the island. We have found that the choices we made over six years ago when planning our move to Hawaii Island affects our quality of life and cost of living now. We wrote the book after talking to hundreds of newcomers frustrated with their relocation to the island, many unable to resolve them.


Houses under Mauna Kea in Hilo, Hawaii

Setting up our Move to Hawaii Island

How to get to Hawaii was a time consuming investigation and process for us.  We have moved many times over the years, but this was the first time that we were paying for a move ourselves and that we were shipping things across an ocean instead of just loading them into a truck. 

Loading onto a Matson box to move from the mainland to Hawaii

We had major decisions about how to get our effects to Hawaii Island (shipping container, US mail, UPS), how much of the packing to do ourselves versus movers, whether to bring our cars or buy new ones, and how to time each part of the move. Here is a summary of the decisions we had and the choices we ultimately made:

Cars – to bring or not to bring. We have two used cars, which we like a lot, but seemed unfitting to the type of roads on Hawaii Island. We envisioned having a 4-wheel drive truck or SUV or a vehicle more in line with what the locals drive. Instead, we had two California commuter sedans. We called car dealers on Hawaii Island to find prices and availability of used trucks and All-Wheel-Drive station wagons. The dealers' lack of enthusiasm and high prices moved our phoning efforts to Oahu where there was a larger used-car inventory, great enthusiasm from the sales people, and cheaper prices even when adding the cost of transport from Oahu to Hawaii Island (which they said they were happy to set up for us). Prices for the same used cars were far cheaper in Northern California, but then we would have to pay to get them shipped to and licensed in Hawaii. After taking into consideration the cost and hassle of buying a car in Hawaii, we calculated that it would be far cheaper to just ship our cars. We used Pasha Hawaii transport lines and were pretty happy with their service. They picked up the cars in Cupertino for a fee, which saved us the hassle of getting them to their pickup site in Hayward. The cars arrived in Hilo 20 days after the Pasha pickup and it was easy to collect them near Hilo harbor at Harpers. It was strangely comforting to drive cars that we were very familiar with around a town that was very unfamiliar. Now, almost 5 years later (2012), we are still driving the same old cars we brought to the island in 2007. One car is a 2000 and the other a 1997 Ford sedan and they have been driven back and forth across the island and over Saddle Road innumerable times and both are holding up well in the sea air and VOG.

How much and what stuff to bring. We checked out the Hawaii message boards before we moved and the topic of what to bring was a big subject of discussion. Some folks bring only a small portion of their belongings while other bring a huge container of belongings. A lot of the mainland stuff ends up in storage units and many are sorry that they brought so much. Before moving to Hawaii, we had already dramatically downsized our belongings after selling our house and moving to an apartment in Silicon Valley. Even so, we planned to take only a portion of what we had left with us to Hawaii. We left behind our overstuffed furniture, pine bookshelves a (tasty treat for termites), and gave away as many clothes as possible. In retrospect, we could have gotten rid of even more clothes that we have yet to find a use for in Hawaii. We brought our books (after filtering out ones that we knew we would never read), software, computers, Flat screen TVs, DVDs, and some folding hard-wood bookcases and shelves. We have had more time to read books and we were happy to have our computers and movies. The ocean air and heavy usage has required us to replace a lot of our electronics and even DVDs since moving. Surprisingly, we have been happy to have our winter coats, scarves and gloves. Trips up to Mauna Kea Volcano requires as many warm things as you can put on to keep from freezing.

Ship versus Air If your effects can fit into a reasonable number of boxes, air freighting them may be the cheapest and easiest way to go. However, you need to have an address to ship them. Since we didn't have a place to live lined up in advance, we had no mailing address. We called storage places on the island, but none of them were willing to accept packages (though recently several advertise accepting boxes as a service). We debated about whether we should bring everything we had (including stuff sitting in a San Jose storage area) or just move what we needed and keep the remainder in storage in California. The combination of not having a place to mail packages and the feeling that shipping stuff to Hawaii would only get more expensive as the cost of oil rises convinced us to bring everything and ship it in a container. We calculated that a 20 foot shipping container would hold everything we had in storage as well as all the stuff in our apartment that we wanted to bring.

20ft Matson container on chassis

Matson versus other shippers We were attracted to Matson since they have smaller 20 foot containers which let us to ship our effects without sharing a large container with another mover or individual. Matson has great web pages explaining how their shipping services work and provides an estimate tool that let us calculate our costs. Matson's "door-to-door" service means they drive the container to your site, leave it on a chassis (see wheels under the container above) for a couple days for you to load and then come back to retrieve it and drive it to the ship. The chassis makes the container difficult to load because it is above the ground and comes with no ramps or lift gates. Once the container is filled, it needs to be packed tight with materials and a wall needs to be constructed to keep boxes from shifting. We had no place to park a container for a couple of days nor the physical ability to pack up and carry our stuff from an upstairs apartment into a container high up in the air, so we checked into movers.

Loading up a Matson container to move to Hawaii

Packing our own container versus using movers To find the best prices, we researched local movers, national movers, and read message boards to find a mover with reasonable charges and experience shipping to Hawaii. Since we knew the costs associated with Matson, we had a price range that we were willing to pay above that cost. We had the complexity of needing to collect boxes from a storage unit in San Jose, pack the stuff in the apartment in Cupertino, load the container, and have it delivered to an unspecified location in Hilo, Hawaii. The initial cost estimates from movers were discouraging. Our lucky break came when we contacted a mover in Hilo that had good references and was very helpful on the phone, Big Isle Moving and Draying. They told us they had had good luck with moves to Hawaii Island set up by Unipack Global Relocation in San Diego. Our Unipack coordinator in San Diego set up everything for us including picking up the Matson container in Oakland, driving it to our apartment, packing, and loading everything into the container. They packed it in tightly and built a wall in the container, sealed it up and drove it to Oakland in time for the next Matson ship. Once in Hilo, our coordinator worked with Big Isle Moving and Draying to pick up and unload the container. Unipack and our coordinator in particular, were awesome. Since we knew the costs of the Matson portion of the move and the medical costs for strained backs and injuries, the price was right in line with the complexity and effort required. In the end we were very happy with our choice.

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Making the Move to Hawaii Island

After we figured out what we were going to bring to Hawaii and a timeline for our move, our next big effort was to plan our exit. We had to decide where to stay and what to do during our initial weeks in Hawaii, set up airline reservations, hotels, and rental cars on both sides.  Although we knew we were going to Hilo and we had our dream rental house defined, we didn’t have a lead on any rentals or even a contact to talk to in Hawaii. 

In preparation for the move we organized the apartment in piles of what to take in suitcases, what to pack in the container, and what to leave behind, We thoroughly cleaned the cars since they have to be free from foliage or anything that could contaminate Hawaii to get through Agriculture Control. We also pre-set the shut off of our utilities. We had a tight schedule with no room for error on the California side because if we missed the leave date, we would have to wait 3 days to get past the Thanksgiving crush of airline travel. Here is summary of our move schedule:

Week One: On Monday we rented a car, packed our suitcases, and prepared for the move. Tuesday the Movers picked up boxes at the storage unit, packed the apartment, and loaded the Matson container as we watched. At the end of the day, they sealed it up and drove it away and we checked into a nearby hotel. On Wednesday, Pasha picked up our 2 cars. We cleaned the apartment and disposed of everything left. We returned our cable box and gave the keys to the apartment manager. Early Thursday morning we drove to Oakland airport, returned the rental car, and boarded an Aloha flight (sadly they are out of business now) to Kona. In Kona, we rented a car and stayed locally a few days to recover from the move.

Week Two: On Monday we drove to Volcano and stayed in our favorite B&B, Kilauea Lodge, for a few days. We love to hike the paths in Volcanoes National Park. We arrived in Hilo on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving and checked into the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, which has great room rates through the internet. On Thursday we celebrated at the Queen's Court, famous for their lavish Thanksgiving buffet (we made reservations for the buffet weeks before and even then they had only a few openings). The Queen's Court is located in the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel.

Queens Court Restaurant in Hilo, Hawaii

The problem with timing the move to Hilo during Thanksgiving is that everything is closed. The wait was frustrating, but we had a lucky break the following week.

Week Three: We called on an ad in the local paper and talked to a local home owner who needed renters immediately, since his current renters were moving out. He showed us the house and we loved it and gave him a deposit on the spot. We got a signed lease by Wednesday and scheduled our move in for the upcoming weekend. A signed lease allowed us to set up our utilities in Hilo. We purchased a couch, bed, and dining table at Furnitureland in Hilo and set up delivery for the following Monday. On Friday, we learned our Matson container had arrived and we began to negotiate delivery to our Hilo rental with the local moving company. On Sunday, we checked out of the hotel, bought 2 airbeds at Walmart and moved into the rental house.

Week Four : Our furniture from Furnitureland was delivered on Monday, but there was no sign of our Matson container. We discovered it had arrived at the Kawaihae harbor instead of Hilo.

Matson containers arrive in Hilo, Hawaii

This picture shows a tug boat dragging a barge of shipping containers, with a really long tow line, into Hilo bay. If there are no berths available in Hilo, or bad weather, or whatever, the tug boats unload at Kawaihae harbor instead of Hilo harbor. So the moving company had to drive to the other side of the island to fetch the Matson container. This delayed our delivery by a week, however, our container was delivered and unloaded on Friday. During the week we set up internet service and found an insurance agent to set up our auto and renter's insurance. Pasha emailed to tell us their ship was due in Hilo harbor on Sunday so we set up a pickup time for Monday morning.

Week Five: On Monday we picked up our two cars at Harper Rentals near the harbor and dropped off our rental car at Hilo airport. We went to Hawaii County offices to title and license our cars. At the end of week 5, we had completed our move to Hilo, except the many boxes yet to unpack.

More unpacking to do after moving to Hawaii

Timing is something to consider in a move to Hawaii. We decided to move the week before Thanksgiving since the movers schedule was open and there was room for a container on the Matson and Pasha ships during that timeframe. Moving during the Christmas season is usually more expensive and we hoped to be settled before then. We had some idle time which means hotel and car rental expenses during Thanksgiving week, but we were happy to be in Hawaii during that time and we had to be somewhere while waiting for our shipments to arrive.

This is just one family's experience moving to Hilo, but if you are thinking about a move, consider the length time required in a hotel and to rent a car in your moving budget. We were lucky that nothing slowed down the arrival of our cars or container such as a strike or bad weather. We also took a risk by not having a rental lined up in advance. Any delays could have greatly increased the cost of our move.


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