Start an Off-Grid Homestead in Hawaii


offgrid hawaii

It’s been your dream to live out your homestead fantasies in Hawai’i.  Growing delicious food year round in your own backyard. Who doesn’t like the sound of that? While many people are eager to jump in blindly, without proper planning you may as well be on the next plane back to the mainland.

You see, Hawai’i has a way of testing you.  But we’re here to help. We’ve been living the dream on the Island of Hawai’i for the past 2 decades.  It’s been two decades of sweating, learning and doing. It’s also been two decades growing our own food, fishing our local waters, and surfing some epic waves.

Are you ready to start your Homestead Journey in Hawai’i?  Let me give you some tips I sure wish I knew before I purchased my first off-grid homestead..

1.Hawai’i should “technically” not be a state.

I would be doing a disservice to people dreaming of moving to Hawai’i and to those who already live here if we didn’t talk about this issue first.  In 1893, Hawai’i’s monarchy was illegally overthrown by sugar barons and missionaries from the mainland of the United States, only to be wrongfully annexed and turned into a state by 1959.  This is an issue very much on the minds of Native Hawaiians.

What has been done to the people of Hawai’i is wrong.  One day these wrongs will be remedied. However, we cannot change the past, but we can be present with our actions of today.  People can move across boundaries, oceans, and continents with an ease never before experienced in the history of mankind. I believe that if we are to insert ourselves into a new land, foreign from our own birthplace, then we must do our best to respect and learn from the local people.  Do not move to Hawai’i with the notion to make it just like home. If you move to Hawai’i, it’s because you love Hawai’i for what it already is.

Some people move here and instantly change things.  They fence off access to fishing and hunting grounds.  They impose restrictions that place property values over lifestyle values.  They rush to start money making businesses to profit off of Hawai’i. Do not go down that path.

Value ‘ohana over money.  Give instead of take. It is the Aloha way.

2.  Create a list of what you want in your homestead.

List writing

Before you spend any money on a property, it is VERY important to know what you want.  Are you looking to become a full fledge Homesteader/Farmer or Backyard Homesteader? Do you love being on your property all day, or do you like heading into town with ease? Are you going to keep working a day job, or can you live off your savings?  How about going for walks after dinner?

Create a list of what is important to your everyday life.  Shoot for the stars, as if money didn’t matter. While money will definitely come into play to help narrow down our available choices, it shouldn’t stop us from finding what we really hold valuable in our lives as we write this list.

Let me use myself as an example.  I started my homestead on the Island of Hawai’i over 15 years ago when I was 23.  All I wanted to do was grow food and surf. I did not want a mortgage and I wanted to build off grid.  I ended up getting a couple of CHEAP lots in Ainaloa just outside Pahoa, which at the time went for $3k for a ¼ parcel.  I was able to build my off grid home and use cash. Needless to say, as a 23 year old, my budget was pretty small. I saved up a bunch of money parking cars in Malibu and just wanted to live as simply as I could.  Now I have a wife and 2 kids, it’s just not me anymore and priorities have changed.

I have a home that I built with my hands, Solar energy, water catchment, and a thriving food forest, all with zero debt.  But we want to move. The main problem is the location does not afford us to engage in certain activities that we would like for our lives.  We can’t just go for a quiet walk down the street after dinner because we would be getting a chorus of barking dogs as we pass each one of our neighbor’s homes.  The closest beach access is 20 minutes away, or surfing beach is 30 minutes, both by car. There isn’t much of a community where we live, where the kids could just go outside and play with friends.

If I began with a plan, one that had vision, I could’ve used the same amount of money to buy the same amount of land in a different location that could have solved all those problems.  But I did not articulate to myself what I wanted well enough.

We feel very grateful for what we have, but oooh it could’ve been so much better.

So write that list!!

3.  Find that perfect spot for your Homestead.

The hawaiian landscape is almost as diverse as its people.  It is home to 10 of the world’s 13 climate zones. Needless to say you can find almost any climate that fits your needs.  Closer to the beach you are growing coconuts, mangoes and papayas. The further mauka you go, the weather gets cooler and you might find yourself being able to grow grapes and apples!!  You may decide that you want to homestead in the city, or you may be looking for some acreage to establish the island’s next dairy. Your homestead is what you make of it. This section alone can be its own blog post, but I’ll do my best to break it down, island by island.  Read this next section, then check out Zillow to look for properties in the places that fit your parameters.

  • Kauai – I would consider this island the most beautiful and if you have enough money I would definitely think about creating your homestead here.  Kauai’s beautiful scenery, great weather and awesome beaches is what people think of Hawai’i to be. There are great farmers markets and great growing conditions.There are a few drawbacks to Kauai though.  The cost of living on Kauai can be very high.  With the median home price sitting at $770k, it can be quite difficult to establish a new homestead unless you have a decent amount of money in the bank.  Because of the higher cost of living, there are also less people living the homesteading lifestyle on Kauai, although they can be found. Kauai is also one of the main research centers for GMO agriculture in the nation, mainly found on the south and west sides of the islands.If you have what it takes to live on Kauai, I would check out the communities of Hanalei, Kilauea, and Anahola.

  • Oahu – Known as “the gathering place,” Oahu is home to Hawai’i’s largest portion of the population.  Just shy of 1 million people, you’ll find yourself rubbing shoulders with people from all over the world.  Its wetlands and flat plains were once home to some the island chain’s largest food production networks. There is a great trail system, bike paths and even a pretty decent public transportation system.  Resources and opportunities are plenty on this island, as are the homesteading opportunities.Be aware, Oahu does face many of the same challenges as Kauai.  A high cost of living, with median home prices at $790k, a homesteader on this island may most likely find themselves living in a home on a smaller lot size.  Much can still be grown in small spaces, so don’t lose hope. I personally love the North Shore, with the east side coming in a close second.

  • Molokai & Lanai – These two islands should probably be left off your homesteading radar.  Ninety five percent of Lanai is owned by one man, billionaire Larry Ellison.  I would liken it to his own personal SimCity.Molokai is probably the most homesteader friendly island, but don’t go try and live there unless you are super tight with a local family or you are local yourself.  It is a small Island with people very wary of newcomers. At the same time, the people of Molokai will be the ones we look to when it comes to moving towards more self sufficiency.  They are more in tune with their traditional ways and have a strong history of activism, keeping away outside interests who wish to exploit Molokai’s natural resources.If you are lucky enough to find your way into this island community, then building your homestead dreams will most likely already be taken care of for you.

  • Maui – This Island is where we begin to see the presence of people living the off grid lifestyle.  While still a bit pricey, with median home prices hovering around $645k, there are still plenty of people doing the homesteading thing.  Most are holdouts from the 70’s back to the land movements, but those with enough funds have been able to set themselves up pretty nicely even in today’s market conditions.The best spot for homesteading on Maui would be what they consider Maui’s north shore, located near Paia, Haiku and Huelo.  Here you’ll find a vibrant community of surfers, hippies, artists and farmers living in harmony. Unless you live in town, which is unlikely, you will be faced with realities of country living, which means commuting to town centers.  Maui’s public transportation is not very reliable, but hitching a ride is still very common around these parts.

  • Hawai’i – If any one island could get an award for best island to homestead, Hawai’i Island would definitely take the honors.  There is a super vibrant homesteading scene here. Living off the land here is a way of life. Land is still super cheap in some parts of the island, starting as low as $5k for a quarter acre.  Rainfall is abundant on the east side, making it very easy to harvest your own rain water. At the same time, Solar power is a viable alternative energy solution.You can pretty much find a good spot to homestead anywhere on the island.  The North and west side of the island is on the higher end of the affordability scale, but I have seen amazing homesteads in Kealakekua just south as Kona as well as the Hawi, Waimea, Honoka’a area.  The South and East side of Hawai’i island tend to be the most affordable, with the Puna district on the east side being the cheapest. But not all land is created equal. Thoroughly research each subdivision, each road, each parcel.  In the day and at night. And remember, the Puna district just had a major Lava flow in 2018 that covered up 700+ homes. It is very important to do your research if you are planning a move to the Puna district. Puna does have the highest concentration of people living the off grid lifestyle, so this area will most likely be your best bet for starting a homestead in Hawai’i.

4. Is it time to buy yet?

You’ve been scouring Zillow for your dream property.  You are ready to make that purchase. But are you really?  It takes a brave soul to move to Hawai’i, sight unseen. I know. I did.  Let’s just say it didn’t take for a while. I must’ve moved back to the mainland 3 times by now, but I always returned.

If I could go back in time to purchase my property, I would have taken more time to buy.  The best thing to do would be to move to Hawai’i and rent for a year or volunteer your time by WWOOFing on a local farm, giving you a solid chance to check out everything very thoroughly.  If you can’t do that, at least try to visit for a week and do some real on the ground research. If you can’t even do that and you really must buy something sight unseen, remember, google maps is your friend.  Use the satellite imagery and spy on your potential neighbors. Are their yards messy? Well kept? Do they grow food already?

Once you do your research and hopefully had some boots on the ground, congratulations, it’s time to purchase your future homestead.  Check in with your realtor and get that process started. Once the deal closes come back for a visit and check out part 2 on starting your Off Grid Homestead in Hawai’i.

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Sean Jennings

Sean has been living simply Off-Grid in Hawai'i for over 18 years. He lives debt free on Hawai'i Island with his family and over 40 chickens. When he's not tinkering around the homestead, he's off exploring the shorelines for fish & surf.

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