Story by Thatcher Moats
Photo by Jack Wolford
In an industrial area of Hilo, Jake Fritz, a burly guy with a red beard and a baseball cap, puts towels neatly into a cabinet in the back of Hula Wahine (“hula girl”) while Rainy Hanohano polishes the tires on La Maluna (“rising sun”). By the time Jake and Rainy are done, the two 1980s Volkswagen Westfalia camper vans will be stocked with everything you’d need for an Island camping adventure: towels, playing cards, dish soap, a lantern, pillows, kitchenware, bedding and the all-important French coffee press.
There’s nothing more liberating than having all your supplies in a nimble vehicle that’s also built for cooking and sleeping, says Teri Fritz, Jake’s mom and the owner of Happy Campers Hawaii, which rents fully stocked VW vans to those who want to tour the Big Island hippie style. The classic VW campers match the island’s warm weather, remote beaches and laid-back vibe, says Teri. “It’s a freedom beyond anything you’d get by going to a resort,” she says. “Even with an RV you’re limited where you can go. These will take you to places you couldn’t get to otherwise, especially on this island.”
In 1987, with her third child on the way, Teri bought her first VW Westfalia “pop top” van because sleeping in a tent with three kids would be unbearable. She has been a passionate devotee of the VW van lifestyle ever since, and now she spends her days sharing the gospel. She started Happy Campers Hawaii about four years ago, renting out a fleet of seventeen vans (late ’80s and early ’90s models only) to nature lovers and adventurers from Alaska, Canada and the Pacific Northwest and even to locals wanting to tour the Big Island at Easy Rider pace—and price: $130 per day for a fully provisioned pop-top van. Book early, says Teri, at least three months in advance.
“I think what keeps me driven and having a blast with the customers,” she says, “is turning people on to the Big Island the way that I see it and having them enjoy it to the fullest.”