We recently moved to Central Oahu from South Kohala on the Big Island. Though we are still in Hawaii with its great weather and aloha spirit, the differences between the two islands are dramatic. It is a lot like the difference between living in one stop-light town in the Midwest versus an apartment overlooking Central Park in Manhattan, NY.
Oahu is very crowded. On a recent Saturday night at Ala Moana Mall there were so many people we struggled to walk through the mall. Less than half of them were speaking English. It felt more like being in Hong Kong or Tokyo than the US or anywhere else in Hawaii. Everywhere you look on Oahu there are houses, cars, and people which is a major contrast from the miles of desolate lava fields, acres of pastures, and empty beaches we are accustomed to on the Big Island. At our condo complex in central Oahu, cars come and go at all hours of the day and night, a big change for us after years of living in a mostly empty (except around Christmas) condo complex in South Kohala. All the people on Oahu keep things very lively and there are endless activities and events, but unlike the Big Island it is surprisingly more difficult to make friends.
Distances and Traffic
Everything on Oahu is only a short distance and if you are lucky and there is not much traffic, you can get anywhere quickly. On the Big Island, everything was a long drive. It was a long drive for us to get to COSTCO and potlucks with friends in Kona from Kohala. On Oahu we can drive to three grocery stores, Walmart, our bank, and 20 or more restaurants in our neighborhood in less than 5 minutes. However, it recently took us 30 minutes to drive a little over a mile on a Saturday morning near Ala Moana mall when dropping someone off at the Convention Center. We rarely ran into traffic on the Big Island. Occasionally, the traffic from the airport into Kona would jam up a bit and it was frustrating to get behind a slow moving truck, but Oahu has epic traffic jams which we just have to surrender to sitting in the car for a very long time.
Folks drive slower on Oahu than on the Big Island and the speed limits are lower. Honolulu police are out in force giving tickets to speeders, a rare sight on the Big Island. In our seven and half years on the Big Island we saw maybe a dozen people getting tickets, whereas, we see one or more cars getting pulled over every day on Oahu. Driving in Oahu requires threading your car through tiny parking lots with tiny parking spaces. The freeways are massive in Oahu compared to the two lane roads throughout most of the Big Island, but the lanes are narrower and it feels like the cars are going to scratch the paint off your car as they pass. Freeway driving takes a great deal of concentration on Oahu. There is just more room for cars and parking lots on the Big Island.
Shopping on Oahu is amazing. There are so many stores and malls it feels more like New York or Paris than Hawaii. On Oahu every neighborhood has a wide selection of stores and there are numerous malls. The Big Island is just not the place to be if you like shopping, whereas Oahu has an amazing selection of things to buy and great prices.
Food shopping on Oahu is easy compared to the Big Island. There are numerous grocery stores with greater selection and lower prices than the Big Island stores. But Oahu does not compare to the Big Island for fruits and vegetables. There are fewer Farmer’s markets on Oahu with limited selection compared to we had on the Big Island. On Oahu, there is no place like Suisan or the Kona harbor with fresh fish and the amazing Big Island Beef is hard to find. Restaurants are abundant, excellent ,and affordable on Oahu, a very unfortunate thing for our waist lines. We never found a place on the Big Island that had consistently excellent food and service at an affordable price whereas on Oahu we have trouble deciding where to go among all the choices.
Weather and Vog
The weather on Oahu depends on where you live, just like the Big Island. We live in central Oahu where it is very rainy, similar to Hilo. When we drive to west Oahu the weather is usually hot, dry and sunny, similar to Kohala. A bad Vog day on Oahu is like a no Vog day on the Big Island. We are happy to not have to deal with the Vog.
Rent and Jobs
Rents are substantially higher on Oahu than the Big Island. We are paying $600 more a month in rent for a much smaller condo than we had on the Big Island. The same size and quality of rental on Oahu is about double the cost on the Big Island. The driving factors for Oahu’s high rents seem to be the large number of soldiers who get a substantial housing allowance and the job market. Getting a job on Oahu is fairly easy and although they pay better than Big Island jobs, the pay is still very low compared to the cost of housing. The competition for housing can make it a challenge to even find a rental.
Beaches and Parks
The gorgeous white sand and black sand beaches on the Big Island are in a league of their own. The famous North Shore beaches on Oahu are tiny with only a few places to park along the road. It is a big contrast to the Big Island’s long stretches of beach with large parking lots near many of them. On Oahu, the malls are more accessible than the parks and trails and beaches. We miss counting the turtles, talking to the eels, and enjoying the gorgeous scenery on our daily beach walks in Kohala.
We are enjoying our new life in central Oahu but we are missing the incredible outdoor lifestyle we had on the Big Island.