We enjoy meeting newcomers to Hawaii Island and hearing their stories about moving and living on the island. We have written about issues people have after moving to Hawaii in our Your Ideal Hawaii Move: A Guide for Moving to Hawaii Island book. Incorrect assumptions newcomers have about island neighborhoods seem to be the major reason that their new lives in paradise do not work out. Over the last 18 months we have met 7 families who recently moved into our neighborhood in South Kohala and returned to mainland within a year. Though the reasons they left were similar to the reasons the people we met in Hilo and Kona left the island – family and jobs – the specifics are different.
Most of the families had two or more children. They chose the resort neighborhood near the beach because the amenities and quiet lifestyle seemed perfect for their family. They assumed that the large upscale housing communities along the coast would have great schools nearby. But the reality is, in spite of thousands of acres of million dollar homes and condo complexes, very few people actually live here full time. Most of the houses and condos are third and fourth homes of older wealthy people that visit only occasionally on holidays. We watched the few children here leave early, 6:30AM, and get dropped off by bus in the late afternoon. The closest elementary school is up on a hill, about 15 miles away. The public high schools are much farther. The closest high school is Kealakehe, 30 miles south in Kona about a 40 minute drive by car and longer by bus. The other option is in Honoka’a about a 50 minute drive to the other side of the island.
After the initial thrill of wearing sandals and shorts to school wears off, students and their parents learn about the tensions in the public schools on the island. Though Pahoa and Keaau high schools in Puna have the most cases of violence and serious misconduct, Honoka’a and Kealakehe have problems as well. Last year Kealakehe High School was closed for a couple of days after tensions between groups of Polynesians escalated into a huge brawl among the students. The number of offenses at Hawaii Island public high schools over the past 5 years was published by the Hawaii Department of Education after an open records request. The schools are not like the mainland, where students represent nearby neighborhoods often with similar social and economic backgrounds. The size and low population on the Big Island means that high schools serve students bused in from large geographic areas with different social, racial, and national backgrounds. There are several highly rated private schools, which are also over 30 minutes to drive up to Waimea. They are quite pricey especially for families with several kids. Annual high school tuition at HPA is $22,000 and Parker School is $13,800. Living a far distance from other students in school adds to the difficultly of finding new friends.
The parents we met had not realized how important regular contact with their family and friends were to them until they moved. One mother who had lived in the same town her whole life and was sure it would be wonderful to live somewhere else said “I was amazed at how much I missed everyone, it really took me by surprise.” They left the gorgeous weather and beautiful beaches behind in less than 12 months to restore their relationships with friends and return to a school system where they felt more comfortable.
We met several families who moved to our neighborhood after many years of a telecommuting job in California and Washington State. Within 6 months of their move, their companies changed their telecommuting policies and required them to show up at their office. This has happened to so many people we now joke that many companies allow telecommuting, just not from Hawaii.
We find it interesting that none of families left Hawaii Island because of the high cost of living. They left because assumptions they had made turned out not be true. On the upside, they all seemed to have had a great experience during their short time here. As they were leaving they called it their “Hawaii adventure.” We have concluded that they discovered that something about their life on the mainland turned out to be way more important than the island lifestyle that drew them to Hawaii.