Author: Sarah Hogan, Navy Spouse
Aloha! It’s a beautiful day in Hawaii nei. If you have orders to Hawaii, you have been afforded one of the military’s most beautiful duty stations. The land on which MCBH sits has a long and storied history through the World Wars as an Army Reservation, Naval Air Station, and now Marine Corps Air Station.
Where is Marine Corps Base Hawaii?
MCBH lies on the northeastern shore of O’ahu situated between the towns Kailua and Kane’ohe. This side of the island is referred to locally as the “windward” side—the windy, rainy, green side of the island. The Ko’olau mountains separate it from the more densely-populated, urban south shore of the island where Honolulu and Waikiki are located.
Housing aboard MCBH spans all ranks and pay grades and is managed by ‘Ohana/Hunt. A few neighborhoods managed by ‘Ohana/Hunt for MCBH are also located across the mountain range. All of the homes and floor plans can be found on their website. Playgrounds and sidewalks are abundant because the weather is so lovely much of the year.
MCBH BAH and Cost of Living
MCBH boasts generous BAH allowances. Housing is expensive both to rent and to purchase. Base housing tends to be the best financial decision for many families because you get more square footage for the money. Homes on base also have air conditioning and at a cheaper rate to run. This is a luxury that most homes in town do not have. Homes are also more affordable the farther you move away from base and town. It comes at the expense of increased commute times and traffic. Thinking about buying a home? Here is our 2018 Hawaii Housing Guide to help you know what to expect!
All service members in Hawaii rate COLA to accommodate the high cost of living. Gas, groceries, cars, and also car insurance all cost more here. Car registration is offered for the military at only $25/year, and you get to keep the pretty Hawaii tag after you move away. Amazon Prime is an excellent option to mitigate shipping costs and usually takes 5-9 days to reach Hawaii. And from experience, order the Christmas presents you want delivered to the island by December 1 to accommodate seasonal shipping delays.
MCBH offers much by way of recreation. You can rent kayaks, surfboards, paddleboards, boats, and fishing gear at the marina. The aquatics program offers swim lessons, scuba certification, and fantastic junior lifeguard camps. Surfing at Pyramid Rock and North Beach (sometimes called Officer’s Beach but is open to all housing residents) is second to none since both beaches face north like the famous surf breaks on the North Shore. Cabin rentals and camping are also available waterfront on the bay side. MCBH has a small exchange and the MCBH commissary, but the Navy offers jumbo-sized versions of both on the other side of the island.
Mokapu Elementary (K-6th grade) is located centrally on MCBH. Students grades 7-12 attend public school off base in Kailua. Bus service to Kailua Intermediate and Kalaheo High School is available for a fee and often has a waitlist. CREDO Hawaii is no longer based at MCBH but does serve all military members and families stationed in Hawaii. CREDO offers hugely popular marriage, family, and personal growth retreats at resorts around the island at no cost to you. Be sure to follow their facebook page for upcoming events and call the office to be added to their waiting list.
Culture and Customs
As much as Hawaii is known for its beautiful landscapes and tropical climate, many residents love the culture even more. Family (‘ohana) is of utmost significance here. Family-friendly events and gatherings govern the weekends. Many local families are multigenerational, so respect for elders is welcomed and expected. The newest members of the family are traditionally honored with a luau on their 1st birthday. Leis are an appropriate gift for all occasions—birthdays, holidays, graduation, hails and farewells, and also for visitors. Lei stands at the airport offer the best prices on the island. The base exchanges, commissaries, and grocery stores across the island carry leis as well. Food is also essential to Hawaiian culture. School cafeterias serve local favorites like kalua pork, haupia (coconut) pudding, and poi (pureed taro root). Poke (raw, marinated tuna), shave ice (don’t call it “shaved” ice), and Spam musubi (Spam and rice wrapped in seaweed) can be found in every corner store. Increase your following distance when driving. Drivers here are very courteous—they will brake at the expense of causing an accident to let someone cross the street or change lanes. And ALWAYS remove your shoes before entering someone’s home.
Hawaii boasts AMAZING hiking. Trails range from the paved and stroller-friendly (but steep!) Makapu’u trail on the eastern end of the island, to lush and tropical trails in Manoa Valley, to the dormant Koko Head and Diamond Head volcano crater trails.
Kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling, spearfishing, and diving are just a few ways to enjoy the warm water and 271 days of sunshine per year.
Kailua’s beaches are far less crowded than the more touristy Waikiki. Be aware, the deep ocean currents can be extremely strong even near shore. Many beaches also experience shore break. Search “Sandy’s Beach” on youtube to get a glimpse of the power of the ocean here. Parents with little children may want to check out the lagoons at Ko’olina for gentler waters.
Surfing is the signature sport of Hawaii. Duke Kahanamoku and Eddie Aikau are local legends and surf icons. Surf lessons are available around the island. If you want to get into surfing, there is no shame in purchasing a $100 eight-foot foam board from Costco. Pros on the North Shore, water patrol, and surf school students all surf them with joy. Surf competitions are community events for surfers of all ages and skill levels.
Macadamia Nut Farm tour
This tour near Kualoa Ranch is more befitting a crash course for “Survivor” contestants than farm tour. It is both educational and entertaining. Your host will highlight various film locations on the property as you ride on crew buses used in the original “Jurassic Park.”
Grand luaus are available on the leeward side of the island, the Polynesian Cultural Center on the North Shore, and also Sea Life Park on the east end. The Hale Koa luau in Waikiki is a less costly, shorter luau option open to service members, retirees, and their guests.
Take a Ride
The North Shore is the most rural part of the island. However, Ted’s Bakery and Sandy’s Sandwiches near Pipeline are worth the stop on your drive along the Seven Mile Miracle. Waves can reach 40 feet during the winter months. Helemano Farms in Wahaiwa grows sustainable Norfolk pines for cutting at Christmas.
Island hopping is not as cheap as one might think but the other islands are all unique. Volcanoes Park on the Big Island is a place to behold, and military members can rent cabins at the park. Also, don’t forget to register for your free National Park military pass so your $25 vehicle admission will be waived.
Being stationed in Hawaii will be memorable and life-changing. There is no pressure to “keep up with the Joneses” here. Kids are given multiple recesses and learn the hula and also the ukulele at school. Enjoy your time at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Chances are you will never want to leave and will long to go back after you do.
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Sarah Hogan has been married to her Navy corpsman-turned-chaplain husband for twenty years. She recently completed her Bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Administration after a quick, 15-year stay-at-home mom gig between her junior and senior years of college. She is currently working on her clinical hours to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.Sarah Hogan