So you want to live in Hawaii?

You know you’ve had a successful vacation when all you can think about when you get home is how cool it would be to live there. We recently returned from Kauai, the northernmost island in the Hawaiian chain, with killer head colds and daydreams of moving.

It was our first trip to Hawaii and we didn’t want to leave. We loved the wonderfully weird vibe of the place, even the ubiquitous chickens, and we could imagine ourselves as residents—assuming we could afford it. That’s a big if in a place where a small ranch house might cost $2 million and the median condo price is half a million dollars.

They call Kauai the Garden Isle, and despite the wall-to-wall tourists and luxury resorts, it’s still essentially rural. Feral chickens are everywhere, the result of their ancestors’ escape into the wild 24 years ago during Hurricane Iniki, a Cat-4 that devastated the island.

The main thoroughfare is a two-lane ring road that tracks the coastline but stops abruptly at both ends, above and below the rugged western Napali coast, which is inaccessible by car.

The island’s interior—all canyons, waterfalls and tropical rainforest—is likewise impassable except by experienced hikers. Remember the scene in “Jurassic Park” when Laura Dern, Sam Neill and company helicopter onto the rich guy’s island? It’s supposed to be near Costa Rica but is actually Kauai. You can picture dinosaurs here.

We met a couple of people—an antiques dealer from Maine, the docent at a botanical garden we visited—who live on Kauai for part of the year. That’s great if you can afford it. A woman who moved to Kauai from Reading, Pa., and works at a touristy boutique painted a more-realistic picture.

Everyone works two or three jobs, she told us, to afford their rent or mortgage. The beach and hiking are the main leisure activities, since they’re free. There’s one movie theater, in Lihue, and you might treat yourself to a film after your monthly trip to Costco to stock up on staples, which are crazy expensive at local supermarkets.

On the plus side, farmer’s markets and roadside fruit stands abound, selling amazing homegrown produce. The local beef is grass-fed. Fresh-fish markets flourish too, though they’re not cheap.

So, how do Hawaiians afford it? One day we took a tour with a Hawaiian named Domi who gave us a peek at the Kauai tourists don’t usually see, beginning with his own house. Domi brought us there after lunch at a barbecue place so that we could give our leftovers to his pet wild boar (isn’t that an oxymoron?), the 600-pound Omar.

He also drove us past his daughter’s home in a neighborhood set aside for ethnic Hawaiians. Qualified people lease the properties for very little for 99 years. The house once belonged to Domi’s mother, so I guess the leases are transferable.

Since we are neither Hawaiian nor rich, retiring to Kauai is not a likely prospect. But with luck, we will visit again one day. Aloha.

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