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Destination: Hawaii : No Crying Over Spilled Spam

POSTCARDS FROM PARADISE. The Paget family explores Hawaii on a budget. Their reports appear weekly.

July 24, 1994|DALE PAGET and SUSAN PAGET

HULOPOE BEACH, Lanai — The dinner we've been dreading all day is on the boil.

After a week of camping we've hit the bottom of our food supply and it's time to--drum roll please--crack the Spam.

We've mixed Spam, Hawaii's favorite mystery meat (for whatever reason, Hawaii is the No. 1 consumer in the United States) with two cans of tomato paste and a bag of pasta in the hope of making something that resembles spaghetti.

It's not a pretty sight. In fact, it's downright scary: pale pink chunks and limp white noodles.

The meal might be hard to swallow, but who cares. The kitchen is superb.

On the south coast of Hawaii's private island, Lanai, we've pitched our tents on the manicured lawn at Hulopoe Beach Park. Our "front yard" is a showpiece beach with soft white sand, palm trees and a blue bay that teems with spinner dolphins.

"Whoever made this place did a good job," Henri, 7, concludes staring out across the cove.

Lanai is in the middle of a make-over. Shedding its image as the world's No. 1 pineapple producer, the tiny speck of an island is making a name for itself as a chic getaway.

When we landed at the small but modern Lanai Airport, we were the only backpackers among a dozen tourists bound for the island's two resorts.

While they step onto a white resort shuttle bus, we hitch a $20 ride with cab driver Helene Ozua.

"Pick you up in an hour," Helene offers, dropping us off to buy supplies in the only town on the island, Lanai City.

Tall Norfolk pine trees tower above the streets, which are lined with small timber homes. At Richard's Market, across from Dole Park, we buy delicious bread made with pineapple cider.

Just up the street is the local cop shop and jail--a rundown wooden shack with big padlocks on the doors.

"This jail is embarrassing; tourists want to take pictures," says former LAPD officer Dick Millar, who now works the less stressful beat of the LPD (Lanai Police Department). "But we haven't had any escapes from here," he says grinning. "Where are they gonna go?"

The resort shuttles are continually running through town and our cab follows one south to our campsite at Hulopoe Beach Park, right next to the Manele Bay Hotel.

At dusk, a trail of flaming torches shine above a path from the beach to an expansive swimming pool below the resort's main lobby. Inside, there is a rich collection of Asian artifacts and paintings.

"I get really jealous when we stay next to places like this," Henri says candidly, as we walk back to our tents. So do we.

While resort rooms start at more than $200, the good life comes cheap for campers--just $5 a person, per night through the Lanai Co. (There are only a few camping sites, so we took no chances and booked two weeks in advance.)

With no rental car we're stuck at the beach, which suits us fine until Presley, 1, runs out of diapers.

Officially, campers aren't supposed to use the hotel shuttles, but it's the most obvious way to get into town. Wearing our cleanest shirts and shorts, we hop on board. Can we make it to town without being revealed? How long before Henri and Matilda blow our cover?

A mile into the bus ride a woman across the aisle starts up a conversation with fateful words: "Are you staying at the Manele Bay?"

To lie or not to lie?

"Er, uh . . . no we're camping," we splutter.

The crowded bus's chatter stops in mid-sentence. Everyone is listening to this conversation.

"Is your tent the blue one?" a man yells from the front row. "That's us," we sigh.

A retired couple in the back smile knowingly. "We camped all over Europe with our children when they were little," the lady says, "and now that they're through with college we can go to nice places like this and enjoy."

With or without a resort room key, Hulopoe Beach is a treasure.

One of our favorite spots is a tide pool the size of a swimming pool, blasted out of lava rock in the '50s so that the local keiki (children) would have a place to swim without waves.

Our 5-year-old, Matilda, has a fear of getting in over her head in the ocean but in this little grotto she finally gathers up enough courage to try on a pair of goggles and a snorkel.

A school of inch-long yellow-and-black-striped fish, convict tangs, dart into a palace of coral.

"Ahhh . . . ooohhh . . . fishies," Matilda gasps with unbridled excitement, peering into a whole new world.

Back at the campsite our pot of Spam-etti looks like something from another world.

Leslie and Harvey Miller, a couple of resort guests from Los Angeles, who we met a week ago on the beach, walk over to our "kitchen" to see what's for dinner.

We wave hi, taking our eyes off the meal for a split second. The pot wobbles and then tips and crashes at the Millers' feet.

This is a blessing in disguise.

"Come eat at the hotel," Leslie says, cringing at the mess on the ground.

Without a second thought we throw our resort attire over swimsuits, and race up the trail for a Jacuzzi and dinner.

Relaxing by the pool we split two $12 burgers and fries between the five of us.

Ahhh . . . paradise on a budget.

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