Marine Corps Base Hawaii
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.
Off Base Neighborhoods
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.
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On Base Housing
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.
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.
Cost of Living and BAH
The BAH for Hawaii tends to be on the high side, similar to the Washington D.C. area. Island living, in general, tends to be pricey because everything has to be shipped in. The median sales price for a single-family home on O’ahu in 2018 was $800,000. In comparison, BAH in Hawaii ranges from $2,088-$3,507 for enlisted personnel and $2,655- $3,966 for officers.
Hawaii has one of the highest tax rates in the country, at 5.3%. However, the property tax rate is at 0.27%, one of the lowest rates in the country. The median sales price of a single-family home on O'ahu is $835,000, which is a new record high. Whether you rent or buy, remember that energy bills will be higher in Hawaii than in most places, even with only moderate use of air conditioning.
Trade winds keep the average temperature in Hawaii at around 85 degrees throughout the year. The landscape across the island, however, varies significantly depending on location. On the Leeward (West) side of O’ahu, you will find a drier, more desert-like environment, while the Windward (East) side is home to the lush Ko’olau Mountains. Much of central O’ahu is farmland, and the North Shore consists of a rocky shoreline with higher surf. Many popular surfing competitions are held there.
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 bayside. 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. This base has an impressive four beaches, in addition to the nearby Sandbar. Accessing MCBH as a visitor, even with a valid military ID, requires either a day pass or an annual paper pass.
Hawaii boasts AMAZING hiking. Trails range from 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.
The Macadamia nut farm tours near Kualoa Ranch is more befitting a crash course for “Survivor” contestants than a 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.
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 Wahiawa 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.
Food and Drink
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.
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