Traveling for Good in Hawaii means getting in touch with a fundamental principle of native culture: kuleana, which loosely translates to a sense of responsibility or accountability. On this remote island chain, the overwhelming beauty—palm-fringed beaches, lush rainforests and rugged green peaks—has a way of inspiring such mindfulness. Even travelers who’ve never volunteered on vacation feel a connection and kuleana to the land. There are many ways visitors can help care for Hawaii’s fragile ecosystems and unique species while still shifting fully into vacation mode. Here are six ways to combine volunteering and adventure in this Polynesian paradise.
Zipline Through a Maui forest, Then Help Restore It
“Do Good, Have Fun” is the motto of Skyline-Eco Adventures, located on the historic Haleakala Ranch in scenic upcountry Maui. The first zipline tour operator in the U.S., Skyline has prioritized conservation since its 2002 founding, donating a portion of proceeds to environmental preservation. After a short hike through a fragrant eucalyptus forest, arrive at the first of five ziplines, each one named for a different endangered Hawaiian bird, then become a bird yourself as you soar over the Pahakuokala Gulch at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. At the base of the course, you can help plant a native Hawaiian tree as part of the company’s ambitious forest restoration project. As invasive species are replaced by natives, the land is slowly returning to what it looked like a thousand years ago—and the wildlife is coming back, too!
Explore the Molokai Sea Coast, and Plant Native Flora
Hawaii’s isolation and geological activity make it one of the most biologically diverse regions on earth. It’s also the endangered species capital of the world. With that in mind, the Moloka’i Land Trust works to remove invasive species and restore native ecosystems in Molokai with help from local community members and, here’s where you come in, volunteers. Sign up online to visit the Mokio Preserve, one of the state’s largest coastal and dune restoration projects along a mile of rugged shoreline (think 400-foot sea cliffs). After a bumpy ride down a dirt road to the remote preserve, which executive director Butch Haase calls “a landscape inspired by Dr. Seuss,” volunteers can help with tasks like clearing weeds and planting native flora, making the area home again for endangered bee populations and ground-nesting seabirds. Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, water and snacks.
Snorkel off the Oahu coastline, and Clear Invasive Algae
The University of Hawaii’s Department of Botany and the Waikiki Aquarium team up to host Invasive Algae Cleanups along Oahu’s legendary Waikiki Beach. Because most of Hawaii’s marine algae are endemic (meaning they occur here and nowhere else), the coral reefs are especially sensitive to habitat changes, and any alien algae species contribute to their decline. On cleanup days, divers remove invasive algae from the sea floor and transfer it to snorkeling volunteers who haul it in burlap sacks back to shore. Volunteers who don’t want to snorkel can help sort the algae before it’s transported to the Honolulu Zoo to be used as compost. Check the Waikiki Aquarium Calendar for cleanup dates, and be sure to bring a towel, water, sunscreen, goggles, snorkels and fins.
Hike and Help Maintain Kauai’s Kalalau Trail
The Kalalau Trail, stretching from Ke’e Beach to the Kalalau Valley on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast, is often named one of the most beautiful hikes in the world. Since spring of 2018, the trail has been closed due to severe flooding on the North Shore, but it’s scheduled to reopen in summer 2019. When it does, the first two miles will once again be open to the public. (The remaining nine miles are much more treacherous and require a permit.) If you want to help maintain this famous trail while enjoying breathtaking views, spend half a day volunteering with Friends of Kalalau Trail. On the second and fourth Saturday of each month, this decade-old community organization meets at the trailhead on Ke’e Beach for trail building and maintenance efforts, followed by a potluck lunch.
Care for Cats on Lanai
Hawaii has a huge cat overpopulation problem that frustrates both residents and business owners and endangers native wildlife. Luckily, the Lanai Cat Sanctuary offers a humane solution. Home to more than 600 spayed/neutered cats, the organization rescues felines from protected areas where native and endangered birds nest. Because Lanai’s residential population is so small, the sanctuary relies largely on vacationers for funding and volunteering. If you’re a cat lover visiting Lanai, you can help feed, clean and care for the many cats in residence. Contact the sanctuary to plan your purr-fect visit.
Count whales on the Big Island
An estimated 10,000 humpback whales, or kohala, visit the Hawaiian Islands every winter. If you time your trip to the Big Island (or Kauai or Oahu just right) you can help tally humpback whale sightings and document the whales’ surface behavior for the Sanctuary Ocean Count. Conducted three times annually during peak whale season (January through March), this family-friendly volunteering opportunity involves watching and tracking the massive marine mammals from one of several designated locations, including along the Big Island’s whale-friendly Kohala Coast.
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