Paying Forward Paradise: Voluntourism On The Island Of Hawaii

The island of Hawaii is full of opportunities not just for adventure, but for the sense of purpose that arises when you help protect a special place.

Nearly twice as big as all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined, the sheer size and diversity of the island of Hawaii are awe-inspiring. You can see some of the most pivotal sites in Native Hawaiian history and visit an active volcano, all while traveling through all but four of the world’s different climate zones. Wonder at the sheer number of endemic species, which are found nowhere else because they evolved over millions of years right here, on the most isolated land mass on the planet. There is so much to see and do on this rich, storied island – including voluntourism, ecotourism and educational experiences that help preserve its natural beauty.

Stewardship at the Summit

One of the most popular destinations on the island is the breathtaking Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. But what many visitors don’t know is that you can also do your part to steward this invaluable national treasure.

Volunteers for the park’s Stewardship at the Summit program are armed with loppers and gloves as they set out on a one-mile forest trek with a 400-foot elevation gain. Your target: himalayan ginger (Heydechium gardnerianum). Volunteers cut back this invasive plant from park trails, working under the shade of the tropical canopy, serenaded by the sweet sounds of evolution’s finest exemplars, Hawaiian honeycreepers like apapane, amakihi and ōma'o. There’s nothing that compares to a stroll through primordial, untouched Hawaii, especially as you hike back to the KÄ«lauea Visitor Center knowing your sweat and effort helped preserve the endemic honeycreepers’ habitat and keep this magical place pristine for future generations.

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Heather Goodman

Kahaluu Bay Education Center

No trip to the island of Hawaii is complete without a visit to the ocean. Did you know that Hawaii is the first state to ban the use of non-reef-friendly sunscreen? You can learn more about the ecological importance of coral reefs - and how to avoid harming it - as part of the reef etiquette and bay orientation seminar offered by the Kahaluu Bay Education Center. The seminar is free with your snorkel rental as you prepare to take in the spectacular, colorful diversity of fish and coral in this breathtaking - and easily accessible - bay.

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Heather Goodman

Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve

Set in a unique Hawaiian dry forest ecosystem, the preserve is home to several endemic plant species including the wiliwili (Erythrina sandwicensis) and the critically endangered uhiuhi (Mezoneuron kavaiensis). The knowledgeable staff of the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative, a non-profit that seeks to preserve, protect and restore the preserve, leads ecotours that let you commune with these incredible, ancient trees and learn about reforestation efforts to promote natural reforestation. Or challenge yourself to join in the reforestation efforts on Volunteer Saturdays, from October through June.

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Heather Goodman

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