The Hawaiian Islands of Oʻahu, Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i Island, Maui, Lāna‘i, and Moloka‘i have long been a popular tourist destination for their beautiful beaches, thrilling waves, lush vegetation and rich soil. These natural resources are deeply tied to the Hawaiian culture and way of life, so Hawaiians work hard to honour and maintain the natural beauty of their islands. Hawaiians believe that the relationship between humans and nature becomes stronger every time we mālama – or give back to the land. On your next Hawai‘i trip, we invite you to enrich your experience by becoming part of the virtuous circle of mālama, whether you give back to the land, the ocean or the community.
The Mālama Hawaiʻi Program was designed to make it easy for tourists to add a meaningful element to their Hawaiian vacations. Mālama experiences range from natural habitat restauration, tree-planting, beach cleanups and sustainable farming to community support activities such as cultural workshops, etc. and are available on all six islands, so you can experience what it is like to connect to Hawai’i on an intimate level. You can also benefit from incentives created by hotels and resorts on the islands; certain partners offer a special discount or even a free night when you participate in their dedicated volunteer activity. Find the list of participating properties here.
One way to respect Hawai’i -- while also enriching your vacation experience – is to learn about the state’s history. Hawai‘i was first populated over 1,500 years ago by Polynesians who arrived by boat, navigating only by the stars. The contemporary Hawaiians descended from these sailors are known today as “natives”. “Locals,” on the other hand, is used to designate Hawaiians whose ancestors came to Hawaiʻi from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Portugal to work on sugar plantations in the 1800s. Hawaiian natives were ruled by various monarchies and were united under one Hawaiian Kingdom in 1810 by King Kamehameha I. In 1893, American settlers began the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and in 1898, Hawai‘i became a territory of the United States. Hawai‘i became the 50th state in 1959. Learn more about Hawai‘i’s history on your next vacation by visiting one or more of the historic and cultural sites listed below.
In O‘ahu, you can travel back in time to one of the royal palaces that have been preserved in their original state, such as the Iolani Palace, where the last two monarchs of the Hawaiian Kingdom lived, and Hānaiakamālama, Queen Emma’s summer palace. You can also visit Washington Place, which witnessed many events that led to the Hawaiian overthrow and served as a prison for Queen Lili‘uokalani, Hawa‘i’s last monarch, during her house arrest. Of course, Second World War history buffs will not want to miss the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
Maui and its neighbours, Moloka‘i and Lānaʻi, each have landmarks that depict different eras in Hawaiian history. In Moloka‘i’s Kalaupapa National Historical Park learn about the remote Kalaupapa community, where missionaries dedicated their life to exiled Hawaiians afflicted by Hansen’s disease (leprosy). Lānaʻi is home to Kaunolū Village; the ruins of this fishing village -- a favourite fishing spot of King Kamehameha I -- make up a U.S. National Historic Landmark and attracts visitors with its stunning views of Lānaʻi’s sea cliffs. Nature lovers would be remiss if they didn’t visit the Haleakala National Park, whose volcano has shaped the land of Maui over centuries. It is also home to a large concentration of endangered species.
On the Island of Hawaiʻi, there are several archaeological sites with the mission to preserve Hawaiian culture. Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, which once was a royal village, now houses temples, statues and fishponds. Hulihee Palace, in the Historic Kailua Village, has been converted into a museum of Victorian artifacts dating back to the rule of King Kalākaua and Queen Kapiʻolani. You can also learn more about Hawaiʻi’s natural history by visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Giving back to the land and ocean
The first thing that comes to mind when we think of Hawai‘i’s landscape is undoubtedly its idyllic beaches, but beyond their sandy coasts, each Hawaiian Island has a wealth of natural landmarks ranging from cascading waterfalls to active volcanoes just begging to be explored (on the dedicated trails). Here is what each of the islands has to offer.
Kaua‘i (aka “The Garden Isle”) is covered in lush tropical rainforests, deep green valleys, rivers, and waterfalls. It’s not surprising, then, that the island is ripe for farming all sorts of native ingredients. In Hanalei, take a tour of the kalo (taro) farms to learn about this root’s deep ties to Hawaiian culture. On the South Shore, you’ll find a coffee plantation offering tours and tastings alike: the Kaua‘i Coffee Company. The National Tropical Botanical Gardens also has three locations across the island. Kaua‘i is a popular migration destination for whales, which you can observe from boat tours (from December-May). And at legendary Poʻipū beach, you might be able to spot Hawaiian monk seals, an endangered species native to the island. To help take care of Kaua’i’s land, you can take part in a beach cleanup with Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park or Surfrider. Visit their websites to learn how to volunteer.
Farm-to-table cuisine is central to Hawaiian culture. Learn about the ingredients that make up traditional meals during a farm tour on O’ahu. Kualoa Ranch also offers Mālama Hawai‘i experiences; you can learn about sustainable farming practices and give a hand with chores around the ranch. Luxuriant gardens are aplenty on this island, with five different sites making up the Honolulu Botanical Gardens. Other ways to mālama Oahu’s natural richness include planting trees with the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative and removing invasive algae from Maunalua Bay to restore its marine environment.
Visit Moloka‘i, “the Friendly Isle”, to see a Hawai’i untouched and unspoiled, full of natural beauty and pure aloha. At Pāpōhaku Beach Park, one of Hawai’i's largest beaches, spot brightly coloured fish in Hawai’i's longest continuous reef. To mālama the island of Moloka‘i, consider volunteering with the Moloka‘i Land Trust.
If you can pull yourself away from Maui’s picturesque white, gold and black sand beaches, you’ll find taro and sweet potato farms upcountry that have sprouted on the volcanic soil surrounding Haleakala, the highest peak of the island. You can tour them, as well as goat farms, wineries and even a Tea Farm which also offers tastings. Mālama programs are aplenty; you can help remove harmful plastic from beaches to protect Maui’s wildlife with Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund (wildhawaii.org), or work with organizations dedicated to protecting parks and forests, such as the Honokowai Valley Project. Find the full list here.
Did you know that there are multiple climate zones on the Island of Hawaiʻi? Here, valleys are made lush and green by wet tropical climates, while the sheer height of its volcanoes mean you can also experience the polar tundra. Talk about an all-in-one eco-tourism destination! The Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park’s lava fields, rainforests, lava tubes and craters are located near Puna. Around Hilo and Hamakua Coast, waterfalls, rainforests and gardens are begging to be explored. Finally, in Ka‘u, on the Southern tip of the island, you’ll find Punaluu Black Sand Beach, which is perfect for spotting native Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles sunbathing. To mālama the Island of Hawai‘i, you can participate in the restoration of the native dryland forest with the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative. Beach clean-ups are organised through the Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund, and the Friends of Amy B.H. Greenwell E. Garden is always looking for extra hands to maintain the grounds.
The Hawaiian culture and people
While in Hawai‘i, you’ll undoubtedly come across the 'Ōlelo Hawai‘i language, hula dancing, Hawaiian music and lūʻau celebrations, all of which are integral to Hawaiian culture. Learning about their history and culture will help you have a richer experience on the ground.
Since the 1980s, there have been successful ongoing efforts to bring 'Ōlelo Hawai‘i—the native Hawaiian language—back to life. This language has its roots in Polynesian dialects spoken by the first people to populate Hawai‘i and has since evolved alongside Hawaiian culture. After the Hawaiian overthrow in 1893, it became illegal to teach 'Ōlelo Hawai‘i in schools; the language is still classified as endangered by the UN. It is easy to learn a few Hawaiian expressions here, such as “Aloha!”, and support the 'Ōlelo Hawai‘i revival. The Ma‘ema‘e toolkit is one of the tools you can use to mālama the Hawaiian language.
Hula is a form of storytelling dance that brings the history and tradition of the Hawaiian Islands to life. Hula can be performed as part of a ceremony (hula kahiko) or in a less formal style (hula ʻauana). Hula kahiko is typically danced to traditional oli, or chants, while hula ʻauana can also be danced to more contemporary music. Hula ‘auana is typically what you might see at a lūʻau or hula competition. If you stumble upon a ceremonial hula kahiko performance, make sure to demonstrate your respect by being silent, keeping a respectful distance, and refraining from taking photos or videos of the performance to preserve its sacredness. Find hula performances or festivals to attend here.
Contemporary Hawaiian music draws from centuries-old traditions, whether through the instruments, rhythms or chants. It has also been influenced by the people who have come to Hawai‘i over the centuries, whether the missionaries who introduced their hymns or Portuguese immigrants who brought over the ‘ukulele. Nowadays, there are many music festivals celebrating Hawaiian music, including the ‘Ukulele Festival in Waikīkī and Hawaiʻi's Kona Slack Key Festival.
What is known today as a lūʻau is a local tradition that began around 1819 and was then known as a ʻahaʻaina or pāʻina. All three names designate a feast accompanied by lively music and performances from Hawaiian and Polynesian traditions. The nickname lūʻau – the name for the taro leaves which are a key ingredient in Hawaiian cuisine – eventually stuck. Lūʻau are still popular in Hawai‘i and they reflect the multi-culturalism of the Hawaiian people. Both the food and the entertainment at modern lūʻau are a mix of native and wider Polynesian traditions. Find a lūʻau to attend on the island of your choice here.
Annual events in Hawai‘i
Hawai’i’s festivals are deeply tied to the history and culture of its peoples. Many festivals honour traditional artforms like hula dancing, ‘ukulele and slack-key guitar-playing and mele chanting, while others celebrate each island’s agricultural history. Here are some of the highlights:
The oldest and longest-running festival in Kaua’i is the Waimea Town Celebration, when the town of Waimea hosts concerts, outrigger races, rodeos and more. The Kōloa Plantation Days Celebration (July) is a ten-day festival on the south shore that celebrates the multitude of ethnic groups that immigrated to Hawai’i to work on sugar plantations. During the Kauaʻi Mokihana Festival, in September, you can watch hula competitions and take part in a variety of workshops, including mele chanting. Finally, the Eō E ʻEmalani I Alaka‘i Festival takes place in the Kōkeʻe State Park in October. The festivities pay homage to Queen Emma and her crossing of the Alaka’i forest and swamp.
In Maui, food lovers will want to attend the East Maui Taro Festival in April or the prestigious Kapalua Wine and Food Festival in June. The Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival (April) and the Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival will delight music afficionados, while sports enthusiasts will want to cheer on paddlers competing in the Moloka‘i Holokai Hoolaulea – an outrigger competition featuring a 27-mile race from Maui to Moloka‘i and a Moloka‘i Holokai 10-mile race challenge.
There are more events than we can count happening every year in O’ahu. Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i brings together international and local artists every February to create murals and public art. The King Kamehameha Floral Parade in June involves a colourful parade with floats adorned with flowers. In July, The Prince Lot Hula Festival attracts locals and visitors alike to celebrate Hawaiian culture. And on a global scale, the Hawai‘i International Film Festival (October) and Honolulu Marathon (December) draws thousands of visitors annually to Honolulu. See the full list of O‘ahu events here.
The Island of Hawai‘i buzzes with annual festivals, perhaps because they hold two coffee-themed events: the Kaʻū Coffee Festival in May and the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival in November. Many food-related festivals are also on the menu, with the Annual Farm Festival at Hāmākua Harvest in May and the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival in October. To learn more about Hawaiian culture, try to line up your trip with the Pana’ewa Stampede Rodeo (in February) featuring Hawai’i’s paniolo (cowboys) or the Merrie Monarch Festival which holds the premier hula competition the week following Easter.
Ready to take a trip that gives back? Visit the Mālama Hawai‘i page to learn more about voluntourism activities and offers from hotel partners.