For those seeking authentic experiences, there's much more to Hawaii than cocktails and sunbathing, writes Kate Webster.
When you think about Hawaii, you would think of dipping your toes in the warm sand, caressed by the lapping waves while sitting under the shade of a palm tree with a cocktail in hand. Although did plenty of this in Hawaii, I also dipped my toes in some mud to malama (give back) to the local community.
Post-Covid travel looks a little different, with many travellers seeking more meaningful adventures. Dubbed "regenerative travel," mindful travel is the new sustainable tourism. It's the art of being present and immersed in an experience in addition to leaving a positive impact.
Like many places around the world, Hawaii has implemented stringent Covid guidelines for visitors, and although the islands have cautiously welcomed an influx of tourists, they have simultaneously launched an initiative called Malama Hawaii. This "voluntourism" programme encourages travellers to malama to Hawaii, and leave the islands better than they found them.
When I went to Hawaii, I wanted to ensure I left a positive impact. I had read many an article and seen social media posts from local Hawaiians who seem to discourage visitors to the country. They cited overtourism as being a problem and I didn't want to add to that.
On my flight over to Hawaii with Hawaiian Airlines, they speak about Travel Pono on the inflight entertainment. Travel Pono means to explore with care, offering your kokua (help) to preserve Hawaii's natural resources, cultures and communities. It's recognising your responsibility while gaining a deeper connection to the country.
With that concept in mind, I arrived on Oahu ready to malama. Located on the windward side of Oahu, Kualoa Ranch is a private nature reserve spanning across the Ka'a'awa Valley and Hakipu'u Valley. Well known as a popular TV and movie location where Jurassic Park, Lost and Hawaii Five-0 were filmed, it is also where you can take part in the Malama Experience.
And the experience at Kualoa Ranch isn't exactly part of an itinerary that can be found in any guidebook. While the stunning natural beauty and vibrant culture make the Hawaiian Islands special, it's the deeply rooted relationship that connects them and you that takes the experience beyond.
This hands-on experience teaches the importance of sustainability and the streams as they feed the lo'i, a water taro patch, down through the valleys and into the ocean. When I say hands-on, I mean knees deep in mud. I stepped into the artificial pond where the taro is cultivated and felt the mud ooze between my toes. As I piled old palm fronds on to mounds of mud that had been built up in the pond, Iwi Kurosu, the malama programme lead and mahi'ai (farmer) at Kualoa Ranch explained how important kalo (the Hawaiian name given to taro) was to the Hawaiian people for sustenance and its cultural tie-in to Kualoa.
The mounds we were building in the pond were layered with newspaper and then more palm fronds. In between, we grabbed handfuls of mud and spread them across the mound, using it as glue to bond the next layer. This was only a small part of the steps required to cultivate the kalo. Once the mound had been built high enough, small growth kalo is planted along the mounds. Once these are fully grown, the kalo is harvested and ready for use.
Depending on the need, activities for the Malama Experience can vary to include the thatching of traditional Hawaiian hale (grass huts), assisting with cleaning, planting, and harvesting the kalo or malama of the la'au lapa'au (medicinal plants).
Not only did it feel good to lend a helping hand, but I was doing good at the same time. That relationship between people and place grows stronger every time you malama, and this is a concept I plan on continuing throughout my travels, in Hawaii and beyond.
Malama experience at Kualoa Ranch:
A two-hour eco-adventure cultural learning experience in a spectacular natural old Hawaiian ʻahupuaʻa (land division). There is a 5-year minimum age, with an accompanying adult. Adult $USD49.95, child (5-12) $24.95 plus tax.
For details, see kualoa.com
Hawaiian Airlines resumes its direct Auckland to Honolulu service from July 4. hawaiianairlines.co.nz
For more on Hawaii travel, visit gohawaii.com