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Hawai’i was hit hard by impacts of the pandemic and tourism that contributed to the spread of the virus and stretched local resources thin. At one point during the summer Native Hawaiians asked you not to come. They experienced water shortages and overcrowding, while resources were conserved for tourists. Curiosity Saves Trave encourages you to educate yourself on this topic and think critically if now is the right time to travel to Hawai’i. When you do decide to travel to Hawai’i please make sure to do so sustainably and respectfully following this guide, which helps reduce the harmful behaviors of travel in Hawai’i, while benefitting the local economy.
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Are you curious about how you can make your next trip to Hawaii more sustainable? Guest author Krista Aoki, originally from the American Pacific and who attended university in Hawaii, has loads of insider tips to give you the tools to plan a more ethical trip to Hawaii. With delicate biodiversity and rich culture, it is important to stay informed with this sustainable travel guide to Hawaii, so we can do our part to save travel in Hawaii. Make sure you check out Krista’s bio at the very end for more ways to connect with her. Let’s give Krista a warm welcome and dive right in!
Hawaii is a chain of islands best known for its beautiful landscapes, surfing, and unique culture. Did you also know that Hawaii is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world?
Hawaii’s economy strongly depends on tourism. In 2019, the Hawaii Tourism Authority recorded $17.75 billion in visitor spending (that’s $48.6 million daily).
Being such a biodiverse hotspot that relies on tourism means that Hawaii itself is sensitive to both environmental and economic disruptions. As a visitor, it’s a part of your kuleana (responsibility) to make sustainable choices when you travel to Hawaii.
There is an impressive effort by local businesses and the community to take care of the island chain as much as possible. Truly sustainable and eco-friendly tourism means that your choices benefit the social and economic wellbeing of the communities you visit – in addition to the planet!
QUICK SUSTAINABLE FACTS
With 25,000 unique species, Hawaii is one of the more biodiverse places on the planet! But, unfortunately, it has one of the highest extinction rates per sq. mile
Colonization and Invasive Species
Colonization brought, and continues to bring, many invasive species to the islands. These species threaten native species and it is important to minimize spread through travel.
2050 Sustainability Goals
Hawaii’s sustainability goals bring together cultural and social equity and respect, economic growth and distribution, and environmental protection.
6 Eco-friendly Tips to Travel Sustainably in Hawaii
1. Take a direct flight to the island you want to visit
Jet fuel is the biggest source of carbon emissions related to air travel, and cruising requires less jet fuel than other stages of flying. By flying directly to the island you want to visit, you take off less often and reduce your own personal carbon footprint.
- Look for a direct flight option, or take as few legs as possible
- Unless you’re staying long term, limit your visit to one island during your trip – there is so much to see and explore on each island!
- Take a direct flight back home
You’ll have a deeper experience visiting the island of your choice for a longer period of time – and you’ll save the planet while you’re at it.
2. Book an eco-friendly accommodation
The accommodation you book can reduce your environmental impact on the community!
Booking smaller, locally-owned businesses can also help more of the money you spend stay in the community and prevent tourism leakage. How much of your nightly rate do you think stays in the community versus the Sheraton?
When you’re booking accommodation, ask yourself (or the accommodation) these questions:
- How will you be getting water? Please no single-use plastic bottles!
- Are the toiletries in small containers or larger ones?
- How close is it to places you want to visit? Bonus if it’s within walking distance to shops and restaurants!
3. Take care of the reef
Coral reefs are the ocean’s most biodiverse areas. Hawai’i happens to be home to 80% of coral reefs in the United States.
Many visitors go to Hawaiʻi for its biodiverse reef ecosystem. With coral reefs, comes beautiful and thriving fisheries – including the parrotfish, which are fish that poop out sand.
Yet up to one-third of reef-building corals face extinction – and yes, that includes Hawaii’s beautiful reefs.
If you visit Hawai’i and enjoy snorkeling or even the beach, it’s another part of your kuleana (responsibility) as a visitor to take care of the reef for the next generations of visitors.
Do your part by using reef-safe sunscreen and avoiding physical contact with the reef.
4. Support local and sustainable tour companies
How do you explore the places you visit?
It’s a good habit to think about what your money supports when you book a tour. Some companies just corral as many people together as possible for every tour.
Other companies take into consideration the local community, culture, and environment when they plan each tour.
Hawai’i has a Sustainable Tourism Association that certifies organizations that promote ethical, sustainable tourism that holistically integrates people, the planet, and profit.
You might prefer to go on a tour of the islands solo! But keep in mind that one perk of visiting Hawaii is learning about its unique culture and history – and guided tours are perfect for just that.
5. Clean your shoes before arrival, as well as before and after farm tours or going into the forest
We influence the environment in unexpected ways! Hawaii’s landscape is sensitive. Seeds from your last hike can grasp onto your shoes and fall off into a new environment.
Your shoes can collect and spread seeds – including the seeds of invasive species. Because of this, clean your shoes before you go into the forest, and again when you leave!
6. Respect local communities and Native Hawaiians
Not only does Hawaii have vulnerable biodiversity, but there are local communities of Native Hawaiians that often feel like tourists have more rights than they do. To engage in sustainable ecotourism, you must respect Indigenous communities. Take time to learn about the complex history of Hawaii and the needs of the local communities. Sometimes that means avoiding sacred sights or skipping the luxury resorts. Often the best way to be a responsible traveler is to say no, save travel for another day, and respect the needs of the local communities. I suggest doing a quick google search of the tourism difficulties expressed by local Hawaiians. This guide featuring Indigenous voices can offer some insight into the cultural aspects of traveling to Hawaii.
Sustainable Tourism in Hawaii
Although Hawai’i is made up of 100 islands, there are 8 main Hawaiian islands. There are four which are most popular to visit, which we’ll cover in this guide!
Sustainable Travel Oahu
Oʻahu is the most popular island to visit and home to the famous Waikiki. Beyond Waikiki, there is so much more this island has to offer. Getting away from the tourist hot spots helps diversify the tourism economy diffuse overtourism.
Oahu Eco-Friendly Tours & Activities
- Outdoor Adventures at Kualoa Ranch: Kualoa Ranch is a 4,000-acre private nature reserve. As land previously reserved for royalty, the area itself is historically and culturally significant. Kualoa Ranch prides itself on its commitment to sustainable recreation. Tours enable the ranch to keep the lands undeveloped. Thus, this historic ranch can be considered a living memory of what O’ahu looked like over a century ago. Kualoa Ranch offers a variety of tours on their property including ziplining, ATV rides, and horseback riding. Movie buffs would also enjoy Kualoa Ranch’s Jurassic Park tours!
- Kayaking & Snorkeling with Holokai Adventures: 100% of the proceeds directly benefit a local nonprofit (Kamaaina Kids) and Heeia State Park.
Best Local Shops & What to Buy on Oahu
- House of Mana Up (Royal Hawaiian Shopping Centre): The House of Mana Up shop at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Centre carries the food, fashion, home, beauty, and art products made by Hawaii-based businesses in their accelerator.
Sustainable Travel Big Island
The Big Island, also known as Hawai’i’s Orchid Isle, is home to the famous Kilauea volcano. The Big Island itself is very diverse, from the mountains to the coral reef.
Whilst visiting the Big Island, you can stop by the Green Sand Beach in the Ka’u desert, stargaze at the top of Mauna Kea, and go kayaking and snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay.
Big Island Eco-Friendly Tours & Activities
- Kapoho Kine Adventures: From evening trips at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, to waterfall excursions, to Mauna Kea stargazing trips, you can take tours all around the Big Island with Kapoho Kine Adventures.
- Zipline with Skyline Hawaii: Skyline is a carbon-neutral zipline company. Their zipline tour is on the Hilo side of the Big Island, taking you over the 250-foot Kolekole waterfall.
- Snorkeling and Manta Tours with Seaquest Hawaii: Sequest Hawaii offers unique ways to see marine life on the Kona side of the Big Island, including nighttime manta ray tours and snorkeling adventures.
- Helicopter Tour with Paradise Helicopters: Taking a helicopter tour is a unique way to view Hawaii whilst learning about the unique geology and history of Hawaii. Paradise Helicopters offers tours from Hilo, Kona, and Waimea/Kohala on the Big Island. They engage in the three pillars of sustainable ecotourism, participating in a carbon offset program, educate guests about local environmental sustainability, and work with the community.
Best Local Shops & What to Buy on the Big Island
- Two Ladies Kitchen (Hilo): The delicious mochi (made with fresh ingredients + no preservatives) you’ll try here cannot be shipped to the mainland…so you’ll just have to bring these treats home in your belly!
- Hana Hou Hilo: You must stop by Hana Hou Hilo and see its vintage and modern art and accessories from Hawaii and Oceania.
- Kamuela Farmers Market: Stop by and grab local plants, coffee, soaps, and jewelry in Kamuela (Waimea), every Saturday 7:30 am – 12:30 pm.
- Hilo Farmers Market: The Hilo Farmers Market is known as a must-visit on Wednesdays and Saturdays between 6 and 4 pm. Keep your eye out for local honey, crafts, and gifts.
Sustainable Travel Maui
Maui, also known as the Valley Isle, is famous for its valleys and resorts. It’s famous for Haleakala, the largest dormant volcano crater in the world.
Maui Eco-Friendly Tours & Activities
- Zipline with Skyline Hawaii: Skyline is a carbon-neutral zipline company. Their Maui zipline tours take you over Haleakala at sunrise, Kaanapali, and Maui waterfalls and canyons.
- Cycle Haleakala: You can take guided and self-guided cycling tours with Bike Maui. You can tour the summit and crater, then cycle down from Haleakala to Haiku.
Best Local Shops & What to Buy on Maui
- Aliʻi Kula Lavender: Ali’i Kula Lavender farm is home to 20 different varieties of lavender that bloom year-round. At their shop, you can find a variety of products – including, of course, aromatherapy, bath, and body goodies to take back home.
- Fleur De Lei: This eco-boutique stocks earth-friendly clothing, accessories, and gifts. Stop by when you’re in Makawao!
Sustainable Travel Kauai
Kaua’i, also known as the Garden Isle, is known for its unique and breathtaking landscape.
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Kauai Eco-Friendly Tours & Activities
- Zipline with Skyline Hawaii: Skyline is a carbon-neutral zipline company. On Kaua’i, they have 5-line and 8-line zipline tours in Poipu that go over the valleys and mountains of Kauai’s south shore.
- Holoholo Charters: Holoholo Charters takes you on breathtaking boat experiences so you can see the beautiful Na Pali Coast and on some tours, the forbidden island of Ni’ihau. There are options for snorkeling and sunset tours.
- Kauai Hiking Tours: Take a hiking tour to see picturesque views of Kaua’i from unique, remote locations.
Best Local Shops & What to Buy on Kauaʻi
- ʻOhana Shop Kauai: Find locally-made lauhala, jewelry, clothing, and skincare products at this boutique shop located in Hanalei.
- Moloaʻa Bay Coffee: What’s special is they began planting rows of cacao along their coffee to make more use of their land! Stop by their family-run shop in Kapaʻa!
Hawaiʻi is one of the most beautiful places in the world, rich with culture and biodiversity. Even living there, locals say that it’s an endless journey to experience everything that each island has to offer.
Travel responsibly, enjoy what you see, and don’t forget to give back to the community trying to preserve the unique beauty and culture.
Now it’s your turn! Are you planning a trip to Hawaiʻi soon? Which island are you visiting? What activities are you trying? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to share so your friends and family can also plan a responsible trip to the islands with this sustainable travel guide to Hawai’i.
It was super insightful reading all these tips! I have never thought I could carry anything dangerous under my shoes for example! Thanks for sharing them, I will keep them in mind for the day I can finally visit Hawaii!
I’m so glad you learned something about sustainable travel in Hawaii! I hope you can visit and implement them while supporting some of the local businesses and eco tours.
Amazing post! I hope to visit Hawaii again some day and I’m saving this post to refer to when I do!
Thank you – I hope you have a wonderful time when you visit!
I love that you took a different perspective on visiting Hawaii. It’s very refreshing to read about sustainability and travel. Thanks for all of the handy tips and interesting pieces of information!
Thanks for reading it is important to implement these sustainable practices to preserve Hawaii’s unique biodiversity.
This is one of the best sustainable travel guides I’ve read. It’s unfortunate the locals are asking tourists not to come, that’s one you never hear. Sustainable travel is the present and future if we want a planet we can explore. Thank you for spreading the awareness.
We visited Maui in 1995 and I had several spiritual experiences. We learned much before our visit and even more while there.
I want to donate to specific locally owned businesses that help sustain the natural Hawaii and people who live there.
If we visit again I would do so 2024 for my 60th birthday to thank the Island for the valuable lessons I learned about respecting the earth and helping others and how we’re all connected.
If staying away is best for Hawaii I’d do it. If I can benefit the people of Hawaii with my travel I would be honored.
My friend’s nephew lives on Maui and teaches yoga and meditation. I would like to visit him as well.
Thank you for this valuable information. This will help me decide consciously.
Hey Judy, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I know a lot of this information pertains to the pandemic and the rise in mass over-tourism. I think if you visit respectfully maybe off-season and make sure you do your part to support and learn about Native culture and businesses while reducing your impact by following these tips, then I think you will be just fine. Of course, I suggest reading local news before you plan a trip just to make sure you are aware of recent and ongoing issues and concerns.