Voluntourism on Maui

Clients can take a break from Maui’s traditional visitor attractions By: Monica Poling
Resort guests can lend a helping hand in Hanokowai Valley.// © 2011 Monica Poling
Resort guests can lend a helping hand in Hanokowai Valley.// © 2011 Monica Poling

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The Details

Maui Cultural Lands

Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas

The first indication that I had stepped outside of the realm of what most Hawaii travelers see is when Puanani Lindsey, who’s just marshaled 20 volunteers to help restore a small part of Honokowai Valley in west Maui, asked me to call her Auntie Pua.

The volunteers, who range in age from 4 to 90, are a mix of dedicated locals, employees, college interns and guests from the Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas and Westin Maui Resort and Spa.

Auntie Pua is continuing the work of her late husband, Ed Lindsey, who passed away in 2009. To help preserve Maui’s historic and natural resources, Lindsey founded Maui Cultural Lands (MCL) and subsequently created the Malama (“take care of”) Honokowai restoration project. Volunteers gather weekly to perform preservation tasks such as chopping down non-native plants, clearing weeds and planting crops.

“Ed always said there were so many historically significant sites on Maui, and I’d always ask him, ‘if there are so many, why did we have to pick one so deep inside the island?’” Auntie Pua joked.

Deep in it is. Loaded into trucks, our group drove through the Kaanapali Coffee Farm, past abandoned sugar-cane fields, over rocky river beds and into a forest filled with invasive and non-endemic plants.

Clearly, the regular volunteers are deeply committed to returning the valley to a state of balance. The area dates back 500 years, before Westerners had discovered Hawaii’s riches. At its peak, Honokowai was home to 600 families, many of whom were taro farmers. Today, stone barriers, once the foundation of ancient farmhouses, still dot the area.

Once settled, our group stood in a circle, joined hands, and made introductions. A chant began the day and, then, newcomers were taken on a one-hour walk to learn about the native plants and their medicinal and spiritual benefits.

After the tour, the work began. Our assignment was to clear away invasive weeds in order to reveal the natural landscape. The weeds were so abundant that the college interns spent one hour just hauling discarded plants to the roadside.

By the time lunch rolled around, the group had formed a familial bond. The youngest volunteers, who were now calling me auntie, taught the adults how to make leaf rubbings, while the adults shared their meals at communal picnic tables.

The afternoon consisted of more clearing. Although many volunteers had spent the better part of the day doing hard labor, everyone was reluctant to call it quits.

Perhaps it’s the reminder that Hawaii isn’t just about beach sports and tropical drinks. Even after a hard day’s work, everyone was smiling.

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