Hawaii Forest & Trail explores Hawaii Island's dramatic landscapes in sustainable fashion. // © 2015 Hawaii Forest & Trail
Feature image (above): Horseback tours are one of the many eco-friendly offerings at Kualoa, on Oahu's windward side. // © 2015 Kualoa
The number of Hawaii ecotours has multiplied in recent years, and visitors are reaping the benefits of this sustainability. In this remote destination where the environment and culture are precious, more and more tour operators are spreading the word to their clients.
As travelers browse ecotour options in the Aloha State, a good place to start is the Hawaii Ecotourism Association (HEA). The group carefully monitors the state’s visitor offerings, awarding sustainable certification status to companies it deems environmentally and culturally sensitive.
While all of HEA’s certified ecotours are worthy of booking, here are a few of my favorites.
Kualoa Ranch, Oahu
With its tropical gardens, rainforests, beaches and an ancient fishpond, this windward Oahu ranch has deep roots. Kualoa’s family ownership invites visitors to explore its 4,000 acres in ways that protect its natural and historical riches. Its latest lure is a zipline tour with seven tandem lines, two suspension bridges and three mini-hiking trails. Along the way, clients learn about the area’s native plants and heritage.
Wild Side Specialty Tours, Oahu
This group of passionate biologists and naturalists runs small tours on eco-friendly boats, taking guests to the less populated “wild side” of west Oahu. Morning and afternoon excursions lead to swimming and snorkeling with dolphins; exploring coral reefs teeming with turtles and fish; and winter whale watching. Part of the operator’s proceeds go to Wild Dolphin Foundation for preservation and research efforts.
Hawaii Forest & Trail, Hawaii Island
Part of this company’s allure comes from its guides, all enthusiastic experts in Hawaii Island history, biology and geography. Then there are its unique tour locations — sometimes private lands inaccessible to the general public. Add to that its range of trips appealing to different interests, from bird-watching and astronomy to all things volcanic. The result is an engaging ecotour operator dedicated to conservation through education.
KapohoKine Adventures, Hawaii Island
Despite its growth, KapohoKine has maintained a sense of intimacy and authenticity on each of its tours. Its eight-line zip course flies guests across 600 acres of private lands on the island’s east side. KapohoKine’s newest itinerary is a trip to historic Waipio Valley with stops at waterfalls, farmers markets and botanical gardens. Among its sustainable efforts are refillable water bottles for employees and real plates and silverware for tour guests.
Trilogy Excursions, Maui
Trilogy’s impressive list of catamaran tours includes day trips to Lanai, winter whale watching, and snorkeling and sunset cruises. A family company, it imbues each trip with a sense of inclusion. Crew members learn every passenger’s name, and morning sails come with Mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls. It takes its Hawaii ecotour role seriously; for instance, the staff participates in monthly reef cleanups.