Koa trees are rare and highly prized in Hawaii. // © 2016 Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods
Feature image (above): Hawaii Island visitors can plant seedlings to help reforest lands that were once teeming with koa. // © 2016 Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods
“Who do you want to dedicate your tree to?” asked Rich Lindberg of Hawaiian Legacy Tours (HLT).
A group of us had gathered on the slopes of Hawaii Island’s Mauna Kea volcano to plant koa trees, which are highly prized in Hawaii.
Earlier, I had decided to dedicate the tree to my mom because Mother’s Day was coming up. It felt like it could be a little cheesy, but Lindberg made the experience anything but. He asked me to say some words about my mother.
I didn’t do her justice. She has long been my role model for handling tough situations, ranging from brain surgery and divorce to a rare blood-disease diagnosis. Luckily, Lindberg followed up my dedication with some Hawaiian words about my mother and the tree that was being planted in her honor. Then, I poured water over the tree in a sort of ceremonial manner that brought tears to my eyes.
It’s tours like this that bring the aloha spirit to life for visitors by creating a spiritual way to give back to the land.
HLT is helping replant a historic koa forest, which was cleared almost a century ago to make room for farming and ranching. Deforestation is a common issue across the state, which is why HLT has joined forces with other entities to help reforest more than 1.3 million endemic trees in Hawaii.
“When our guests plant trees, they not only become part of Hawaii’s cultural history, but also part of its sustainable future as well, leaving it a better place for generations to come,” said HLT’s Jackie Waddell. “These trees are found nowhere else, and this reforestation effort is unlike any other in the world.”
The 1,000-acre site where HLT operates was once home to the personal koa forest of Kamehameha the Great, the first king of Hawaii, before it was cut down. As of August 2015, the ecotour operator had planted more than 300,000 koa and more than 14,000 sandalwood trees in hopes of turning the pastureland back to the forest it once was when the king reigned.
Our group started the day at HLT’s welcome center in Umikoa Village. Lindberg then led us on an exploration of the land — stopping to see views of the Pacific Ocean and to visit some of the property’s oldest trees — as he drove us up to the 5,000-foot elevation where the forest is being planted.
While the tree planting was the highlight of the day, the meal that followed at the welcome center was a close second. Diana Fox, HLT staff member and the wife of Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods co-founder Darrell Fox, made us a lunch of chicken curry salad and scones from scratch, using seasonal ingredients. During the meal, we each received a Certificate of Sponsorship that included a custom inscription as well as tracking information to help us follow our tree’s growth online.
“The tour is a deeply emotional and moving experience for many of our guests,” Waddell said. “When they return to visit, many are stunned at how fast their tree has grown.”
Participants can choose to take the 3.5-hour Grand Tour or two-hour Planters Tour by reserving a spot on the company's website, where they can opt to plant a koa or sandalwood tree. The company can give guided tours for up to 20 people at a time.