Hina Adventure Tours allows
clients to experience the flora
of Oahu firsthand.
Far back in Oahu’s Makiki Valley, where the stream chuckles through
the lush grounds of the Hawaii Nature Center, Ena Sroat kneels and
gently hefts a hibiscus sapling into a shallow hole.
“This is a kokio [hibiscus],” she says, using her fingers to
shovel soil around its roots. “When it blooms, it has brilliant
By now, the small group of visitors listening to Sroat knows
that the kokio is an endangered native plant, one that’s become
almost impossible to find in the wild. Adding it to the center’s
patchwork of native gardens is their small contribution to the
survival of this rare species. Solemnly, they douse the little
plant with water from their Dasani bottles.
Sroat is one of the guides and owners of Hina Adventure Tours,
and this stop is the last on a tour called Ancient Waikiki and
Sacred Valley Exploration. Like all the tours offered by the young
eco-tourism company, this one is built out of the intricate
stories, legends and natural history associated with a very
particular place the royal sites of Waikiki and the inshore valleys
that supported them.
“We want to show visitors why Waikiki was so beloved by the
Hawaiians,” Sroat says.
The tour includes a short hike down Kalakaua Avenue, a stop at
Tantalus Lookout for spectacular views and an exclusive tour of the
Manoa Cultural Center. But for clients, it’s the quiet planting
ceremony at the Nature Center that sets this tour apart. This
simple act tourists giving back to the community they visit makes
the tour a part of the growing field of voluntourism.
Sroat and her partner, Uluwehi Hopkins, have based their
voluntourism program on their unusually close relationships with
several of Oahu’s cultural and environmental organizations.
“That’s really why we started this company,” says Hopkins. “To
help these kinds of groups succeed.”
For clients, the charms of voluntourism are obvious: They get
the satisfaction of doing good work and the opportunity to interact
with locals. But Sroat is quick to point out that community groups
are also excited about the tours.
“They’re very open to tourism done with respect,” she says.
Hina Adventure Tours works with organizations like Hui Malama o
Lokahi, a group that cares for sacred sites on Oahu’s windward
side; Pae Pae o Heeia, the caretaker organization for an historic
fishpond; Kaala Farms, a cultural education center for Hawaiian
youth; and the Nature Center, which manages natural sites on three
Guestrooms Volunteers of all ages gain the
satisfaction of doing good work and the
opportunity to interact with the island’s locals.
Hina Adventure Tours offers several different levels of
voluntourism. The least demanding is the brief visit to the Nature
Center, perfect for clients who just want to know their visit has
had a positive impact. It’s also the easiest to schedule, since it
runs more or less like a regular tour. Their most popular
voluntourism offering is the Hoolaulima Community Service Project
and Sacred Sites Tour, when clients work side by side with members
of Hui Malama o Lokahi. Afterward, they have a potluck lunch with
the work group before heading down to the beach for a swim.
With enough advance notice, Hina Adventure Tours can arrange
work trips with any of their community partners. Each has its own
charm. The Hawaii Nature Center, for example, manages a couple of
wetlands on Oahu.
“That’s good for bird-lovers,” says Hopkins.
At Pae Pae o Heeia, clients join local volunteers in rebuilding
the lava stone walls and removing invasive plants in a 1,000-year
old fishpond. As an option, the staff will take visitors out into
the pond on a small boat to fish for moi (threadfin), then cook it
up for lunch.
For corporations and community service groups, Hina Adventure
Tours can arrange more traditional voluntourism opportunities.
These programs often a week or longer blend real community service
with a series of tours and cultural activities. This kind of
voluntourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel
industry, and the women of Hina Adventure Tours see it as the
“That’s the direction we want to grow,” says Sroat. “I believe
there are a lot of people out there who want to reach out that
For Hopkins, the commitment of this new kind of tourist is
“They have no investment in this place,” she says, “and yet they
work so hard.”
Obviously, local communities benefit from all the dedication.
But the payoff voluntourism offers clients is equally clear.
As Sroat points out: “They can actually touch Hawaii as it was
in ancient times.”
Hina Adventure Tours
Tours are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. Agents
should book work tours well in advance.
Rates: From $50-$78 per person. Since many of Hina’s
offerings are custom tours, prices and scheduling vary.
Commission: 25 percent