Volunteers potting ferns at Kauai's National Tropical Botanical Garden // (C) 2010 National Tropical Botanical Garden
Pulling weeds and repotting ferns may not sound like the recipe for a relaxing vacation. But for Marc Neves of Papaya and Co. Travel in Provo, Utah, a volunteer stint at the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) turned into one of the highlights of his recent trip to Kauai.
“Our group learned a great deal about the fragile indigenous plant species on Kauai and the incredible service that botanical gardens provide to protect Hawaii’s natural landscape — something most visitors take for granted,” said Neves. “I loved the experience and wished we had even more time to help. We saw what it takes to safeguard and maintain the beauty that makes Kauai so special.”
Neves donated his time by taking part in Enrich, a voluntourism program offered to Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa guests. It’s one of many ways in which clients can make a difference during their Kauai getaway.
“We created Enrich so guests can enhance their vacation experience by giving back to our island community in meaningful ways,” said Grand Hyatt Kauai spokesperson Diann Hartman. “It’s a win-win for guests looking for something different and significant to do, as well as for the nonprofits that need assistance.”
Along with NTBG, Enrich creates voluntourism opportunities with the organization Hui o Laka, working to eradicate invasive species and encouraging native plants to thrive at Kokee State Park; at the Kauai Humane Society, giving dogs and cats much-needed attention and helping to make them more adoptable; and during beach clean-ups with the Surfrider Foundation. Clients can volunteer for one or two hours, a half-day or whatever works with their schedule.
“The island as a whole has many repeat guests who cherish their time on Kauai and want to leave a positive impact,” said Hartman. “Through a voluntourism experience, I hope that people will feel good knowing that they have left the island a little better than they found it.”
Another Kauai accommodation offering guests the chance to help the environment is Hanalei Colony Resort, which offers a Beach and Botany package. During their stay at the north shore property, clients work at least two daily four-hour volunteer sessions per person at the nearby Limahuli Garden and Preserve, the site of a rainforest, ancient lava-rock terraces, thriving native plant species and a plantation-era garden. Making sure that their vacation isn’t all work and no play, the package also provides participants with a picnic lunch, a three-hour kayak tour, a one-hour massage, an annual NTBG membership and garden-oriented arrival gifts.
“Our secluded location and the unspoiled natural beauty of Kauai’s north shore are the foundation of Hanalei Colony’s appeal to visitors,” said Hanalei Colony Resort general manager Laura Richards. “We have always encouraged our guests to enjoy and explore this incredible destination. Now, we are going a step further by offering them the opportunity to help us preserve our environment.”
Clients looking for upcoming voluntourism dates on Kauai can browse the website, PreserveHawaii.org, where they can keep abreast of visitor-friendly excursions with a number of environmental groups. For instance, Friends of the Kalalau Trail organizes workdays to rehabilitate degraded portions of the north shore hiking trails, while Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park invites tourists to help with the upkeep of their public facilities.
In a destination so blessed with natural beauty, it only follows that voluntourism is a growing market for the Kauai Visitors Bureau.
“So much of what Kauai offers revolves around its beautiful surroundings, so voluntourism is a good match for travelers looking for a rewarding outdoor experience,” said Kauai Visitors Bureau executive director Sue Kanoho. “For more than 30 years, we have been sharing the island’s environment with those who visit. We would like our guests to recognize the impact of that sharing, then take the time to help restore our precious natural resources, so they are there for the future.
“If travel agents haven’t been to Kauai at all, or haven’t visited in the last three to five years, then by all means they need to come and see it,” Kanoho added. “Once they experience a volunteer activity for themselves, it becomes very clear how they can pitch Kauai voluntourism to their clients.”
Meanwhile, Neves said he will highly recommend volunteer programs to his clients, whether or not they have a green thumb.
“By volunteering even just a few hours of their trip, Kauai visitors can give back to the place they love and feel even more vested in its future,” said Neves. “The whole family can get involved, making it a tremendous memory. All they need are willing hands and time.”