I am sitting in my car at the defunct Pu‘ukoli‘i Train Station in Ka‘anapali at 8:45 in the morning. This is the designated meet up spot for the Malama Honokowai Project, a Saturday volunteer activity that takes you deep into Honokowai Valley. I have no idea what I am getting myself into but I am jazzed about seeing an area of the island I have never experienced, and excited to get my hands dirty.
Looking around, there is an empty tour bus with a driver checking his phone. Someone pulls up and starts washing their car in the corner. I begin to wonder if the information on the Maui Cultural Lands website is correct when a woman walks over to my car and asks if I am waiting for the volunteer project. Well, at least there are two of us now, I think to myself. A couple of white Maui Cultural Lands trucks pull up, and soon after I embark on one of the most rewarding Saturday mornings I’ve had in a while.
After we carpool and hui up to the top of the trail it’s a short hike down into the valley. First thing Puanani Lindsey does is stop for a protocol ‘oli, a Hawaiian chant, to ask the valley for permission to enter. Maui Cultural Lands has been taking volunteers down into the valley for the last 20 years. Puanani founded Maui Cultural Lands with her husband the late Ed Lindsey, who had a vision for this area. When Ed passed in 2009, his son Ekolu Lindsey joined his mom in stewardship and expansion of the program.
“One of the things my husband wanted to do, and I’m hoping to carry that out eventually, he wanted a place for people to come and just be away from everything,” says Puanani. “Someplace to do some meditation or talk story or just enjoy what the valley has to offer.”
The Malama Honokowai project is far from complete, but in a way that is exactly what the valley offers volunteers with the workday. We fan out into the valley with different projects – weeding is the big one. The idea is to battle the invasive grasses, vines, and shrubs, so endemic and indigenous plants have a chance to flourish. I learned about a myriad of different species and names of plants, and which is native and which is not. Later, we sit around a table in the shade to eat lunch and compare notes.
Puanani says her husband recognized the need to create this space early on and believed volunteer troops were going to be the method.
“He realized it because of all of the development that was going on,” says Lindsey. “He saw the bulldozers. So he said, we need to do something now. We need to have something to show our children and our grandchildren. We need to save a place for the future. We have zero budget but we still have hands. And we have supporters who will do the work. People with like minds and like hearts.”
It was Vicky McGown’s first time volunteering in the valley. She owns a timeshare on Maui and was curious about this Saturday morning activity that was offered on the list of things to experience at her hotel.
“I found that I had a free day with nothing to do,” says McGown. “I read about the restoration project on the resort list of cultural activities and thought it would be interesting gardening in a Hawaiian setting.”
Even though it was hard work she enjoyed it.
“When we were asked to clear away the shrubbery from a 400-year-old rock wall it really resonated with me,” says McGown. “The task was completed and the wall was exposed. I got goosebumps thinking that 400 years ago this rock wall was a taro farm or someone’s living quarters, or perhaps a wall around the Hawaiian village. It was a fun accomplishment. It was different from an adrenaline kind of activity or a relaxing activity. It was work with a purpose.”
This is the first time McGown ever participated in voluntourism but it won’t be the last. She is planning her next visit around making sure she has a Saturday available to come to Malama Honokowai again.
I didn’t want to stop there. Next I took my volunteering spirit to Kalepolepo Beach Park in South Maui where they are restoring the ancient Ko‘ie‘ie fish pond. Kehau King greeted us and took us out on canoe for a deeply informative and cultural paddle out.
“My kuleana as a kanaka is making sure that you go home with a different value then what you came here with,” says King. “I get men here that would much rather be golfing. I can see it in their face they do not want to be there. But you know by the end of the tour they’re talking about the culture and trying to make that connection. I think that’s what we all want. We all want some kind of connection with everything, with friends, with work, with things that you do, but that can be temporal. If you want to find a real deeper connection it’s important that we really share our aloha by sharing the values that we have.”
Between old family stories and relevant cultural history, King paints a picture of the significance of the old ways, and how we are learning from them in modern times. The shoreline and wall restoration efforts have brought local limu growth back and now the area supports around 30 green sea turtles. Several of them are sunbathing on the wall.
“Restore the rocks, perpetuate healing and culture, and educate about the fishpond,” says King. “That’s primarily the mission of that we have here. The rocks are big and really heavy so sometimes we have a kane weekend here, father and son. We’ve also done a pilot project with Maui Ocean Center so they were sending people here. I think it’s a great opportunity to collaborate and it’s a win-win situation. No matter what, our mission is we all have that underlying commonality.”
Pacific Whale Foundation is another organization with voluntourism projects. They have a program called Volunteers on Vacation that offers several different options for volunteering. Marketing director Kelly McHugh says they get about 25 to 30 sign-ups a month from visitors wanting to make a positive impact on the community while on vacation.
“The goal is to make environmental stewardship an accessible opportunity for all residents and visitors, per our mission statement: ‘to protect the ocean through science and advocacy and to inspire environmental stewardship,’” says McHugh. “What is done on land directly impacts the health of our ocean environment, which is why we advocate for volunteering with these organizations, whose missions compliment our own.”
The PWF also tracks data which has shown some interesting facts around the rubbish on the beach, specifically cigarette butts.
“The Haleakala service trip and the Coastal Marine Debris Monitoring program are probably our most popular activities,” says McHugh. “We offer free transportation and admission to Haleakala Park Summit, where volunteers enjoy the unique landscape as they remove invasive plant species alongside our staff and supporters. The Coastal Marine Debris Monitoring program is not your average beach cleanup. It allows volunteers to become citizen scientists as they collect valuable data by cleaning up coastal areas at the location and time of their choosing. Quantifying data in a systematic way allows us to identify the most common debris items and their origin: land or sea. With this data, we are able to prioritize high-value targets and evaluate current mitigation measures in order to reduce coastal debris at the source. For example, when cigarettes were banned from Maui County beaches, many thought it was the solution to the cigarette butt pollution problem. However, our program data shows that they are still the number one debris item found in coastal environments. This means that further mitigation efforts, such as education and enforcement, need to take place – and we have the data to back it up.”
Pacific Whale Foundation sees long term benefits from voluntourism and plans to keep the programs going year round.
“It builds connectivity amongst communities, conservation organizations, and our decision-makers,” says McHugh. It offers both residents and visitors a broad understanding of the island and shares the concept of aloha aina. At Haleakala alone, volunteers have removed 24,172 alien plants through our program, allowing for rare native plant growth including the Haleakala silversword.”
Ed Lindsey believed that volunteers would be the path to restoration for the island. Ekolu Lindsey says his dad said, “People who help the land and the culture, who give unselfishly for the sake of the land, they are the heroes – the real warriors.”
VOLUNTOURISM ON MAUI
VOLUNTEER IN SOUTH MAUI WITH HOALOHA ‘AINA & PACIFIC WHALE FOUNDATION – Mondays. Volunteers on Vacation is a free program offered by Pacific Whale Foundation to help you easily find meaningful service projects to benefit Maui’s environment. Visitors and residents can spend a few hours giving back to the local community while enjoying access to “off the beaten trail” places and learning about the history and natural ecosystem of the area. Plus, you’ll receive a free tote bag made of recycled materials when you volunteer for three hours or more. Help “Friends of the Land” maintain South Maui’s scenic coast. 7:30am. South Maui, (various South Maui locations, Kihei); 808-856-8362; Pacificwhale.org
Ko‘Ie‘Ie Fishpond – Community workdays are temporarily postponed and are expected to resume in “a few months.” To learn about other ways to contribute or for the latest updates visit Mauifishpond.com
POLANUI HIU REEF RESTORATION – Sat. Jun 1. Na Papalimu O Pi‘ilani, the reef off Maui’s Lahaina coastline at Polanui, was once known for its abundance of fish and edible limu (algae). These resources, carefully tended by kupuna (elders), sustained Lahaina families for generations. But like other reefs adjacent to high population centers, it now shows signs of significant human impact associated with overharvesting, recreational use, sediment, and poor water quality. These stressors are likely contributing to the reef’s decline and consistently low fish populations. 9am. Polanui Hiu HQ, (393 Front St., Lahaina); 808-276-5593.
MALAMA HONOKOWAI – Saturdays. Volunteer with Malama Honokowai and visit the beautiful and hidden Honokowai Valley, an area closed to the public. Free 9am. Honokowai Valley, (Pu‘ukoli‘i Station “Sugar Cane Train,” Lahaina); 808-856-8362; Pacificwhale.org
HALEAKALA CRATER SERVICE NURSERY ACTIVITY – Tue. Jun 4. The Friends of Haleakala National Park is offering a one-day service activity at the park’s plant nursery in the summit district on the first Tuesday of each month. Volunteers will help park horticulturist Michelle Osgood with various jobs involving caring for the rare, endemic plants being propagated. Those interested call Mary at 808-572-1584 for a reservation and carpool arrangement from Pukalani. 8am. Haleakala National Park; Fhnp.org
VOLUNTEER AT O‘O FARM WITH PACIFIC WHALE FOUNDATION – Wednesdays. Lend a hand with farm chores at an exquisite organic farm in the misting forest of Waipoli in Upcountry Maui. O‘o Farm is a unique and multi-faceted operation with its 8.5 acres sustaining numerous crops that have been developed from virgin land. Project runs from 8:45am to 11:30am every Wednesday. Meet at O‘o Farm. Wear sturdy shoes and bring water, sunscreen, and a light jacket that you don’t mind getting a little dirty. 8:45am. O‘o Farm, (651 Waipoli Rd., Kula); 808-856-8362; Pacificwhale.org
VOLUNTEERS NEEDED AT PACIFIC PRIMATE SANCTUARY – Thursdays. Seeking volunteers for animal caretakers, support staff, office assistant/creative project development, and groundskeeper/handyperson. Retirees welcome. Also looking for pet carriers. Not open for public visitation. Contact the sanctuary. Pacific Primate Sanctuary Inc.; 808-572-8089; Pacificprimatesanctuary@gmail.com; Pac.org
VOLUNTEER WITH CORAL REEF ALLIANCE & PACIFIC WHALE FOUNDATION – Sat. Jun 8. Clean water is vital for both communities and coral reefs. Sediment and nutrient pollution from land makes its way to the ocean, threatening coral reef and human health. Revegetating eroding landscapes with plants can stabilize soil, absorb nutrients and sediments, and prevent pollutants from reaching the ocean. As a volunteer, you will help the Coral Reef Alliance revegetate stream banks with native plants, create sand bag corridors, and take part in other fun stream restoration activities up in the West Maui Mountains. 8:30am. West Maui Mountains, (275 Oka Kope Rd., Lahaina);
WORLD OCEANS DAY: SHORELINE CLEANUP! – Sat. Jun 8. This World Oceans Day, themed “Together we can,” join Pacific Whale Foundation, Surfrider Foundation Maui Chapter, and the County of Maui in advocating for a healthy ocean with shoreline and reef cleanups. Clean ups will be held at Kamaole III, Pa‘ia Bay, and Kahului Harbor. Participants in cleanup efforts and data collection will receive discounts at the Pacific Whale Foundation Ocean Store and a chance to win passes to Maui Ocean Center! 9am. Pacific Whale Foundation, 808-249-8811; Pacificwhale.org
BEACH CLEANUP: KOKUA KA‘EHU – Sun. Jun 23. Lend a hand for fun and exercise and help keep Ka‘ehu free of marine debris and research what washes ashore, on the fourth Sunday of every month. Please bring a re-usable water bottle, and wear sun protection and sturdy shoes. All supplies and snacks provided. 9am. Ka‘ehu Beach, (Kukona Pl., Wailuku); 808-385-5464; SHARKastics.org
VOLUNTEER ON HAMAKUA LANDS WITH PWF & SIERRA CLUB – Sat. Jun 29. Offered on the last Saturday of every month, volunteer with the Sierra Club Maui for a community service outing to remove trash and keep coastal trails open on 267 acres of Hamakua lands purchased by Maui County. The area is mostly shrub non-native vegetation, criss-crossed with trails, and surrounded by cliffs with striking ocean views. Most trails have moderate slopes and a few less used trails are steep. The project runs from 9am to 12:30pm including recreational time to explore the area. Bring gloves, hand tools, water, hat, lunch, and sturdy shoes. 9am. Ha‘iku Community Center, (Pilialoha St, Ha‘iku); 808-856-8362; Pacificwhale.org
Photos by Jen Russo