How To Volunteer When Visiting Maui

By Kyle Ellison

Makena, Maui. Photo: Prab Bhatia.

You know what’s even better than basking in the sun on a beautiful Maui beach?

Returning home with the knowledge you’re part of the reason why it’s still beautiful.

For as fun as vacationing in Maui can be, you can go even further and enrich your vacation by spending a day volunteering, where you not only get to visit places set far off the visitor “map” but also get to meet island locals and develop meaningful bonds.

“Treasure Hunt” on a Maui Beach

One of the easiest ways to volunteer on Maui is to join in a community beach cleanup, which often turn into “treasure hunts” of sorts as you help clear the beach of debris. Organizations like Surfrider Maui are constantly organizing cleanups, as is Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.

Clean a Maui Reef in Distress

If you’d rather go snorkeling than clean up the sand, join in Trilogy’s Blue ‘Āina program where you’ll board a catamaran to seek out and clean a Maui reef in distress. The trip visits different reefs every month and, aside from helping raise funds that are donated to local community non-profits, is often sponsored by a local restaurant that serves up a tasty lunch.

Help the Hidden Hinterlands of Honokowai Valley

Honokowai Valley. Photo: Forest and Kim Starr.

To head to the mountains, rather than the sea, lace up your boots and meet with the team at Maui Cultural Lands, who will take you via 4×4 vehicle to the hidden hinterlands of Honokowai Valley in the mountains behind Kā‘anapali. Here in this lush, almost-forgotten, outpost of island culture, volunteers are working to restore a village that was abandoned sometime in the mid-1800s when the stream was diverted to irrigate sugar that now sprawled across West Maui’s slopes. When visiting Honokowai Valley today, you can learn about plants and their traditional uses and also connect with island locals who are not only helping restore the valley but also instilling a sense of stewardship amongst island visitors and youth.

Plod a Trail with Purpose

Waihee Ridge Trail, Maui. Photo: member Rolando M.

To go on one of Maui’s best hikes and plod the trail with a purpose, the West Maui Mountains Watershed Partnership leads hikes on the Waihe‘e Ridge Trail, where you not only get to lend a hand in eradicating Strawberry Guava but also soak up the panoramic views of waterfalls, ridgelines and coast.

Learn About Sacred Spaces

You can also check out the weekly volunteer options that are organized by Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, which is dedicated to preserving open space on undeveloped coastlines. Whether it’s maintaining roads, cleaning the shoreline or pulling invasive weeds, every activity with Hawaiian Lands Trust is packed with history and fascinating stories of ancient Hawaiian culture. Many of these protected areas have heiau, or temples that are built out of stone, and the staff can not only point out the heiau and tell you the local history but also explain the cultural significance of building in this very spot.

Practice a Cultural Rite

Opihi. Photo: Rosa Say.

Finally, if you choose to spend a few days in Hāna — rather than visiting for the day — you can travel to the roots of Hawaiian culture by helping pull taro with Kīpahulu ‘Ohana, just minutes from the Pools at ʻOhe‘o. They’ve also started a new initiative where volunteers help to monitor ‘opihi, or limpets, that live on the rocks. The ‘opihi is not just a traditional food source, but the practice of harvesting and collecting ‘opihi is a cultural rite that’s been honed on this coastline for over 1,000 years.

By taking part in these unique endeavors while volunteering on Maui, you can blend some scenic island sightseeing with giving back to the land and go home with a much more enriching visit — rather than simply a tan.

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