Hawaii is an excellent destination for volunteers who crave warm temperatures, picturesque, green, jagged mountains, the sounds and feel of the ocean, and SPAM! Though hard to believe, Hawaiians boast the highest per capita SPAM consumption in the entire United States. Luckily, there is much more to these islands than this popular canned meat! Hawaii’s seafood, surfing, and culture are renowned worldwide and with eight main islands, there is plenty for volunteers to explore and contribute to. The Hawaiian islands offer individuals the opportunity to volunteer on projects related to ecotourism, agriculture, teaching, conservation, and so much more.
Though part of the United States, Hawaii has its own unique culture and heritage that differs greatly from the rest of the country. Hawaii is home to flora, fauna, and landscapes that you just can’t find on the mainland, which makes the island life especially appealing to volunteers looking for outdoor volunteer opportunities in tourism, conservation, and agriculture. The majority of volunteer projects in Hawaii are offered on the state’s three most populous islands; Oahu, Hawaii, and Maui.
Oahu. As Hawaii’s most populous island and most popular tourist destination, Oahu offers the largest number of volunteer opportunities in Hawaii. It is the home of the state’s largest universities, oceanic research centers, and some of the world’s most radical surfing in Waikiki and the North Shore. Honolulu is a hub for volunteer activity, specifically in tourism, conservation, ecology, and teaching. It is also a great place to pick up some Hawaiian words; Mahalo!
Hawaii (The Big Island). The Big Island is best known for its active volcanoes, including Kilauea and Mauna Loa, and its laid back, tropical lifestyle. It is the largest of the Hawaiian chain of islands, but has a population that is just one-sixth of Oahu’s. Agriculture is a large part of the economy on The Big Island, including the production of Kona Coffee, a cup of which will be sure to start your morning off right! The Big Island primarily attracts volunteers in eco-tourism, health, and agriculture.
Maui is the second largest island in Hawaii, with rich geography that includes a shield volcano, Haleakala, that makes up 75 percent of the island. The western side of the island is covered with pristine beach resorts while the eastern side (The Hana Side) is much less developed. Maui’s black sand beaches, snorkeling, and waterfalls are matched by few places in the world. Diverse volunteer opportunities are available on both sides of the island, most notably in agriculture, tourism, teaching, and conservation.
Volunteer Programs in Hawaii
Only a handful of the Hawaiian islands offer volunteer program opportunities, but those that do provide high quality experiences nonetheless. Hawaii is surrounded by diverse marine life that is tough to find elsewhere in the world, which makes it an ideal place to volunteer abroad in ecology, ecotourism, and conservation especially. Although there are also plenty of options on land too, whether in agriculture or or tourism. In general, volunteer programs in Hawaii can last anywhere from two weeks to six months. When choosing a volunteer program in Hawaii, take note of your preference for an urban versus rural setting as well as what field you’re interested in, and you’re bound to find the right fit for you!
Conservation. Hawaii is a naturally beautiful location and home to many endemic and indigenous species of flora and fauna. which are particularly attractive to tourists. Unfortunately, Hawaii’s tourists don’t always come without costs. There are many opportunities to volunteer in Hawaii to help rescue and rehabilitate birds, mammals, and reptiles across the islands. In the same realm, there are also many conservation initiatives to help to reduce pollution and conserve the natural habitats of local wildlife that volunteers can get involved in.
Eco-Tourism. Hawaii has some of the most spectacular natural landscapes and creatures in the world. In order to protect the islands and their rich history from detrimental forms of tourism, ecotourism volunteer programs in Hawaii are growing in popularity. There are many opportunities for ecotourism volunteering in Hawaii across a number of the islands, especially on Oahu where the tourism industry is growing rapidly. If you enjoy working with people and helping the environment, ecotourism placements might be an excellent option for you.
Agriculture. The Hawaiian islands offer a landscape and climate unlike that of what you may be used to. For example, some popular crops include coffee, pineapple, papaya, bananas, and sugar. If you enjoy working outside, directly with the land, in the midst of incredible scenery, agriculture volunteer work in Hawaii will be a wonderful fit for you.
Costs & Affordability
Hawaii has a high cost of living compared to cities in the continental U.S., in part due to its isolation in the midst of the Pacific Ocean. High costs are especially prevalent in Honolulu, where the tourism industry is booming, so prices are most similar to that of San Francisco or New York City. It is not uncommon for the price of a gallon of milk to be significantly more than a gallon of petrol, which, in contrast, is a rarity on the mainland.
Many volunteer programs in Hawaii are more affordable than standard Hawaiian costs of living, and typically volunteer program providers include lodging and food in upfront program costs. Packaged program costs makes it easier for volunteers to create a budget and make the most of their time volunteering in Hawaii. Outside of volunteer work, there are plenty of island activities volunteers can participate in for free or very affordably without paying for a tour guide. Hawaii has some of the most incredible hiking in the world, waves to play in, and there are plenty of free public cultural events too!
Accommodation & Visas
Living arrangements for volunteers vary from camping to cabins to dorm style housing. It is important to take a look at housing details when browsing through programs to be sure you find the right volunteer program to meet your needs and expectations.
No visa is needed to volunteer in Hawaii for United States citizens. If you are planning on volunteering in Hawaii long-term, it may be worth looking into getting a Hawaiian driver’s license, as many events, venues, and exhibits are free or discounted for local residents. If you are from outside of the U.S., you will need to secure a visa and possibly a work permit to volunteer abroad in Hawaii, depending on the specific program and duration.
Benefits & Challenges
Communication. One of the greatest challenges of volunteering in Hawaii is getting used to the Hawaiian language and slang. Hawaiian words are not always easy to pronounce right away, but with practice you’ll get used to it!
Culture. Hawaii is a wonderful mix of cultures and people. You’ll find native Hawaiians, transplants from the mainland, a large population from Eastern Asia, and many active Americans serviceman through the islands. For those from mainland USA, it will often still feel like they are volunteering in a foreign country, because Hawaii’s culture and landscape is so distinct. Regardless of where you are from, volunteering in Hawaii will be a great experience, especially for those who want to truly enjoy one of the most beautiful places on Earth.