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All of the Hawaiian Islands have complex and fragile ecosystems that are easily affected by outside influences. This is partly why Hawaii has the highest number of endangered and threatened native plant and animal species of any place on the planet. An important value for native Hawaiians and Hawaii locals is the idea of malama aina or to care for the land. There are many ways visitors can learn about the native traditions used to work the land—and help locals keep Hawaii more sustainable for generations to come.
For travelers interested in eco-tourism experiences, there are a variety of farm and agricultural tours, botanical gardens and more that showcase the islands’ unique environments. When you visit these special places, using a Certified Tour Operator is your best bet to ensure that you have an environmentally friendly, safe and enjoyable experience. Certified Tour Operators are equipped with invaluable local knowledge about the environment and can share safe water and sunscreen habits, proper wildlife interaction and other important ways to take care of the ecosystem. Read on to discover fascinating eco-tourism opportunities on each of the islands.
Take a farm tour in the beautiful, green Hanalei taro fields to see how kalo (taro), an important Hawaiian root starch, is cultivated. The South Shore of Kauai is also home to Kauai Coffee, a working coffee plantation. Some of Hawaii’s largest botanical gardens can also be found on Kauai; the National Tropical Botanical Garden has three sites here: Allerton Garden and McBryde Garden just west of Koloa, and Limahuli Garden on the North Shore. You can also opt for a whale-watching tour (December–May), or spot some of the 1,200 endangered Hawaiian monk seals swimming in Kauai’s waters on Poipu Beach.
Embark on a farm tour to learn about the farm-to-table processes that are such a vital part of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, and see Native Hawaiian plants and flowers at Honolulu Botanical Gardens’ five diverse sites on Oahu. From December through May, go whale watching off Oahu’s southern coast to greet humpback whales on their annual visit to Hawaii’s warm waters.
Besides the island’s resort areas, much of Lanai looks the way it did hundreds of years ago. Cook pines and what is left of pineapple fields remain in Central Lanai, but there are other off-the-beaten-path spots that can transport you back in time. Visit the Kanepuu Preserve for a self-guided tour featuring 48 species of endemic Hawaiian plants. Protected by the Nature Conservancy, learn how this fragile ecosystem continues to survive in Lanai today.
Take a drive to Upcountry Maui and stroll among fields of sweet lavender and vibrant protea in Kula. Or walk back in time through gardens of indigenous plants at the Kula Botanical Garden. Continue to the 30,000-foot summit of Haleakala and you just might meet our state bird, the endangered nene (Hawaiian goose), or spot a Haleakala silversword, a rare and beautiful succulent that shimmers in the early light.
Take a farm tour to see how locals work the land. Visit Purdy’s Natural Macadamia Nut Farm for a fascinating tour. Hawaii is the world’s leading producer of macadamia nuts. Or, to really see environmental preservation in action at the Nature Conservancy’s two sites on Molokai: the Moomomi Preserve on the northwest coast and the Kamakou Preserve in the mountainous rainforests to the east.
Island of Hawaii
There are numerous ways to learn about the local ecosystem and experience the unique beauty of the island of Hawaii. At the Hawaii Wildlife Center's Hoopulauma Science and Discovery Center you can learn about efforts to protect and rehabilitate native bird species and other wildlife. At the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority campus there are a variety of tours focused on renewable energy, sustainability and emerging technology offered by the Friends of NELHA group. Or, help restore native flora on a tree planting tour with Hawaiian Legacy Tours, where you can help plant a Koa tree as part of the excursion.
Tips for Eco-Friendly Travel
Here are some simple ways that you can help take care of Hawaii's unique and precious eco-system.
- Bring plenty of reef-safe sunscreen. Many excursions and whale watching trips incorporate snorkeling, and even tiny amounts of some ingredients in average sunscreens can cause coral bleaching. Or, wear swim shirts or rash guards to protect your skin from sunburn and save on sunscreen.
- Wash your shoes before and after agricultural tours. This prevents seeds and diseases from spreading.
- Bring a reusable, preferably stainless steel, bottle for drinking water.
- Avoid wearing perfumes or perfumed products in order to cut down on your need for bug repellent. Perfume attracts mosquitos.
- Only hike on designated trails and be sure to stay on the trail. The potential for injuries, destruction of the rainforest and spreading of invasive species increases dramatically when hikers go off-trail.
- Ask questions! Any Certified Sustainable Tour Operator will welcome them.
"Tip #1: Use Reef Safe sunscreen. Research has found that even a small amount of sunscreen generally has chemicals in it which can bleach the corals and kill the reef."
"Tip #2: Bring a reusable, preferably stainless steel bottle for water."
"Tip #3: Clean your shoes before and after a farm tour to prevent spreading of seeds and disease."
McBryde Garden is a veritable Noah's ark for threatened and endangered plants of the tropics. Located in the verdant Lawa`i Valley. Self-guided tours available daily. Tram into garden. Other tours available.
Come visit our honey & bee farm in Captain Cook! Take a beekeeping farm tour & join us as we open a beehive. Sample our organic honeys, all produced from rare blossoms found on the Big Island, and browse our store and museum full of honey, beeswax products and beekeeping memorabilia.
Spanning 240 acres, Na 'Aina Kai is a living mosaic of diverse gardens, a hardwood plantation, a moss- and fern-draped canyon, a tranquil meadow and pristine sandy beach. Gracing the gardens and wild areas are more than 160 bronze sculptures.
Botanical World Adventures Zip line, Segway, Botanical Gardens, Huge Maze, Honopueo Falls, Kamaee Falls, Panoramic Views of the Pacific and Mauna Kea, Rainbow Walk, Arboreteum, and Rainforest.
Eight-acre Steelgrass Farm – so-called after a nickname for bamboo, a member of the grass family with a mechanical strength that rivals metal — is on Kauai’s East side, above the town of Kapa’a, between Sleeping Giant and Mt. Wai’ale’ale. We grow Chocolate, Vanilla and offer popular farm tours.
Retail, wholesale supplier macadamia nuts, gift baskets, incentive, corporate gifts. Visitor Center, samples, free.
Join Oahu's original eco-tour company for a fun and educational hiking or sightseeing adventure. Spectacular scenery, excellent photographic opportunities, and information about the geology, archaeology, mythology and history of Hawaii await you on our half-day and full-day adventures.
Rooster Farms is the Oldest Organic Farm in Hawaii and has won prestigious cupping contests. Come visit our agroforest with Ed Chen, a Columbia educated Environmental Engineer for a farm tour, agricultural education, and Tara Cronin, a exhibited photographer on big island to learn about Kona coffee!
Anaina Hou is a nonprofit gathering place on the North Shore of Kauai. Today, we are pleased to offer Mini Golf & Gardens, a Café and Gift Store, hiking and biking the Wai Koa Loop Trail, two weekly Farmer’s Markets, a Playground and Skate Ramps, Kilauea Night Market, Free Movie Nights and more.
The Hawaiian Ecotourism Association, (founded in 1995), certifies sustainable tour companies throughout the state of Hawaii to protect the environment and host culture while giving visitors an eco-friendly option for touring.Explore