5 Tips for Sustainable Travel: The Big Island of Hawai’i


Five weeks ago, I made a small cabin in an ecological community in Pāhoa, Hawai’i, my home for the night. 

It’s eery to now hear about the eruption of Kilauea, which we visited twice on our trip. It’s also devastating to learn about the people who have since lost their homes.

I’ve been following the updates on the news and I get chills just reflecting on the power of Kilauea and the scary possibility that Pele could have opened up the earth while I was there.

@elanaloo, one Hawai’ian resident I follow on social media, wrote:

“Mother Earth is hurting. Living here, immersed in nature, it’s easy to see and feel… Watching the earth split and ooze lava forming new earth is a great reminder that the earth is ALIVE and we as humans *need* to respect and protect it!”

I certainly felt this when I stayed on the volcano. It’s also an important message: the earth really is living and moving and it’s crucial to cherish and protect what we have.

While it’s easy to make effort at home to reduce our impact, I’ve found that many people forget this when on holiday.

However, as travellers, especially as those travelling to particularly tourist-centric locations, we have to take responsibility. The environmental state of the places we visit is entirely in our hands.

During my time on the Big Island, I followed five extra guidelines to help reduce my impact, protect Hawai’i’s endangered species, and to conserve resources to ensure the future of the beautiful island.

1. Choose Low Impact Accommodation

If there’s one piece of advice I hope you take away from this blog post, it is to not stay in hotels on the Big Island! There are so many gorgeous, eco-friendly, comfortable, off-the-grid homestays and communities that know how to welcome visitors far better than any hotel.

However, greenwashing is a currently huge issue in tourism globally. So, it’s important to research if your accommodation offers more than just LED lighting and organic bathroom products.

How is your accommodation actively trying to reduce their impact?

Do they have any sustainable practices in place that go above and beyond that of their competitors’?

During our time on the Big Island, we stayed in two beautiful guest houses: Hamakua Guesthouse and Camping Cabanas and Kirpal Meditation and Ecological Centre (KMEC)

Hamakua

Located near Honomu, north of Hilo on the windward coast, is a welcoming guest house with six hidden camping cabanas. Hamakua Guesthouse is off-the-grid, meaning that it is entirely self-sustaining. What a dream!

This honestly isn’t as scary or out-there as it sounds. You can still use WiFi, cook, and bathe at Hamakua Guesthouse. However, there is limited power and water so it important to use amenities wisely.

The property manager, Ray, was a total sweetheart! He made me feel welcome to use all the amenities I needed (including the outdoor bathroom – hello neighbours!).

Inside each cabana is an esky, a table, a battery-operated light, and two hammocks. Sleeping in a hammock was one of the most memorable moments of my trip and a lot cosier than you might think!

At night, I watched the lighting over the Pacific and then listened to the sounds of the jungle as I floated off to sleep.

It was a magical stay and I would highly recommend Hamakua to anyone. Thank you for your incredible hospitality, Ray!

Hamakua Guesthouse Hawai'i

Hamakua Guesthouse Hawai'i

Hamakua Guesthouse Hawai'i

Hamakua Guesthouse Hawai'i

Hamakua Guesthouse Hawaii

KMEC

The night that I stayed at KMEC, I was actually planning on staying at a different guesthouse. However, Pele was fiery that day and a storm flooded my accommodation. It was 4 pm and I had to book somewhere to stay, fast. I was in the middle of a mind panic attack, overlooking Kilauea crater when KMEC appeared!

I called straight away and they so graciously offered me their Noni cabin. It was certainly meant to be.

Kirpal Meditation and Ecological Centre is a meditation and yoga retreat located on a beautiful organic orchard in Pāhoa. Each cabin on the property sits harmoniously within the orchard while also sourcing power from the sun and water from the rain.

The Noni cabin was divine. The cabin even had its own outdoor bathroom, which I am considering replicating for my future home! There is nothing quite like showering while staring out into the greenery.

I unfortunately didn’t have time for yoga or meditation in the morning. However, staying at KMEC offered the relaxation and healing that I desperately needed during this stage of my trip.

However, KMEC is just down the road from Leilani Estates, where 26 homes have recently been destroyed due to current lava flows. I’m devastated to hear that the gorgeous Pāhoa community has been affected and I hope that the eruption has spared KMEC, as it is a powerful hidden gem that I truly want to return to one day.

KMEC Hawaii

KMEC Hawaii

KMEC Hawaii

KMEC Hawaii

KMEC Hawaii

KMEC Hawaii

KMEC Hawaii

KMEC Hawaii

2. Hire a Smaller Car

If I could have walked around the Big Island, trust me, I would have. However, it’s impossible when visiting places only accessible by car and on a four day trip.

Frankly, the only option to get places quickly and safely is by hire car.

From experience, car rentals will ask you if you want to upgrade to a Mustang or a Jeep when you pick up your vehicle. While these two may make for great Instagram photos, for the sake of fuel costs and personal safety, choose a little car! While we couldn’t afford a hybrid or a Tesla, our efficient little Nissan served us well, saved fuel, and made us feel a little better about our footprint.

Kilauea Hawaii

3. Be Reef Friendly

Chances are, you are going to do a lot of swimming and snorkelling on the Big Island. However, tourism has vastly impacted the island’s marine life. Just the sheer amount of microplastics I found in the sand was shocking.

To help protect the reefs and beaches, be sure to use reef safe sunscreen (that means no oxybenzone – even better if it’s also organic!), don’t walk or stand on coral, don’t collect shells, and by all means, do not touch fish, corals, or turtles. If you want to go one step further, participate in conservation efforts by taking 3 for the sea, donating to volunteers, and supporting businesses that show respect for the oceans and wildlife.

Kahalu'u Bay Turtle Hawaii

Kahalu'u Bay Hawaii

Hawaiian Green Turtle

Conservation Hawaii

Many beaches also have education hubs, such as Kahalu’u Bay Education Centre. When you spot one, go say hi! The volunteers will tell you all about marine life to be searching for including where to spot turtles.  This will only make your snorkelling experience more exciting!

Kahalu'u Bay Education Hawaii

4. Stay on the Trail

Similar to many parts of Australia, Hawaii is home to rare flora and fauna. Venturing off designated trails can cause unnecessary harm to ecosystems. Most trails in Hawai’i have been built so that you can appreciate nature from a distance. So, you really won’t discover anything extra if you decide to take your own path.

Akaka Falls Hawaii

Akaka Falls Hawaii

Hawaii Akaka Falls

Hawaii Red Flower

Hawaii Waterfall

While hiking, it’s also important to leave rocks and flowers where they are. In fact, there are two legends I read about while in Hawai’i that sure made me leave the earth alone:

1. If anybody takes Hawai’ian land (including stones or sand) from Hawai’i, they will experience bad luck until what was taken is returned. This is also known as Pele’s Curse. There are plenty of stories every year of people returning lava rocks to Hawai’i to reverse the bad luck that Pele has bestowed upon them!

2. There are beautiful trees on Hawai’i called ‘Ōhi’a-Lehua trees. In fact, they look strangely similar to the Bottlebrushes we have here in Western Australia. There is a legend that describes how Pele turned a handsome warrior named ‘Ōhi’a into tree because she angry that he chose his lover, Lehua, over her. After noticing Lehua’s heartbreak, the gods then turned Lehua into the tree’s red flower so that the couple could be forever joined. Folklore says that when you separate the lovers and take Lehua (the red flower) from ‘Ōhi’a (the tree), this will cause a rainy, dreary day.

If you don’t want to disturb Pele or other gods, it’s best to leave Hawai’i the way you found it.

Kilauea Erupting

Kilauea Crater Rim

Kilauea Trail

Kilauea Lava Flow

5. Kōkua 

Meaning supporting or helping for the benefit of others opposed to personal gain, Kōkua is an excellent mantra to follow while in Hawai’i.

Show your support for Hawai’ian traditions by travelling with intention. Educate yourself and read about Hawai’ian history and the places you are visiting. Support businesses by choosing products and produce that will benefit local people. Eat local and eat fresh. Seek out businesses that are environmentally and culturally responsible. Finally, maintain the practices that you participate in at home. Bring along your refillable water bottle and reusable shopping bag, or shop consciously if you have time to do so between all the beautiful natural sights.

Hawaii Kokua

As my photographs show, travelling sustainably doesn’t mean you have to give up anything. In fact, choosing to travel with purpose widened my lens and bought me closer to a Hawai’i that is probably not often seen by the average lei-wearing, lūʻau-attending tourist.

Yes, I was still a tourist. However, travelling consciously and sustainably makes a difference, even if it is just a small one. Imagine if all visitors to Hawai’i did the same – that would mean millions of people contributing to change every year. What a difference that would make.

Aloha, and Mahalo for reading 💚




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