All of the Hawaiian Islands have complex and fragile ecosystems that are easily affected by outside influences. This is partly why Hawaiʻi 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 Hawaiʻi locals is the idea of mālama ʻāina 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 Hawaiʻi 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.
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 Kauaʻi is also home to Kauaʻi Coffee, a working coffee plantation. Some of Hawaiʻi’s largest botanical gardens can also be found on Kauaʻi; the National Tropical Botanical Garden has three sites here: Allerton Garden and McBryde Garden just west of Kōloa, 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 Kauaʻi’s waters on Poʻipū Beach.
Embark on a farm tour to learn about the farm-to-table processes that are such a vital part of Hawaiʻi Regional Cuisine, and see Native Hawaiian plants and flowers at Honolulu Botanical Gardens’ five diverse sites on Oʻahu. From December through May, go whale watching off Oʻahu’s southern coast to greet humpback whales on their annual visit to Hawaiʻi’s warm waters.
Besides the island’s resort areas, much of Lānaʻi looks the way it did hundreds of years ago. Cook pines and what is left of pineapple fields remain in Central Lānaʻi, but there are other off-the-beaten-path spots that can transport you back in time. Visit the Kānepuʻu 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 Lānaʻi 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 Haleakalā and you just might meet our state bird, the endangered nēnē (Hawaiian goose), or stumble across a Haleakalā 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. Hawaiʻi 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 Molokaʻi: the Mo‘omomi Preserve on the northwest coast and the Kamakou Preserve in the mountainous rainforests to the east.
Island of Hawaiʻi
There are numerous ways to learn about the local ecosystem and experience the unique beauty of the island of Hawaiʻi. At the Hawaiʻi 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 Hawaiʻi 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.