Regenerative Tourism Volunteer Opportunities on Kauai 2022
There’s a new buzzword in the tourism industry, “Regenerative Tourism.”
Prior to 2021, the term was always “sustainable tourism”—the idea that tourism should leave a place in the same condition as it was before. But then things got turned up a notch!
“Regenerative tourism” is the hot new idea that tourism should leave a place better than it was before.
Documentaries such as The Last Tourist (2021) have got us all thinking about the effects our travel choices have on people and places. Now more than ever, people are seeking unique, authentic experiences and looking to the places they’re choosing to travel. People are thinking about what it means to really be traveling, as opposed to vacationing.
Will this trend last forever? Who knows. But for now, it seems Kauai has a lot to potentially gain here if we can intelligently harness this energy. The island attracts more than a million visitors a year, and also– this is a sweeping generalization, BUT– Kauai seems to naturally attract a lot of thoughtful, self-aware people. The sort of people who are given a good opportunity, would be happy to volunteer and help malama Kauai while they’re here.
So now it’s Kauai’s task to create and present organized and satisfying volunteer opportunities for such people. To be honest, quality, one-time volunteer experiences are difficult to find. There’s a lot of outdated, irrelevant information online and frankly– it’s not easy to determine what organizations are actually set up to accommodate visitors, put them to good work, and make it a meaningful experience. Some organizations just don’t function in ways that can make efficient use of a drop-in/drop-out volunteer. How can people know when and where they will be truly useful and appreciated?
We wanted to make it easier to help willing volunteers find gratifying Kauai volunteer experiences, so we did some legwork and compiled this list of six volunteer opportunities that are absolutely, positively, currently happening on Kauai at this time—August 2022. We personally verified the following opportunities and can assure that in each case, these groups are prepared to welcome and include Kauai’s mindful and curious visitors. Most just kindly ask that you coordinate with them beforehand so they can be prepared, and make your time worthwhile.
Just for fun, the list is organized by different “personality types.” Hopefully, you see yourself somewhere on the list, and mahalo nui loa if you’re planning to practice “regenerative tourism” when you visit Kauai. You’re the kind of traveler that makes the world a better place!
By the way, these opportunities are not exclusively for visitors—they are just as available for us Kauaians as well! Nice bite-size ways to drop in, help out, meet people, and contribute to this island we’re lucky enought to call home.
2022 Volunteer Opportunities on Kauai
- For the fitness buff: Net Patrol with the Surfrider Foundation: Every Wednesday Afternoon: East Side
Missing the gym? Come burn some calories at Net Patrol with the Kauai Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. Net Patrol typically consists of hiking a rocky coastline and removing derelict fishing nets and other marine debris that’s washed ashore. Hiking around, cutting up heavy, water-laden nets, carrying stuff out… it’s a very satisfying workout for anyone that’s strong and adventurous! Some information can be found on their website but the person to contact directly about Net Patrol is Barbara at (808) 635-2593. Barbara is wonderful and passionate and she’s been coordinating Kauai’s Surfrider events for many years. If you can’t make Net Patrol, she may very well be able to steer you to another beach cleanup or similar event, so please give Barbara a call! She answers her phone.
- For the spiritual gangster: Lawai International Center Caring Day: Every first Saturday: South Shore
In 1904, Kauai’s first generation of Japanese immigrants built 88 shrines into the Lawai Valley, to replicate an ancient pilgrimage of 88 temples in Japan. It’s one of the oldest Buddhist temple sites in the country and compassion, education, and cultural understanding are what you’ll find on the 32 acres of the Lawai International Center. Every first Saturday of the month, from 9 am – 1 pm, volunteers come out for Caring Day to nurture the grounds and plant orchids. No tools? No problem. They have plenty of tools for everyone. Oh, and did we mention that this volunteer opportunity comes with FREE LUNCH? Yeah, and not just any old Costco-pizza-style lunch but lunch made by the Aunties of Lawai, which sounds like it might just be the most delicious local meal you have on Kauai. Please email [email protected] in advance, so there’s an organized plan and plenty of food for everyone.
- For the friendly beach-lover: Park cleanup at Lydgate Beach Park: Every Saturday morning: East Side
Friends of Kamalani is a group here on Kauai that’s all about creating community bonds. For years, they’ve been meeting at Lydgate Beach every Saturday morning to do just that. Volunteers of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities are invited to meet by the lifeguard tower at 8:30 am. Usually, the group’s mission is to clear the beach of driftwood that’s washed ashore, there on the windward side of the island. There’s a little bit of plastics/trash, but it’s mostly tidying up the beach by simply picking up sticks and throwing them in a trailer to be hauled off to green waste. When there’s no driftwood, the group finds other creative ways to work together and generally make Lydgate Beach Park cleaner, safer, and more accessible for everyone. The work is only as strenuous as people want to make it, the main objective after all is just being together and strengthening those community bonds. Visitors are one hundred percent welcome—this has always been a very inclusive group. Volunteers work until 10:30 and then it’s not uncommon for people to stick around, drink coffee, share fruits, and talk story. No RSVP or signup needed on this one– just show up and look for the people in bright yellow t-shirts.
- For the green thumb: National Tropical Botanical Garden: Monday-Friday: North and South Shore
Did you know that 90% of all plant and animal species on the planet exist in here the tropics, where the extinction rate is the highest? True story. Luckily, there’s NTBG–National Tropical Botanical Garden– a non-profit dedicated to discovering, saving, and studying the world’s tropical plants and cultural plant knowledge. In a nutshell– they save plants that are facing extinction, and that means that they grow a lot of rare tropical plant species that you likely won’t see anywhere else in the world. Beings as NTBG manages more than 1,300 acres here on Kauai, there’s always plenty of work to be done. Fortunately, they have a full-time volunteer coordinator to plug people into the right places. Her name is Sonia, and she can be reached at [email protected]. Fun fact—Sonia started as an NTBG volunteer herself! One common volunteer activity is working a few hours in the greenhouse, but there are plenty of other tasks—planting, mulching, weeding, harvesting—it never ends. If you get in touch with Sonia a few weeks before you’re looking to volunteer, she’ll listen to your interests and abilities and get you all set up for a productive volunteer experience. Then you too will be helping NTBG in their mission to save the plants and save the people!
- For the localvore: Hale Puna: Every Thursday, mornings and afternoons: West Side
Do you ever think about where our food comes from, and how local food production increases food security in communities? If so, you’re going to love Hale Puna! It’s a big, beautiful, historic home in Waimea, that was built in 1828. Originally known as the Gulick Rowell Mission House, it sat for many years neglected and falling apart until 2016, when (thankfully!) a group of multi-generational west-siders purchased the property, raised funds for an emergency roof repair, and started restoring the property as Hale Puna– a working farm and community gathering place. The traditional “forest garden” on-site contains more than 75 fruit trees and dozens of other crops such as papaya, breadfruit, avocado, ginger, kabocha squash, and more. There’s a school program, a CSA program, a partnership with the iconic Kokee Lodge… it’s all very good stuff for the community of Waimea. Want to check it out? Thursday is the day! Think greenhouse, planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, getting your hands in the soil… all the community food farm things! It’s always good to let them know you’re coming so they can make your volunteer experience great– reach out by phone (808) 631-3455 or email [email protected]
- For the north shore bum: Waipa Community Work Day: Every Fourth Saturday, 9am – noon: North Shore
Kauai’s north shore is kind of one of those “vortex” places on earth. It’s just a vibe, and if you’re staying on the north shore or looking for good excuses to go spend time on the north shore, you might consider volunteering at Waipa. Waipa, located just north of Hanalei, is a living-learning center that teaches, shares, and inspires Hawaiian values and traditional practices. There are always plenty of projects happening such as removing invasive species and planting native species. That’s just one example though, there’s always something new happening at Waipa depending on the time of the year and community needs, etc. If you’re willing to give Waipa three hours of your time on a Saturday morning, please definitely reach out via email ahead of time—[email protected], so that your north shore Kauai volunteer experience can be productive and satisfying.
Something worth looking into when planning a trip to Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Hawaii, and/or Molokai is Malama Hawaii, a statewide program of the Hawaii Visitors Conventional Bureau. They have recruited some of the state’s premier resorts and hotels to reward “voluntourism” with discounts and in many cases, free nights. For example, here on Kauai at the iconic Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa in Poipu, you can receive your 5th night free and daily breakfast for two for partaking in a self-directed beach cleanup! That’s a darn good deal! Other Kauai resorts in the program are the Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort, Koa Kea Resort and Hotel, Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay, and Sheraton Kauai Resort. If you’ll be staying at any of these five properties, you may as well take advantage of the Malama Hawaii program—it was established to save you money and help you experience the island on a deeper, more connected level.
Other useful online resources:
If you know of any legitimately satisfying and helpful visitor volunteer opportunities on Kauai, please let us know so we can include that in a future blog post! Please email [email protected]
Also, please let us know if you volunteered on Kauai—how was the experience? We’re curious to know!
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