How Volunteering During Your Hawaiian Vacation Can Earn You Some Serious Perks

Hawaii is known for its lush landscapes — from tropical rainforests to beautiful beaches. It's also known for its unique culture and history, like the hula, which is the "storytelling dance" that ties into history and traditional knowledge, per Go Hawaii. Hawaii even has its own unique massage style, the lomi lomi massage (via The Culture Trip). There's also the wildlife, including dolphins, humpback whales, sea turtles, and the endangered Hawaiian monk seals. It's no wonder that Hawaii is home to three of the top 10 tourist destinations in the nation, according to the U.S. News and World Report

Tourism is a large part of Hawaii's economy, but with so many people wanting to visit, it can potentially have a negative impact on the islands (per Bloomberg). However, there are ways for visitors to make their trip to Hawaii more sustainable, including what they do while there and how they get to the area. To aid in this endeavor, the islands have created the Malama Hawaii Program. Mālama means "to take care of," "cherish," and "serve" in Hawaiian, and with the program, you spend part of your vacation as a volunteer and get a discount, credit, and/or a free night's stay at select hotels and resorts. 

Not only will you be making Hawaii a better place for having visited, but you'll also be connecting with the land and culture in ways you hadn't thought of before.

For all opportunities, make sure to confirm with the resort and volunteer site before you visit.

Volunteer opportunities for history and culture fans

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, you can work processing artifacts and documents from the major periods of Maui's past: Kingdom of Hawaii, Missionary, Whaling, or Sugar for the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. For your efforts, Four Seasons Maui at Wailea will give you a $250 resort credit in addition to a free night for a future stay. Get your fifth night free at Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott on Maui by going to a Hawaiian quilting class. In the class, you create your own uniquely Hawaiian applique quilt square that will be added to a larger quilt which is then donated to someone in need, or to a "kupuna" or elder.

Volunteers at Ka Honua Momona on Molokai are welcomed with an "oli kahea" — a Hawaiian chant — before getting the opportunity to learn about the island ecosystem. They'll also have the chance to help remove invasive seaweed, or they can spend time pulling and snapping mangroves. The end goal is to help restore and maintain an ancient Hawaiian fishpond. For volunteering, at Hotel Molokai, you buy one night at the regular price and you'll get 50% off up to two additional nights.

If you want to go behind the scenes at the Battleship Missouri Memorial in Pearl Harbor, you can volunteer to help clean, sand, or sweep on the battleship that was the site of the Japanese surrender in World War II.

Volunteer opportunities for botany buffs

On the second and fourth Saturday of the month on the Island of Hawaii, volunteers are welcomed to help at the Waikōloa Dry Forest Initiative in building trails, planting trees, collecting native seeds, and more. For your efforts, you can get daily breakfast for two, and a fifth night free at the Fairmont Orchid.

Moana Surfrider, known as The First Lady of Waikiki, can set up an excursion to Gunstock Ranch on the North Shore of Oahu to plant a tree with The Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative. By volunteering for this project, you'll get a free night's stay. Same with The Royal Hawaiian, nicknamed the Pink Palace of the Pacific. As a bonus: A stay at either of these hotels is a stay in history, as Moana Surfrider was Waikiki's first hotel when it was built in 1901, and The Royal Hawaiian was the second, which opened in 1927.

Kualoa Ranch on Oahu is a popular destination in and of itself; it's been used as the set for the original "Jurassic Park", "50 First Dates," and more, per Travel+Leisure. You can take it a step further, though, with Outrigger Resorts. The company has partnered with the ranch to give guests a free night after their two-hour eco-adventure/volunteer excursion, where you learn about medicinal plants and help with anything from thatching traditional Hawaiian grass huts, to rebuilding freshwater streams, and cleaning, planting, or harvesting taro.

Volunteer opportunities for beachgoers

It's not just an issue of aesthetics — trash on the beaches of Hawaii has a negative impact on wildlife, according to It's not just trash from beachgoers that's a problem, either. Due to its location in the Pacific Ocean, currents can bring trash from around the world onto Hawaii's beaches. Get your fourth night free at Hilton Garden Inn Kauai if you do a beach cleanup, and they provide you with all the materials you need, plus different area options to choose from.

Work with the Pacific Whale Foundation in Lahaina to pick up trash and be a citizen scientist recording what you grabbed along the beach in their Coastal Marine Debris Monitoring Program. Turn in your data sheet on what you found, and you get a free night at one of the following locations: Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, Westin Maui Resort & Spa, and Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa.

Take a few hours out of your trip for a beach clean-up with all the equipment provided and earn yourself a free night at Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa.

Volunteer opportunities for wildlife lovers

Find out more about — and help care for — the sacred land on the slopes of the Hualālai volcano on the Island of Hawaii and along the way, you'll get a chance to hear native bird songs you can't hear anywhere else with Uluhao o Hualalai. For doing so, you'll get your fifth night free at Courtyard King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel.

Castle Resorts & Hotels will set you up with a free night if you spend time volunteering with The Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project. The organization works to help promote conservation and understanding of the native forest birds, including three federally endangered species, and you can help with outreach materials, data entry, and photo organization. If you're up for an adventure, they have two to five-day hikes where you can monitor birds.

You can find Hawksbill turtle nests and protect hatchlings as they make it to the water or help monitor Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles as they bask on the beach with Hawaii Wildlife Fund on Maui.

Hawaiian Airlines can help get you to Hawaii sustainably

If you arrive on the islands via Hawaiian Airlines, you're already supporting the local community. Their Team Kokua program focuses on giving back to the community by sponsoring activities, donating airline miles, and having employees volunteer for activities like beach cleanups, removing non-native trees, and more. They also partnered with Raw Elements USA — which makes a mineral sunscreen — the world's first official World Reef Day to help bring attention to the plight of coral reefs. Chemical sunscreens, compared to mineral sunscreens, contain ingredients that can cause coral bleaching, and Hawaii banned the sale of oxybenzone and octinoxate sunscreens in 2018 (per the Center for Biological Diversity). So double-check your sunscreen ingredients before you visit.

Hawaiian Airlines has also partnered with Conservation International to help fliers purchase carbon offsets based on their flight, and the money goes to support forest conservation projects. They've also recently confirmed they will eliminate single-use plastics on their flights by 2029, via Hawaiian Airlines.