Hawaii Trip Planning Guide

Travel Info

Travel Pono with Us (and Our Nonprofit Partners)

In the months leading up to the launch of the state of Hawai‘i’s pre-travel COVID-19 testing program, our airline and many local businesses invested a lot of time and effort to prepare to safely welcome more guests.

We implemented enhanced cleaning procedures at every travel stage, added a new health form to our check-in process, began offering our guests convenient pre-travel testing options, and more. And while we’ve adjusted our services, we still fly with the same award-winning ho‘okipa (hospitality) we’re known for.

We appreciate our guests’ understanding and cooperation observing our new airport and flight protocols as we all share a responsibility to keep each other safe. As Hawai‘i’s hometown carrier, we are also reminding everyone arriving on our islands to travel pono during this new era of exploration.

What does travel pono mean? Debbie Nakanelua-Richards, director of community and cultural relations at Hawaiian Airlines, explains, “Pono, like ‘aloha’, embodies many important meanings. When we specifically say travel pono, we are asking others to travel responsibly and thoughtfully. We are ready to welcome our guests back, but we first ask for their kōkua [help] in taking the necessary steps that protect these islands and preserve its culture, natural resources and communities.”

Our new “Travel Pono” blog series encourages guests to travel responsibly and help them understand their role during these unique times. To kick it off, we asked some of our nonprofit partners to lend their thoughts on what travel pono means to them, and share their wisdom in caring for our island home.


Protect the Coral Reefs

Words from Erica Perez, program manager at Coral Reef Alliance – Island of Hawai‘i

Coral reefs are incredibly important in Hawaiian culture and provide food, protection and income for the people of Hawai‘i, and they have had quite a break from human impacts the last few months. But as kama‘aina and visitors alike begin to adventure back into the underwater world, the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) encourages everyone to tread lightly and treat these important ecosystems with respect and aloha.

A pair of swimmers snorkeling along the reefs of Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve on Oʻahu.

Coral reefs are living animals, so if you’re out snorkeling be sure to take safety precautions, follow all local guidelines, and never stand on corals or touch any marine life. Make sure to wear reef-safe sunscreen, or even better, minimize sunscreen use by wearing a rash guard or sun-protective bodysuit. Also, be mindful of any toys or rubbish, and don’t let waves wash items into the ocean.

Photo credit: Coral Reef Alliance
Coral Reef Alliance volunteers collecting water samples on the Island of Hawai‘i in an ongoing research effort to preserve Hawai‘i's delicate coral reef ecosystems.

While the islands have missed welcoming visitors during these trying times, we have had a rare opportunity to gain a better understanding of how oceans change when human-use decreases. We continue to work around the world to address the biggest threats to coral reefs—overfishing and coastal pollution—and help corals adapt to climate change. On Maui, our organization is focused on restoring degraded stream beds to reduce the amount of sediment entering the marine environment and smothering coral reefs. On Hawai'i Island, we partner with local communities to reduce the amount of wastewater runoff. Visitors can learn more about this important work and support it by visiting coral.org or hawaiiwaiola.com.


Trek the Trails Safely

Words from John Leong, CEO of Kupu

Hawaiʻi is truly a unique place, known the world over for our culture of aloha. But our islands’ limited size requires us to be mindful about protecting all that makes our home so special, and this beckons an understanding of the importance of acting pono — or doing what is right and fair to all.

Photo credit: Kupu
Kupu's workers trek to both trafficked and remote areas of the Hawaiian Islands to care for the land and its native species.

Kupu, Hawai‘i’s leading conservation and youth education nonprofit organization, has worked since 2007 to steward people and preserve Hawai‘i’s land. Here are our tips on how to travel pono when exploring our islands’ trails and outdoors during the pandemic:

  • Carry your mask with you. We share the trails with other people, and to keep each other safe and protected during the pandemic, it’s best to carry a mask in your daypack in case you come in the vicinity of other people.

  • Pack out what you packed in. Whatever you bring to a beach or park, take it back to where you are staying and dispose of it there; don’t overflow the public rubbish cans. Leave a place better than you found it. If you see something that’s not supposed to be on the sand or in the water, remove it.

  • Respect what is closed. Some of Hawai‘i’s outdoor attractions are still closed due to the pandemic. Please heed these closures as those areas take a regenerating break.

Photo credit: Kupu
Kupu workers overlooking a scenic area while working on a restoration project. The nonprofit's work spans state-wide, with restoration projects taking place on every Hawaiian Island

  • Learn about the culture. Find ways to truly learn about where you are. (Waimea Valley on the North Shore of O‘ahu is a good start for visitors!) I also recommend volunteering during your stay. Several nonprofit organizations and eco-tours will allow you to immerse yourself through life-changing service while giving back. Check our website for opportunities as well.

  • Hike only on marked trails and prevent the spread of invasive species. Hawai‘i is home to endemic and native flora and fauna vulnerable to invasive species. Staying on trails prevents erosion, invasive seed spreading, and of course, prevents you from getting lost. Remember to also clean your outdoor gear and boots before you pack your bags, leave your hotel, and enter and exit a trail.


Reduce, Reuse and Be Pono

Words from Rafael Bergstrom, executive director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i

Sustainable Coastlines Hawai’i (SCH) is a local nonprofit working to inspire communities to care for our coastlines, but our mission expands globally — which means that anyone can be a part of it. Hawai’i is a unique and beautiful place with extraordinary culture, coral and marine ecosystems, mountains, and streams. All of these are interconnected — from the wildlife to the people — and this means that all of our actions matter in protecting this place we love.

Photo credit: Rafael Bergstrom/Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i
Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i volunteers huddling for a group photo after a cleanup event on Moloka‘i, hosted prior to the pandemic.

Traveling pono means understanding this connectivity, respecting, and acting with care in every step we take. As you and I return to exploring this incredible Island Earth, it is important to remember that the places we go to are also the homes of other people and creatures.

In Hawai’i, we see the growing impact of consumerism as plastics wash up on our shores, coming from both our own home and afar, and impact our islands' marine life. Education on how to stop plastic pollution at the source is what leads to change; this is where you can make an impact. Before you leave, pack a reusable water bottle, your own utensils and bags, and bring them with you wherever you go. These daily actions by all of us can change the way business is done and prevent plastics from polluting our oceans.

Photo credit: Rafael Bergstrom/Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i
Common single-use items found last year during Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i's annual beach cleanup on Moloka‘i.

You all can be part of the SCH ʻohana by following along with us on Instagram and Facebook and our website. We also encourage you to sign up for our Clean Beaches Start at Home movement and share your stories of how you are reducing plastic use. Actions in your own life, from anywhere in the world, can help protect Hawai’i’s coastlines from being covered in plastic. Mahalo for traveling with care and love for this wonderful place we call home.


Mālama our Land and Waters

Words from Ulalia Woodside, executive director, The Nature Conservancy, Hawai‘i

While COVID-19 continues to negatively impact our health and economy, we have, at the same time, seen some benefits to nature from reduced traffic in our parks and other outdoor areas. In June, honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles) were documented nesting on Bellows Beach on O‘ahu for the first time in decades because the campground was closed due to the pandemic, and August saw the hatchlings of this threatened species emerge. On Maui, researchers have observed more fish in Molokini’s waters due to less commercial boat traffic. And on Kaua‘i, we have seen a rebound of native vegetation on our trails, and a reduction in backcountry rescues. This opportunity to see nature rebound gives us a new perspective on what sustainable tourism could look like.

Photo credit: Alison Cohan/The Nature Conservancy
A pair of birders exploring the Waikamoi Preserve on Maui.

The Nature Conservancy has been working in Hawai‘i for more than 40 years to protect the lands and waters on which all life in these islands depend. From our deep experience, we have become attuned to the pulse of our forests and reefs, which harbor plants and animals that exist nowhere else on Earth. With the knowledge gained nearly a half-century, combined with recent observations during this unprecedented time, we offer the following tips on how to stay safe and preserve the nature you have come to see and enjoy:

  • Have a light footprint. Seek ways to limit or offset carbon emissions resulting from your travel to the islands and your activities while visiting. Learn about what we and our partners are doing to sequester carbon in Hawai’i.

  • Avoid high-traffic times at crowded sites. Large crowds scare off wildlife, can damage habitat and are less enjoyable.

  • Read signs at hiking trails and beaches and follow their guidance. Stay on authorized trails and avoid areas where access isn’t allowed. This is to safeguard you from hazardous conditions and to protect our unique wildlife and natural areas.

  • Give wildlife—such as sea turtles, native birds and monk seals—space. These are wild animals that may act unpredictably, so keep a safe distance.

  • Use water wisely. All of our fresh water comes from rain and mist captured by our native forests. Learn about our work to protect watersheds throughout Hawai‘i.

  • Tend to your trash. Animals can suffer by eating package wrappers or plastics left behind (plus it’s unsightly!). Remember to bring a bag so you can carry trash securely until you can place it in proper waste receptacles.

  • Hawai’i is steeped in culture and tradition. Take time to read the interpretive signage at parks and other outdoor attractions. Balance your nature excursions with visits to cultural sites such as Ulupō Heiau, Puʻu o Mahuka Heiau or Keāiwa Heiau on O‘ahu. Visit GoHawaii.com for more cultural activities to add to your list.

  • Seek volunteer opportunities to learn more and give back to this special place. Volunteering deepens your connection with the people and places you came to visit, creating memories and helping Hawai‘i maintain its natural and cultural beauty.

Mahalo (thank you) for your efforts to mālama (take care of) our precious islands, and enjoy your visit! Learn more at nature.org/hawaii.

Story By Marissa Villegas, External Communications

December 4, 2020