Experience epic surf, golden beaches, the aloha spirit and active volcanoes on this gap year program in Hawaii!
This 10-week semester program offers you an enriching and inspiring experience in tropical Hawaii. Hawaii consists of eight islands, which are all unique in their own way. Your days will be as varied as the islands you visit, with a fusion of hands-on volunteer work, surfing, snorkeling, cultural immersion and, of course, non-stop adventure!
There is an endless list of things to do in Hawaii. From learning to smash open coconuts and making beautiful leis, to stargazing on top of a dormant volcano and heading out to one of only four green sand beaches in the world. Immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture as you discover its fascinating ocean and mountain landscape and explore the incredible jungle, volcanoes, and beaches.
This gap semester program is perfect for high school graduates, college students and graduates, and gap year students, ideally 17 to 22 years old. Optional transferable academic credit is available to all participants.
Our latest Covid-19 update can be found here.
70 days in 70 seconds - check it out now!
Aloha! On arrival to Kona, you will be met by your program instructors. After a comprehensive program briefing, we’ll immerse ourselves in the epic nature surrounding our new home base.
Our days will be spent hiking the local tracks for panoramic views, exploring the town and its exotic fruits and veggies, and getting to know our fellow participants. We’ve got a week of sun, sea and sand to get us started!
The Captain Cook monument is a site of interest and will evoke discussions as you will find out the story when visiting.
This next week will be a whirlwind of experiences, all explored from our home base at the permaculture farm. We will hike to the sacred Waipio Valley; meet the local coconut master who will teach us how to smash open coconuts and use up every single element from the skin to the shell; experience the tasty truth of farm-to-table meals; and even participate in a beekeeping workshop!
We will also get to hike around the farm and really embrace the outdoors this week of the program.
We are very lucky to be able to spend some time in this area of Hawaii. We will roll up our sleeves for three days and get involved in the efforts of a non-profit while learning all about the legends and land from Aunty K! This hands-on non-profit was founded for research and educational purposes to discover and understand how Hawaiians sustained rain-fed intensive farming for centuries; and how it may inform our current efforts to live sustainably.
In Hilo we will get to feel like we’re on top of the world... or, at least, on top of the island. Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano, sits at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level. The majority of the volcano is underwater and when measured it is right around 33,500 feet tall, topping in as the tallest mountain in the world! It is known as one of the best stargazing skies in the world, and we will have the opportunity to lay on its summit and view it for ourselves!
We’ve been given an incredible opportunity to get out into the water with a locally run community organization that focus’ on fishpond restoration and ocean conservation. We’ll be working alongside experts learning about the marine ecosystem and how to protect and encourage sea life in these beautiful pockets of the ocean that surround Hilo. We’ll get to learn about sustainable fishing techniques as well as testing our own skills and trying our hand at throwing fishing nets. Prepare to get stuck in and a little wet over these days!
Ahh, the eastern side of the island, with its rainforests and lush green landscape, it’s a much different vibe and energy than the sunny side of Kona, we’ll spend our days exploring the Botanical Gardens, Shipman’s Trail, Akaka Falls, and we’ve scheduled our yoga sessions for the evening to allow for relaxation, and to end our days present and fulfilled.
Leaving Kona, we’re taking a trip down south to the small town of Pahala. This area is known for its black sand beaches and abundant wilderness, fueled by the warm sunny days and nightly rainfall that is common on this side of the island. On one of our first days spent here we’ll be learning all about Hawaiian culture and traditions as well as getting active and taking in the landscape. From making beautiful and delicate leis from the local trees to exploring the vast Volcano National Park, it’ll be an eye opening and inspiring few days in this South East town.
We’ll take a hike to Hawai’i Island’s famous Green Sand Beach and spend days looking for turtles during the day and stargazing at night.
After this, it’s time to fully embrace one of the oldest Hawaiian traditions, the Imu, a form of underground oven. We’ll spend a full day harvesting, collecting and preparing produce to create our own Imu and get to work creating a feast that will sit overnight until ready the following morning. We’ll ground taro leaves, set the stones and prepare the food whilst sharing stories with our local hosts and in the morning, we’ll get to work taking the food from the ground to the table, ready to feast!
We’ve got 4 nights at a ranch once we’re full, which is famous for its home grown, handpicked Mamaki tea. This place is expansive and impressive! While we’re here we’ll be getting our hands a little dirty picking and harvesting the farms vegetables and tea leaves, and learning all about the process that creates the popular herbal beverage sold around the world and on the local shelves. The owner is an ex professional chef too, so we’ll be well fed! And camping under the endless starry skies of Hawaii never gets old.
In our down time there’s plenty of local parks and beaches we can visit and remember to keep your eyes peeled for those turtles!
Hanauma Bay is the first Marine Life Conservation District in Hawaii. Unlike the dozens of other bays scattered throughout this amazing landscape, it does not prioritize sports or lounging; rather, it has been identified as a unique destination dedicated to safeguarding the fragile marine life in the Bay. Suffering after decades of human abuse and neglect, it is starting its slow recovery to health. We will get to spend these two nights camping, and wake up on day two to tackle Koko Head Crater, an intense workout up abandoned railroad ties that will reward us with insane views worthy of your camera’s panoramic mode.
We have the privilege of partnering with various organizations to learn all about the ongoing initiatives to improve this island’s health - both on land and off! We kick off with an overnight at Sea Life Park, a facility that has long been dedicated to the research, protection, and preservation of this island’s marine species. Ocean conservation and sustainability has been at the forefront of their education, and we will have a chance to learn from the experts as well as meet the local inhabitants. We will get to see what the animals get up to when the lights go out, embarking on flashlight tours throughout the various exhibits.
Up next, we will not only get introduced to rainforest ecosystems, but we get to do it at the location where Jurassic World was filmed! We’ll hop on board jeeps for a tour into the jungle, up and down valleys, over water streams, and deep into the various movie sets! The following day we’ll get to appreciate the varied tropical systems from another angle - hiking our way to the top for some epic views of the valleys and peaks that define the mesmerizing landscape of the O’ahu Forest National Wildlife Refuge.
Next, it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for! Can you consider yourself to truly understand the culture of Hawaii if you don’t get on a board and walk the walk? Or more aptly, surf the surf? For three days we will have lessons from a local legend, who is sure to get even the clumsiest and most unathletic of us at least skilfully wobbling on the waves. We’ll learn to laugh at ourselves as we no-doubt tumble into the turquoise waters and we’ll learn to trust ourselves as we slowly develop the skills and strengths needed to master this graceful art. These days are physically exhausting, so the afternoons will be quite a bit of rest and relaxation, so we’ve got plenty of time to recharge our
Ahh the chaos and creativity of designing and developing our own itinerary! We will have a couple of days to choose what we want to do and how we want to do it - all within the confines of the budget we are given!
The Self Led Section of the Program is one of our most popular parts. We will be hands off this week and let you plan and organise what activities we do and teach you how to budget. This is a life skill that you can only learn through doing. The world (well Hawaii) is your oyster so let's see what we get up to!
Over the next three days, we will embark on various field trips throughout the island’s western region. To start with, we will get to learn the significance of The Pā, an ancient Native Hawaiian archaeological site constructed around 1600 AD. The following two days we will spend learning about Native & modern Hawaiians in the field, from watershed management to community food security.
Spend the next two days soaking up history and heritage in various forms. The sombering atmosphere of Pearl Harbor is tangible, and we will have the opportunity to learn about one of the most pivotal moments in our country’s young history: the attack on Pearl Harbor and the US’ subsequent entry into World War II. The following day we will dive into the value Hawaiians place on the land. Mānoa Heritage Center is a living & breathing classroom dedicated to helping others learn about this state’s rich history. We will explore its 3.5 acres and study the various Native Hawaiian and Polynesian-introduced plants.
Sadly, the time has also come to begin processing the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that the last 70 days have taken us on. Our lives are all somewhat chaotic right now, so we are sure that you will reflect on how amazing it was to have a chance to take a break from everything, learn about ourselves, but also prioritize time to experience and have gratitude for our own beautiful and historic culture and environment.
*Each week there will be some designated free time so that you can catch up on email, laundry, rest, and explore independently with others in the group.
**Pacific Discovery reserves the right to alter and/or change the order of the itinerary, the focus of the projects or the activities themselves due to dates, availability, and safety precautions.
This gap year program is perfect for high school graduates, college students and graduates, and non-students, ideally 17-22 years old. Anyone with an average fitness level and an enthusiasm for the outdoors and new experiences will have a great time on this gap semester! You will need to be prepared for some physical work during the volunteer projects on the program, like trail building or the removal of invasive plants. As a guideline, you should aim to be comfortable hiking 4-6 hours with a backpack, but you don’t need to have had previous experience with any of the activities offered.
The program is a shared group experience. Join this program with an open mind and a willingness to work together with your group mates to make the program an amazing experience for the whole group. Additionally, the program will be as much about the inner journey of personal growth and learning about yourself as it is about what you will experience in the outer physical journey. We expect you to be open to learning and challenging your ideas and assumptions.
Our accommodation will be a mix of camping (tents supplied) and comfortable, clean hostels and lodges. Laundry and Wi-Fi facilities will be available most days, except during the weeks in the field on the volunteer projects and on expeditions. Accommodation is diverse, comfortable and carefully chosen to fit our needs.
Meals are fresh, tasty, healthy and varied. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians are catered for. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included in the program cost. Any snacks are at an additional cost, which we recommend budgeting around $15 per day for.
Food preparation responsibilities are shared by all students. It’s fun, social and often a highlight. An average day on program would consist of the following:
Camping meals will be adjusted to the cooking equipment at hand