Join us on our Hawaii Mini Semester Program for all things surfing and sustainable living.

The volcanic island chain of Hawaii is a traveler's dream. The Big Island is rich in culture and community and this program is all about diving in to understand local issues, all while having an epic time along the way. Our endless to-do list includes stargazing from the summit of Mauna Kea, walking on a moonscape of black lava in Volcanoes National Park, roaming a green sand beach, surfing point breaks, and spotting turtles. We will immerse in the iconic locations around Hawai’i Island while capturing the complete picture of life in Hawaii and adding value along the way. We will learn to hula, make frangipani leis, prepare an Imu feast, test the art of extracting coconut milk, and check out the canoes Hawaiians traditionally used to roam across oceans. 

Summit Mauna Kea

One of the highlights of the Hawaii Mini Semester is the journey up Mauna Kea. A shuttle picks us up from the accommodation and takes us a roundabout way up the scenic Saddle Road ridge. There’s a visitor center toward the summit, and we spend 30 minutes acclimating due to the huge change in altitude before continuing to the very top. Wrapped in a warm jacket provided by the company, the view is simply mind-blowing. We arrive just in time for sunset, looking out across the island peaks at Maui in the distance. We are often above the clouds on the summit of Mauna Kea, like an island in a sea of clouds. There are 14 telescopes on top; after all it is an astronomer's dream destination. After watching sundown, we head back down to the visitor center for hot cocoa and oatmeal and have a celestial start tour - check out Jupiter and Saturn through the telescope. The informative guide contextualizes the importance of the mountain to the Hawaiians. We can now say we’ve stood atop the tallest mountain in the world - technically! Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano which sits at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level - but when measured from the base (the majority of the volcano is underwater), it is 33,500 feet tall, topping it as the tallest mountain in the world! 

Handstand on top of Mauna Kea on the Hawaii Mini Semester

Canoe Culture 

It's in Kohala that we truly capture and understand the importance of the traditional Polynesian canoe. The canoe is revered because this invention was the key to seafaring across the globe and dramatically changing the course of history. We spend a few days with locals who are passionate about recovering knowledge and tradition, and regaining pride through heritage. Our days at Kohala are all about storytelling and the history of celestial navigation. We learn how close the art of reading stars came to dying out, and how the Hawaiians took great measures not to lose this knowledge. We learn the names of canoes, get hands-on with how they feel, how they’re put together and what it is like to sail on one of these. And sail they do; sometimes these locals head out on 40+ day voyages all the way to far flung Pacific Islands like Fiji! We get lessons in celestial navigation. Did you know navigators only get two hours of sleep per night? That’s because they’re so busy reading the sacred geography offered by the night sky! We look at a traditional hale structure that they use to house the canoe. We spend a day in a hala forest  and learn about the weaving used for traditional ropes and cordage. We gather leaves and fronds, treat and prepare them and then make bracelets to take home. We sand down the canoes, preparing them for the next voyage. The facilitators are a blending of nested identities; American and Hawaiian - all of them have a special synergy with the land, and we walk away having rubbed off some of this magic.

Surf Camp

The surf culture around Kona is strong, and there are loads of beaches with longboarders dotting the waves. For three days we will have surf lessons from a local legend. During our surf camp, we are sure to have lots of laughs and catch some party waves. Can you consider yourself to truly understand the culture of Hawaii if you don’t get on a board and walk the walk? You’ll learn about muscles you never knew existed, and get comfortable reading the waves. It’s the perfect spot to learn to surf with our group, and makes for lifelong memories. 

Surfing on the Hawaii Mini Semester

Traditional Agricultural Practises 

We will roll up our sleeves for three days and get involved in the efforts of a non-profit organization while learning all about the legends and land from Aunty K. This grassroots organization was founded for research and educational purposes to uncover how Hawaiians were able to sustain rain-fed intensive farming for centuries; and how it may inform our current efforts to live sustainably. We help with planting and small-scale experiments being conducted by Stanford to try and understand how this farming was done in the past. The facilitators on this project are committed to their land, maintaining traditions and bridging knowledge gaps. Aunty K is a master of relating the Hawaiian vernacular and mythical traditions with modern science. (If it didn’t come across already, Aunty K is amazing - you will want her to be your Grandma!)

Family Run Macadamia Nut Farm 

We even get to spend some time at a family farm where they grow and process macadamia nuts. A family of five invites us onto their land to learn about this interesting process, and while we collect nuts and clear the orchard we are being educated on the big picture of farming and contextual issues. It’s really amazing to see the kids out on the farm giving us a hand with the work, especially if you’ve grown up in the city. We will get to understand the process of going from a nut on a tree to a finished product. 

Fun on the Macademia Farm on the Hawaii Mini Semester Program

Permaculture Farm 

Big Island Farm is no ordinary ranch - we will do hands-on workshops on permaculture and create a Farm to Table feast with the incredible fresh produce here. Big Island Farm is recovering from cane sugar mono-crop agriculture by embracing permaculture. They practice alternative medicine, grow veggies and make salves. It’s right next to this epic scenic overlook that used to be home to the Hawaiian royals. It’s remote, beautiful and quiet with ocean views. Spending a few days at Big Island Farm is good for the mind and soul.

Diversity and Spontaneity 

We get in lots of hikes, lots of beaches and loads of snorkeling. We grow and learn together. You’ll pick up information about the life cycle of a volcano, and the extreme environmental differences between the tropical side of the island compared to the harsh desert side that occurs due to the rain shadow effect. The Hawaii Mini Semester truly extends the opportunity for experiential learning. You will meet amazing local people who are passionate about preserving traditions and bridging cultural gaps. Come on this program with a curious mind, enjoy the wholesome island life and leave with a sandal tan and loads of great memories. 

Learn more about our Hawaii Mini Semester here



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Author Orla O'Muiri Posted

Category Hawaii Departure Spring 2023