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.
Aloha! On arrival in 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.
On one of our first days spent here, we’ll take a deep dive of native Hawaiian traditions, from making beautiful and delicate leis from the local trees to learning the importance of Hawaiian history and how that has shaped the place we are visiting today. We will also be learning the basics of Hawaiian language, exploring the town and its exotic fruits and veggies, snorkeling through clear waters and colorful coral reefs, keeping our eyes peeled for dolphins and other marine life on a boat charter, and of course getting to know our fellow participants. We’ve got a week of sun, learning, sea and sand to get us started!
We head to Kohala, where we will learn about the importance of the canoe in the local communities. Much in the way that the hula is not just a dance, canoes are not just boats in Hawaiian culture. Polynesian voyagers first discovered the Hawaiian islands, and canoes played a key role in the flourishing of Hawaiian life. We learn how canoes were an important part of everyday life, especially for traveling and fishing, and how locals are still heavily involved in canoe voyaging clubs.
We are very lucky to be able to spend some time in this area of Hawaii. While we’re here 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.
We will continue with our exploration of local agriculture this week, but head to Hamakua, an area that used to be covered with sugar cane. These days the communities work on a myriad of crops, from kalo and hearts of palm to vegetable and tropical fruit. The region is also known for the most beautiful stretches of scenery on the island, and you will be amazed by the stunning vistas, tranquil green valleys and trickling waterfalls.
This next week will be a whirlwind of experiences. We’ll spend some time at a permaculture farm and learn about the local areas farming techniques, 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 and even participate in a beekeeping workshop!
We will also get to hike around the local area and really embrace the outdoors this week of the program. Our last nights are spent camping under the night sky and sharing stories by the campfire, before moving on to Hilo.
Ohh, Hilo on 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, and Akaka Falls. We’ve scheduled our yoga sessions for the morning to allow for relaxation, and to start our days present and fulfilled.
We’ve also been given an incredible opportunity to get out into the water with a locally run community organization that focuses 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!
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 it 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 then head to the Puna District, a rural area that is home to countless farms producing tropical flowers, macadamia nuts, papayas, bananas and tea. Surrounding these are miles of lush rainforests and easy access to the natural beauty of Volcanoes National Park. In 2018, it was also the primary location of a volcanic eruption, which has led to extremely rugged, largely underdeveloped infrastructure. We learn about the impacts the lava flows have had on the local farming practices, and explore the still-cooling lava rocks as well as the stunning seaside cliffs on the coastline.
There are so many unique landscapes on this environmentally rich island, and the next few days have you exploring one of the coolest! This is sure to be an adventure of otherworldly perceptions, with self exploration and hiking throughout Volcanoes National Park, one of the most unique landscapes in the world.
We’re taking a trip back down south and east a little way to the small town of Pahala in the district of Ka’u, where 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. We’ll ground taro leaves, set the stones and prepare the food whilst sharing stories with our local hosts and when it’s ready, we’ll get to work taking the food from the ground to the table, ready to feast!
This area is known for its black sand beaches and abundant wilderness, fuelled by the warm sunny days and nightly rainfall that is common on this side of the island. We spend a couple of days on a macadamia nut farm, where we see the entire process of macadamia nut harvesting and processing, from nut to kennel. We will learn hands-on by picking, cracking, sorting, washing and of course tasting the macadamia nuts ourselves.
By now we will have grasped the value that native Hawaiian’s hold for their local land. It provides them with the food which they eat, the water which they drink, and the energy which they cultivate. We will go for a hike in the Ka’u Forest Reserve to take in all its beauty, and we will jump on board to take part in efforts to restore the local beaches with a marine debris clean up!
We’re back at home base for our last few days on Hawai’i Big Island. Kona is on the Western side of the island, known for it’s beautiful coral reefs and sea life but also it’s super chilled out vibe. On our way back, we’ll explore one of only four green sand beaches in the world and we’ll finish our time here spending a few days reflecting on all that we have learnt from this incredible island.
Time to reset and refresh on our new homebase for the second half of the program: Oahu Island! We make our way from Honolulu to the North Shore because, let’s be honest, 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 surf lessons from a local legend, who is sure to get even the clumsiest and most unathletic of us at least skillfully 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 batteries.
This week, we will discuss the impact tourism has had on Hawaii and the contrasts between the two islands we have explored, the Big Island and Oahu. We see the differences in landscape and environment with our own eyes, and finish with some local farming lessons.
We’ll spend these days partnered with local communities and experts maintaining and restoring wilderness diversity on Oahu. Prepare yourselves to learn about habitat creation and maintenance, the different species of flora and fauna that live on the island and learn about invasive species removal and its importance in conservation. We’ll be getting outdoors and learning all there is to know, expect to get grubby and a little wet during these days of service!
While we’re in the area, we’ll be treated to an experience unlike any other - what goes on when a museum is closed (Okay, fine, otherwise known as Night at the Museum. But funnier. And cooler. Unless you thought it was funny and cool, in which case this is it).
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 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.
Next up is the Self Led Section of the Program, which is one of the most popular parts. Ahh the chaos and creativity of the group designing and developing their own itinerary! We will have a couple of days to choose what the group want to do and how we want to do it - all within the confines of the budget we are given! This is a life skill of teamwork planning as a group, that you can only learn through doing. The world (well Hawaii) is your oyster so let's see what we get up to.
We get to channel our inner child while pitching our tents at the camping site in Palehua. We will participate in various team-building camp activities and let loose while making sure not to take ourselves too seriously! We will also hike around our green surroundings, and explore an ancient native Hawaiian archeological site that dates back to around 1600 AD.
We will spend the next couple of days exploring the botanical gardens in Honolulu, kayaking to secret spots throughout the bay and discovering marine life, and 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.
Sadly, the time has also come to begin processing the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that the last 70 days have taken us on. 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.
Be prepared to spend a fair amount of time out in nature. You will spend a lot of nights camping, staring at the camp fire, breathing in fresh air and stargazing the night away. Other times, you will spend nights in 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