A view of a film set on Moli‘i Pond at Kualoa Ranch © Courtesy of Kind Traveler
By Casey Carroll
The Hawaiian word for family is “ohana.” This is exactly how I felt in Hawaii while staying at Waikiki’s Kind Hotel, The Equus, and touring the island of Oahu with the Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawaii.
Each piece of my journey painted a beautiful picture of my first trip since getting sober just before the pandemic started. A trip that would give me the opportunity to not only be a Kind Traveler who is a steward for the planet and gives back to the destinations I visit, but to be a traveler who turns kindness around onto themselves. To take each day moment by moment—slowly, mindfully, and compassionately.
I couldn’t imagine a better home base for my journey than The Equus. From the moment I checked in, I felt like I was with ohana. I met with the owner, Mike Dailey, whose passion for hospitality, cowboy culture and Hawaii is palpable.
We sat in the elegantly western styled lobby and talked about how hospitality runs in Mike’s blood. “I grew up in a hotel,” he told me. Mike’s parents settled in Hawaii, built the Waikikian Hotel in 1956, and founded the Mokuleia Polo club (now the Hawaii Polo Club) in 1963.
Fast forward about 40 years when Mike and his wife, Becca, bought the Driftwood Hotel (now The Equus) in 1990. The Equus is where Mike is carrying on the tradition of raising his kids and grandkids in a hotel.
And what a family they are!
The Dailey’s are as dedicated to being a sustainable hotel as they are to the community. During my stay, I overheard a front desk agent letting a departing guest know they could leave their unused sunscreen to be donated to the homeless, and the Polo Club was running a holiday toy drive on the North Shore. Kind is simply who the Dailey’s are.
When booking with Kind Traveler, each Kind Hotel partners with a local charity beneficiary who is the recipient of a $10 minimum donation each time a guest stays at their property. The Equus chose Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawaii (STAH). This local non-profit is dedicated to conserving Hawaii’s beautiful landscape and cultural history through certifying tour operators who follow sustainable business practices. They also originated the exemplary Travel Pono Tips. Pono means “consciously.” These tips lay out how to be the kindest (most conscious) traveler possible while in Hawaii. Truly, they can be applied anywhere in the world!
Part of my journey included spending a day with STAH board member June Matsumoto. I could tell from the moment I met June that I was in good hands. She has a caring, soulful way about her and was sensitive to my traveling for the first time sober and since the pandemic started.
We visited STAH member Kualoa Ranch for the Malama Experience. Malama means “care for the land.” This voluntourism experience is listed as an activity alongside tours including horseback riding and the Hollywood Tour (Jurassic Park was filmed here).
Also, on the Malama Experience was Kualoa Ranch Sustainability Coordinator powerhouse, Stephanie Mock. Stephanie was hired right before the pandemic began and quickly pivoted to a COVID-19 Coordinator role.
She started the KualoGrown Market where the ranch team and locals could safely buy ranch-grown provisions during the height of the pandemic. Not only is the ranch a playground to explore, but it’s also an agricultural mecca.
They grow everything from guava to cacao and are a working cattle ranch. The ranch also raises delectable oysters in Moli‘i Pond, a native Hawaiian fishpond.
This fishpond is where we had our Malama experience. Our job was to remove mangrove propagules (seed pods) from the pond’s shore. “While mangroves are venerated elsewhere, they are not native to Hawaii, and our unique ecosystems, and actually choke out native plants,” Stephanie explained to us. A very important job we had to regenerate Hawaii’s natural ecosystem!
During the boat ride to our volunteer site we heard stories from our tour guide Iwi, about the history of the ranch. I also got to know the other guests in our group, a husband and wife from New Hampshire, Andre Dean and Casey McCabe. When I asked Casey what made her choose to volunteer while she was vacationing in Hawaii, she told me she travels with a different mindset now that she’s sober.
I loved this answer for so many reasons, but especially because she’s sober.
Sobriety does feel like a completely different mindset. And can you believe I met another sober Casey while working the land on a ranch on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Just wow! Not only were we regenerating the land, but also perhaps investing in regeneration within ourselves.
After the Malama Experience, June and I continued on our way to explore the North Shore’s beaches and enjoy the famous Mastumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa. As we talked about the day, I was overwhelmed with love and gratitude for everyone I’d met, the adventures I’d had, and the kindness I’d felt.
All these feelings can be wrapped up in the Hawaiian word “aloha.” I was full to the brim with the aloha spirit. This trip was the perfect bridge from my quarantine to being in the world again. The perfect reminder of the power of kindness—the kindness of others, kindness to the land, and kindness to ourselves. A trip I will not soon forget!