Working in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Written by: Will Hardy

Huaka’i hele: Travelling w/ Purpose

The summer after graduation – dissertations are in, mortar boards have been hurled skywards, and in my case, some pressing decisions required attention. “What am I going to do next?” Many of my friends had already jumped headlong into the scrum that is the graduate job market. Some had even proved successful, soon embarking on exciting careers, and all I could think was “nope. Not going to happen. Not just yet.”

I had enjoyed university and left with a good degree in physical geography, but I had also worked hard. The thought of going straight into a career was not an attractive one. Travelling seemed a logical step, but the ‘mainstream’ travel experiences never really did it for me. Don’t get me wrong, partying on a beach in Thailand would be fun, but I wanted more than fun. I wanted to travel with more of a purpose; I wanted to achieve something that was rewarding and would look good when I eventually started the job hunt.

It was apparent after a spot of Googling that volunteering ticked all the boxes and, for me, choosing where in the world to volunteer wouldn’t be a hard decision.

Will was faced with some tough decisions after university

I was desperate to explore America; the vastness, the diversity and the natural beauty were enthralling to me. I was especially intrigued to discover the National Parks and the undisturbed wilderness within. To my contentment, I stumbled across the ‘International Volunteer in Parks’ webpage. A brief read of the opening paragraph persuaded me to unleash a flurry of emails to parks in all corners of the country. Up went a map on my bedroom wall with each park circled in thick red ink. As emails returned, crosses were struck through some while others were tentatively adorned with question marks.

Then, one July evening, I was watching a television programme broadcast from the summit of Kilauea Volcano on the big island of Hawaii. A park ranger, sporting the distinguished flat brimmed hat, was being interviewed. I was mesmerised by the bellowing plume of volcanic gases roaring out of the erupting crater behind him and the dynamic landscape he described. I noted down his name and fired off a speculative email. To my astonishment (and after some frantic visa negotiations), I was accepted into the international volunteer programme. I was to be a volunteer ranger in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for three months.

Huaka'i hele: Will living the dream in Hawaii

No sooner had the traditional tea leaf lei (necklace) been placed around my neck on my arrival that I was issued my uniform and training began in earnest. A whirlwind of presentations from world renowned volcanologists, biologists and guest speakers ensued preparing me for my duties. I was to be an interpreter, but not in the traditional sense. Instead of translating speech, I was translating the unique environment in which I now found myself in. It was my job to make a small proportion of the 1.5 million annual visitors say “wow, I did not know that!” I wanted the visitors to leave with that same feeling instilled in me as I watched the ranger on that July evening; a sense of awe and wonderment at the power of nature.

I led hikes to the edge of the erupting volcano and brought to life the monumental forces that shape its formation. I spoke about endangered plants and animals that could only be glimpsed on the island. I acted out Hawaiian mo’olelo, traditional tales recounting the exploits of the legendary fire goddess Pele. The most active volcano on earth was my office.

In return for the 40 hours I volunteered per week, I lived in the active caldera of Kilauea Volcano, surrounded by fern forests and waking to the sound of bird song. My morning commute bypassed the erupting summit in the shadow of the majestic slopes of Mauna Loa. At night, the sky was bathed in an ethereal orange glow emanating from a tumultuous lake of lava. I stayed in free accommodation in the park, sharing with other volunteers from around the world. My visa was sponsored and I got a stipend to supplement my food bills. My only expense was my flight, plus the price of a rental car every now and again.

But I got a lot more out of it than just a stunning place to live. I was also working and developing an abundance of valuable and transferable skills. I became comfortable talking to large groups and presenting information, and I gained experiences in education both with children and adults. I was given free reign of the park resources, and spent afternoons researching historical records, unearthing stories of visitors warming their feet on the liquid fire beneath their precarious perches. It may sound cliché, but these are the skills that help nail down a job. And think about it; if an employer is breezing through 200 potential applicants and comes across a CV with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as a reference, they’re going to take a closer look.

Volunteering in a volcano can make your CV look red hot

Of course, sprucing up the CV is just a small part of the experience. Exploring the park and the island was my greatest desire. Before I embarked, I wondered how much I would be able to discover but I soon realised that exploring is actively encouraged. It certainly wasn’t all work anyway!

I would spend days camping on deserted coconut palm beaches with crystal clear waters and dazzling corals. I would trek to vistas of lava cascading into the ocean and oozing across barren black rock. I would hike miles of trails, descending into 400 feet deep craters and through lush, humid rainforest. I even made the most of true Hawaiian ‘aloha spirit’, hitching a lift to the summit of the towering Mauna Kea for sunset and stargazing.

That perfect mix of work and play translated into a much richer taste of Hawaiian life. I wasn’t just snatching a glimpse through the distorted lens of the tourist. I was part of the community and existing as a local. A Christmas meal of kalua pig, a bottle of tequila and festive fireside storytelling is not the type of experience plastered across the pages of tourist magazines. Yet these are the moments I remember most fondly and were gained solely through true immersion into my surroundings.

On my first day of training, on a scrap piece of paper, I scribbled down the Hawaiian phrase “huaka’i hele”. As I came to the end of my adventure, I realised that I had fulfilled the definition of that phrase. I had combined unforgettable experiences with meaningful achievements on a remote island in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. I had truly ‘travelled with purpose’.


Further Information

If you’re thinking about travelling to boost your CV then read Charlee Owen’s feature on Taking a Gap Year for the Future.

Also, if Will has inspired you to volunteer then head over to our volunteering section for more advice and information.

And finally, jump on the message boards and meet other travels to share your experiences with.


About the Author: Will Hardy

Will HardyWill had been exposed to travel from an early age thanks to intrepid parents and a far flung family. After graduating from the uni in 2012, Will wanted to apply the knowledge he had learnt while taking some time out. Travel beckoned, with North America at the top of his list. Becoming a voluntary park ranger In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for three months was the perfect excuse to have fun in an island paradise. He enjoyed it so much that he wants to volunteer in National Parks all over the country in the future. You can follow Will on Twitter @willhardy.

Check out these top jobs in the USA

Search

Sports Role Summer Camp USA

from £649

63 days

United States of America

Work in the USA at one of over 500 summer camps with children of all ages. Gain over 800 hours...

Swimming Coach at Camp in America

from £649

63 days

United States of America

Work as a Swimming Instructor in the USA at one of over 500 summer camps with children of all ages....

Climbing and Outdoor Jobs at Camp

from £649

63 days

United States of America

Become a climbing, ropes, or outdoor instructor at one of over 500 summer camps in America with children of all...

Waterfront Jobs at Summer Camp

from £649

63 days

United States of America

Work on the waterfront at one of over 500 summer camps in America with children of all ages. Gain over...

Summer Camp Jobs in America

from £649

63 days

United States of America

Work in the USA at one of over 500 summer camps with children of all ages. Gain over 800 hours...

Special Needs Roles at Summer Camp

from £649

63 days

United States of America

Summer camp in America provides limitless opportunities for campers to step outside their comfort zone. It is the setting for...

Lifeguard Roles Summer Camp USA

from £649

63 days

United States of America

Paid Lifeguard opportunities in America! Work in the USA at one of over 500 summer camps with children of all...

Gymnastics Coach at Camp in America

from £649

63 days

United States of America

Become a Gymnastics Instructor in the USA at one of over 500 summer camps with children of all ages. Gain...

Camp Counselor Roles at Summer Camp

from £649

63 days

United States of America

Work in the USA at one of over 500 summer camps with children of all ages. Gain over 800 hours...

Become an Instructor with Ski and Snowboard Training

from £4579

100 - 150 days

Canada, United States of America

When you join an EA Internship you will get trained, certified and receive a guaranteed job offer as a ski...

Search

Hawaii Highlights

from £1899

Dreaming of poolside cocktails? Endless sunshine? More than beachside antics than you can shake a pineapple at? Step into tropical...

Historic American Cities by Rail

from £1849

Step back in time at the historic sites of the American Eastern Seaboard on a weeklong tour by rail. Stroll...

Manhattan to Miami

from £1444

From Manhattan to Miami, cruise down the east coast with this one of a kind trip starting with the madness...

Yosemite Park & Napa Valley – San Francisco to Vegas

from £503

The perfect blend of wildlife, active excursions, and the charm of wine country, this week-long journey from San Francisco to...

Arctic Watch Lodge 8 days

from £6185

Located 800 km inside the Arctic Circle, right on the Northwest Passage, the Arctic Circle Wilderness Lodge qualifies as the...

Chicago to San Francisco Road Trip

from £1319

Remember the country they sing about in "America the Beautiful"? The one with the spacious skies, gleaming alabaster cities, and...

Best of the West

from £1614

As the saying goes: the west coast is the best coast. From sparkling Las Vegas with its cocktails and party...

Music, Mountains & Monuments Westbound

from £539

Culture vultures, get ready to take flight on an incredible tour of American capitals – business, political, and musical. From...

Natural Highlights of California

from £1679

Set out on a nine-day quest through some of California’s greatest national parks. From the arid, sun-scorched landscapes of Death...

Highlights of the Deep South

There aren’t many places in the US – or the world, frankly – that can match the Deep South for...

Find more information about working abroad

Search
[contact-form-7 id="4" title="Contact form 1"]