Hawai'i Middle School Expedition

Rushing waterfalls and soaring volcanic peaks, fascinating heritage and stunning beaches—Maui is the ultimate tropical paradise. With dynamic trip leaders and a National Geographic expert, capture the island’s natural wonders on camera; get up close to fascinating marine life on snorkeling, surfing, and boating excursions; and lend a hand with service projects to help preserve the island’s delicate ecosystems.

June 24 - July 4, 2019
June 29 - July 9, 2019
Airfare is not included. We have arranged a round-trip group flight between Los Angeles and Maui.

Trip Highlights

  • Go zip lining, hiking, swimming, and much more in Maui’s beautiful jungles.
  • Venture to the Haleakalā Crater at daybreak, and photograph the sunrise from atop this massive volcano.
  • Help biologists at the Maui Ocean Center rehabilitate sea turtles and sharks, then go on a snorkeling and whale-watching excursion with local naturalists.
  • Learn to surf in the gentle waters of a famous Maui break.


Days 1-5

Our program begins on Maui’s western shore at Lahaina, near one of the island’s top snorkeling spots. Here we’ll settle into oceanfront tents, our home away from home for the next five nights. Dive into turquoise waters on a daylong snorkeling and dolphin-watching excursion; and visit the Maui Ocean Center, where we’ll have the opportunity to help on-site marine biologists care for native sea turtle and shark species. Explore the village of Lahaina—once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, then a whaling port, and now an artsy enclave—to learn about the island’s past and present from local farmers and shopkeepers.

Venture to the island’s northern shores for an unforgettable hike to ancient lava flows, capped off with a thrilling zip-line adventure through the jungle canopy. Set off on foot into the West Maui Mountains in search of mysterious petroglyphs and secret waterfalls, along the way learning about the sustainable power generated by wind turbines installed on the mountain ridge. Visit a botanical garden in the lush ‘Īao Valley; then take a surfing lesson, riding Pacific waves across calm, shallow waters.

Enjoy a day in south Maui, where we’ll picnic on the sandy Big Beach, snorkel with sea turtles, and gaze out over Molokini crater—a volcano submerged in the water. Try a Hawaiian meal of poke and other local specialties, and visit a working sugar factory to see how raw cane is transformed into sweetener.

Days 6-8

Pack up camp and take a drive along the world-famous road to Hāna, making several stops en route to our destination. Splash in waterfalls and swimming holes and enjoy fresh-fruit smoothies; visit a black-sand beach to seek out green sea turtles; and get your hands dirty while farming a patch of taro—an important staple in traditional Hawaiian cooking. Before continuing on our journey, we’ll enjoy a seaside picnic with views of professional kite boarders racing along the waves at Ho‘okipa.

Upon arrival at our campsite in Hāna, go hiking through the surrounding bamboo forests and past century-old banyan trees to a stunning waterfall. Go for a dip in the pool at the base of the cascade and refuel with a picnic lunch. In the evenings, gaze up at the stars alongside astronomers, who will share traditional Hawaiian navigation technique.

Days 9-11

Travel inland to the heart of the island and settle into a small town near the base of the Haleakala volcano, where traditional ranching and farming still thrive. Step into the cowboy boots of a Hawaiian paniolo, joining in on the action at a local rodeo. Pay a visit to the Surfing Goat Dairy, and sample some of the award-winning goat cheeses made by this unique creamery. Wake up early for an unforgettable sunrise from the top of Haleakalā Crater, soaring 10,000 feet above sea level. On our final evening, we’ll celebrate and reflect on our experiences over a bonfire and barbecue with local Hawaiians.

Our middle school expeditions are for students ages 13 or older in grades 7-8, and offer students the opportunity to discover exciting destinations in a fun, engaging, and safe environment. With guidance from trip leaders and a National Geographic expert, students explore a number of themes that enhance their experience and encourage them to deepen the interests they already have, while discovering new ones along their journey. Students travel alongside a team of highly-qualified trip leaders—college graduates with extensive experience in the field, who love working with students. A National Geographic expert joins for a portion of the trip (four to eight days) to share their insights, and inspire students with their passion for the work they do and the places they will discover. The expedition group size ranges between 14 and 18 participants, and the student-to-trip-leader ratio is usually between six and eight to one and never more than nine to one.
The Haleakalā Crater is at an elevation of 10,000 feet. Participants should be physically fit.On this program, students will spend an estimated 10 hours on community service projects. At the end of the program, students will receive a certificate stating the number of service hours completed.
We stay in small, family-run hostels and campsites throughout the expedition.

Tierney Thys, Marine Biologist and Filmmaker

Meet Our Expert

National Geographic Emerging Explorer and grantee Dr. Tierney Thys is a marine biologist and filmmaker studying some of the ocean’s largest animals, including the giant ocean sunfish. She has led and participated in research expeditions worldwide from Alaska to the Galápagos, Indonesia, and Africa. Tierney works with all ages to promote ocean conservation through numerous creative means: from exploring how nature imagery impacts the brain to filmmaking to serving as a digital explorer in National Geographic’s online world, Animal Jam. She is currently working with National Geographic Emerging Explorer Tan Le to student the brain’s response to nature. Tierney will join both departures of the Hawaii middle school expedition and the Technology and Innovation university workshop in the Silicon Valley.

Program Themes

Explore each of these three topics over the course of the program:

Experience traditional life on Maui while helping community members with service work. Assist with underwater conservation projects; and get your hands dirty during a beach clean-up in Haleakalā and while planting native crops essential to Hawaiian culture.
Delve into Hawai‘i’s fascinating underwater realm alongside marine biologists. Get hands-on experience collecting data on dolphin populations and reef health, and meet with researchers to learn about sea turtle and shark rehabilitation efforts.
Grab your camera or GoPro and document your adventures in Hawai‘i. Frame the island’s tropical landscapes, snap action shots of surfers, and capture starry skies with time-lapse techniques—telling the story of your expedition through photographs.