A local boy from Hilo, Warren Costa is a former ranger on Mauna Kea with an extensive background in archeology and botany. His company, Native Guide Hawai‘i, takes visitors on adventures that are rarely known by travelers and the most local of locals. Today, Costa is now the teacher and visitors from all over the world are his students, as he takes them on personal guided tours throughout Hawai‘i Island.
With boots, a backpack, emergency equipment and provisions, Costa takes unorthodox paths, allowing visitors the freedom to fully engage. There is no cushy bus or microphone. Costa prefers drawing out re-enactments of volcano eruptions in lava sand with his bare finger and eating ripe ‘ohelo berries sprouting along the trails.
“I definitely believe in personal interaction and sharing of cultures,” Costa says. “When people go on tours with me, I have the usual places that I go but I’m not afraid to go off the grid. Although I have a set list of tours on my website, every tour ends up different. If my group wants to head out in another direction, if it’s safe enough, I’ll accommodate them and we’ll go exploring.”
After a stint in the army and one in the Waikiki restaurant industry, Costa decided to give formal education another chance, enrolling at University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. Classrooms, once dull and tedious, were forums for interesting discussions and juicy debates. He declared anthropology to be his major, hungry to satisfy his deep fascination with theories and culture, especially in Native Hawaiian history.
“I love conflict,” says Costa with a hearty chuckle. “As a Native Hawaiian myself, I had a lot of heavy debates with my professors about being Hawaiian. It was really interesting for me. I learned a lot from my professors.”
When Costa graduated, he found himself in his element and eager to teach. He took a risk and started his own business. Today, a Warren Costa tour is a hot ticket. People know an authentic Hawaiian experience when they live it and word of mouth spreads well.
“I never thought I’d be doing what I do today,” says a cheerful Costa. “Just like I tell my teenage son: school is important, yes, but so are life lessons outside of the classroom. One moment I’m pointing out a lava tube and the next I’m bandaging up someone’s bloody knee while offering pastries.”
When asked about the recent controversy regarding the Pahoa lava flow diversion debate back in October, Costa is quick to reference not so much the importance of the Hawaiian mythology known as Pele — the volcano goddess of the Hawaiian Islands who has been by far the catalyst of debates in town hall meetings and social media strings—but his belief in one’s respect for the environment in general; a major component and theme that he stresses to those who take his tours.
“That is such a huge stress for I cannot imagine the lava coming to my house,” Costa says. “But what we have to understand is that the environment is a part of our lives and we have to respect that.”
Respect for others’ beliefs, he says, is something that many people have for the Islands when they come on tours with him in general, which is what drives him to be the best in his line of “work.”
“This job is not so much a job as it is a humbling experience,” Costa says. “To be able to live and work here where I grew up and share that with people who visit ... it’s an honor and pleasure to meet all these people from around the world who come and seek me out for a personal tour about my home. That is the most rewarding part of what I do.”
For more information or to find out how to book a tour, visit Native Guide Hawai‘i's website.