Oahu, Hawaii – Flora and Fauna - A Trip Report

Distinctive vibrant flora and fauna enhances Oahu from the depths to the skies and taking the time to appreciate nature at its finest is indeed a great way to unwind.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a world-class snorkeling area located just 11 miles from Waikiki hotels. And like all popular spots its parking lot gets packed promptly making this definitely an early morning activity. Getting there is easy enough – 10 miles east of Waikiki off the main road (Route 72 - Kalaniana'ole Highway) – the Number 22 bus which has stops on Kuhio Avenue works equally well. The park is open from 6AM till 6PM and 7PM during the winter and summer seasons respectively on all days except Tuesdays. On the second and fourth Saturdays in the summer and the second Saturdays in the winter, night snorkeling is allowed till 10 PM although it is not advised for novices or young children.

The site is spread-out in two levels: the upper level along has the parking lot and a well maintained public ground with kiawe trees (ideal for picnicking). Admission tickets can be purchased from the entry plaza designed like a rock formation – this award winning structure blends well with the landscape. At the Education Center and Exhibits area, there is a little waiting involved and then it is on to watching the mandatory safety and education video. The best view of this beautiful reef is from this waiting spot - so click away to the heart’s content! The pathway down to the beach is fairly steep but a trolley is also around for a nominal charge. The snorkeling gear rental facility is to the right.

In the first half an hour of our snorkeling, we spotted nary a fish. Despite the documentary video warning against feeding the fish, for all our snorkeling experience at Hawaii over the years, we can almost attest to the fact that the best means to observe fish is either by following someone carrying fish food or by providing the vittles yourself. Perhaps it is lax enforcement, but at any given time, there is a sizable minority of visitors in the water with fare for the fish and naturally the schools congregate in those areas. This is a rather public secret and the few not in the know are considered old school. Interestingly, people consider themselves to be off the hook if what they offer is organic whole grain based food.

As a precautionary, floating is preferred over wading as wading will inevitably result in bruises from the corals and could potentially damage the fragile environment. It took a while for our kids to realize that unlike an aquarium, we are the trespassers in another’s environment and the onus was on us humans to respect their space. Even if you reach Hanauma at the crack of dawn, upwards of 3-4 hours is a must to enjoy Hanauma Bay to the fullest for the variety of fish is beyond imagination.

Parking was $1 for all. For Hawaiian residents with a valid ID, admission was free while visitors were charged $7.50 each (waived for children below 13). Rental fees were substantial – for the four of us, snorkeling sets, locker, and two life vests totaled $53.

Other scenic options abound and the ones we set forth to were
  1. Pali Lookout: Panoramic views of the windward coast of Oahu are on offer here. The battle of Nu’uanu that resulted in Kamehameha I conquering the island of Oahu occurred here in 1795. Nu’uanu Pali is a pass that connects the Honolulu (leeward side) to Kailua, the windward side. The first road that connects the windward side to Honolulu was built in 1845 over Nu’uanu Pali. The Pali Highway and the impressive Nu’uanu Pali Tunnels were built in 1959.
  2. Lyon Arboretum: Lyon Arboretum located at Manoa Valley (3860 Manoa Road) covering 200 acres with elevation varying from 450 to 1850 feet, is adjacent to the hiking trail leading to Manoa Falls. This arboretum falls under the umbrella of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Admission is free with a suggested donation of $5 per person and is open M-F 9AM to 4PM and Saturdays 9 AM to 3 PM – closed Sundays and public holidays. There are multiple trails with different sections including European, African, Mediterranean, Asian, Chinese, New World, gingers, and edible flowers. While the entrance area is unstructured there is ample variety – ornamentals, garden plants, several fruit bearing trees, ginger, lily, pine, palms, etc. are all abundant around this area. The hiking choices frequented are either the leisurely walk up to Bromeliad Garden and Inspiration Point round trip which can be done under an hour or the longer one to the Aihulama Falls (1.5 miles round trip).
  3. Waimea Valley: Waimea Valley located at 59-864 Kamehameha Highway on Oahu’s North Shore is about 40 miles from Waikiki. Admission $13 for Adults and $6 for kids 4-12. A trip to the North Shore is highly recommended for not only are the beaches less crowded, they also offer bigger waves compared to the serene setting around Waikiki. The sights en-route is scenic comprising mostly of vegetation and farming (sugar cane and pineapple) including the site of Dole Plantations. It is open all days from 9AM to 5PM – closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years day. Waimea Valley consists of 1875 acres and is a sacred place in the Native Hawaiian history – descendents of the high priests lived and cared for the valley for 700 years until 1886. Currently, the valley is under the management of Hi’ipaka LLC, a nonprofit company whose mission is to nurture and care for Waimea Valley. The primary hike is 1.5 mile round-trip walk to the Waihi, the Valley’s 45-foot waterfall. It is a very pleasant trail which showcases plenty of Hawaiin flora and fauna. Repeated sightings of waxbills, mynas, zebra and spotted doves, red bulbuls, sparrows, Japanese white-eyes, and red-crested cardinals make for a fascinating jaunt. There are several detours (both paved and unpaved) that allows one to explore other sections. Right past the entrance are a few peacocks and the habitat for the endangered Hawaiian Moorhen. It is best to earmark atleast 3 hours for this site. Several walking tours are offered at set times (10 AM, 11 AM, 1 PM, and 2PM) that focuses on sections such as Native Plants, History, Wildlife, and ‘Alae ‘Ula Interpretation. For those endowed with time, it is an excellent way to commune with nature.
What better way to say ‘aloha’ than arriving at the airport a mite early to appreciate the Japanese, Chinese, and Hawaiian gardens at The Honolulu Airport Cultural Gardens! With luck, you might even catch a free event which is regularly on offer.

Related Posts:

1. Oahu, Hawaii - Flora and Fauna - A Trip Report.
2. Oahu, Hawaii - Hiking - A Trip Report.
3. Oahu, Hawaii - Attractions - A Trip Report.

Last Updated: 02/2011.

2 comments :

Rebecca Snow said...

I live in Oahu, and work in Honolulu. thank you so much for the great information that I can forward to visiting friends from the mainland.

location pals said...

Thanks a lot for sharing the wonderful experience..Actually me and my family planing a vacation over there next year so its a great help from your post..

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