by Judy M. Zimmerman
I loved the near-perfect view of Waikiki Beach from the window of my hotel room as I anticipated many happy hours of relaxing on the beach. But a different world of unique natural discoveries also awaited me just 15-20 minutes from Waikiki Beach.
Before leaving home, I had booked three hikes with “Oahu Nature Tours,” the island’s original eco-tour company that was formed over 20 years ago. It specializes in small group guided adventures to see colorful bird and plant species, cascading waterfalls, lush rainforests and volcanic craters.
Arrangements for the hikes couldn’t have been more convenient. Each day, just across the street from my hotel, I met the nature company’s white van with its logo of the island’s rare red honey creeper bird, an “I”iwi.
My first adventure was rated “moderate”, a two-hour- 2.5 mile hike to the Manoa Waterfall, the highest accessible waterfall on Oahu. The trail led through giant ferns, gurgling streams, and plants that can be found nowhere else on Earth. A hidden treasure deep within a prehistoric landscape, it was used by Spielberg while filming “Lost World.”
Expert guide Sky Chamberlain, a documentary film maker, said “It’s a myth that Oahu is mainly an urban center. This (job) is my higher calling – to learn about some of the most endangered species.”
While driving through the upper-middle class neighborhood of Manoa to the trailhead, Sky also shared insights into Oahu’s lifestyle. For example, he pointed out former President Obama’s exclusive Punahou High School and the Baskin Robbins store where he once scooped ice cream.
The next day, the trail of an easy “Valley of the Rainbows Adventure” meandered through 200 acres of the Lyon Arboretum, an exotic paradise that is considered one of the world’s finest botanical gardens. Greg Arndt, our highly-educated guide , revealed the valley’s fascinating history and the arboretum’s effort to save over 5,000 species of some of the world’s rarest plants.
After exploring the cloud-swept valley’s vibrant flowers and emerald green hills, we drove to Pu’u’Ualaka’a State Park ,high above Waikiki. It afforded a breathtaking view of Oahu’s famous icon, Diamond Head Crater, and the shimmering waters of Pearl Harbor. The summit of Diamond Head was the destination of my last hike. During the steep climb (500 feet over ¾ mile distance) we learned about the crater’s intriguing geology and military history. Rated “moderate”, the challenge was more about the crowded trail and the late-morning heat, but the hike itself was well worth the view and the personalized “I climbed Diamond Head” certificate.
Oahu Nature Tours recommends that “Guests on the ‘moderate tours’ should be in good physical condition.”
While most of the participants on the nature hikes were younger than my 70+ years, I found the trails were not too difficult because I frequently walk 3-5 miles at home. All nine of the company’s tours include round-trip transportation from five downtown hotels, entry fees, bottled water, backpacks, and walking staffs. In addition, special custom bird watching tours can be arranged for a small group.
Michael Walther, the president of Oahu Nature Tours and author of four books about Hawaii’s native species, says, “Let us show you the real Hawaii.” www.oahunaturetours.com