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Viewing Sites

Oahu

Diamond Head State Monument

Note: Condensed version. The Hawaii Wildlife Viewing Guide’s complete site description also contains Background, Nearby Services, Special Tips, Facilities, Viewing Tips and Location Map.

Description: From the moment you step out of your vehicle in the parking area, you can usually enjoy excellent birdwatching. You will continue to see birds as you climb, but your attention will shift to the site’s military and geological history. The trail to the summit of Le’ahi was built in 1908 as part of O’ahu’s coastal defense system. The .8 mile hike from the trailhead to the summit is steep and strenuous, gaining 560 feet as it ascends from the crater floor. A concrete walkway built to reduce erosion shifts to a natural tuff surface about .2 mile up the trail; many switchbacks traverse the steep slope of the interior crater. As you hike, look among the kiawe, a tropical, non-native tree related to mesquite, and other vegetation for common non-native birds, such as zebra doves and common waxbills. The ascent continues up steep stairs and through a lighted 225-foot tunnel to enter the Fire Control Station completed in 1911. Built on the summit, the station directed artillery fire from batteries in Waikïkï and Fort Ruger , outside of Diamond Head crater. At the summit, you’ll see bunkers and a huge navigational light built in 1917. The postcard view of the shoreline from Koko Head to Wai’anae is stunning and during winter, the scene may include passing humpback whales (kohola).

Hours : Daily 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The gates are locked at 6:00 p.m. daily and all visitors must be out of the park by this time.

Contact Information: Department of Land and Natural Resources/ Diamond Head State Monument, 1151 Punchbowl Street , Room 310, Honolulu , HI , 96813 , 808/587-0300, http://www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dsp/oahu.html.

Wildlife to Watch: Good to excellent opportunities to see more than a dozen non-native birds year-round, concentrated in a single location. Non-native birds do not naturally occur on the islands and have been introduced from another place. Many have readily adapted to island conditions and are frequently more visible than native Hawaiian birds, which they sometimes displace. You will see drab-colored doves, house finches, and sparrows mixed with richly marked red-crested cardinals and red-vented bulbuls. If you come near daybreak, you may hear the bulbul’s distinctive warbling song. In winter you should also see the area’s only native species, the Pacific golden plover (kolea), in the grassy areas of the park. The kolea is so common that it is often one of the first birds that Hawaiian children learn to identify. Along the trail, you may hear the distinctive piercing call of the francolin and you may see a mongoose moving through the brush. Zebra doves are common and easy to recognize by the distinctive barring on their chest. Another bird covered with a barred pattern is the common waxbill. This four-inch bird also has a red bill and red stripe covering each eye.

Halona Blowhole

Note: Condensed version. The Hawaii Wildlife Viewing Guide’s complete site description also contains Background, Nearby Services, Special Tips, Facilities, Viewing Tips and Location Map.

Description: When waves reach just the right angle and height, they shoot like a geyser through a large lava tube located just east of Hanauma Bay. Halona means “a lookout or peering place,” an apt description of this scenic vantage point for watching the surf boil through the offshore rock formations. In perfect form, this popular blowhole also mimics the sound of spouting humpback whales (kohola). This is one of the best sites on O’ahu for watching these winter visitors. The waters in this area are so important to the whales that they are part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

You can see the Halona blowhole and the humpback whales from a large paved parking lot overlooking the beach. Near the blowhole, a small rock shrine bears the image of O-Jizosan, the Japanese guardian spirit of protection. Movie buffs may recognize the beach cove below as the site of many scenes from the film From Here to Eternity. It’s also an excellent place to look for green sea turtles (honu) and an occasional Hawaiian monk seal (‘ïlio-holo-i-ka-uaua). Wandering tattlers (‘ulili) and ruddy turnstones (‘akekeke) prowl the shore during winter. Throughout the year the open water includes views of sooty terns (ewa ewa), frigatebirds (‘iwa), and other seabirds. Mynas and doves are year-round regulars around the lookout.

Hours: Open 24 hours

Contact Information: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/ Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, 6600 Kalani'ana’ole Highway, Suite 301 , Honolulu , HI , 96825 , 808-397-2651, 1-800-SS-WHALE, http://www.hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov .

Hamakua Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary

Note: Condensed version. The Hawaii Wildlife Viewing Guide’s complete site description also contains Background, Nearby Services, Special Tips, Facilities, Viewing Tips and Location Map.

Description: Amidst the buzz of city traffic, Hawaiian stilts (ae’o) balance on long pink legs as they probe the shallows of Hamakua Marsh for worms, fish, and other submerged delectables. This distinctive black and white shorebird is one of three endangered waterbirds that is common at this uncommon urban wetland located on O’ahu’s windward side.

Even though bird populations fluctuate due to seasonal changes in the water supply, this marsh supports impressive wildlife diversity. There are numerous fish and rich aquatic life. And year round, you can enjoy “front row” views of the endangered Hawaiian stilt, Hawaiian coot (‘alae ke’oke’o), and Hawaiian moorhen (‘alae ‘ula), numerous shorebirds, black-crowned night herons (‘auku’u), and non-native mynas and zebra doves. These native avian survivors have prompted a restoration program that is now improving water quality and marsh conditions. A canal between the street and the marsh provides an added buffer for the birds, allowing them to adjust to the ebb and flow of people and traffic. There is excellent viewing from a grassy berm between the road and the wetland -- and from the adjacent coffee shop.

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Contact Information: Department of Land and Natural Resources/ Hamakua Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, 1151 Punchbowl St. , Honolulu , HI , 96813 , 808/587-0166, www.hamakuamarsh.com.

Wildlife to Watch: This is the best place on O’ahu for reliable, close views of the Hawaiian stilt, Hawaiian coot, and Hawaiian moorhen. Look for the tallest shorebird and it will be the Hawaiian stilt, which stands 16-inches tall. It has a glossy black back that contrasts sharply with its white breast. Birds that appear slightly tinged with brown are female. According to Hawaiian lore, the stilts originally came to the area to feed on the small fish that flourished in the area’s taro patches. The moorhen, with its bright red forehead and bill, was also important in Hawaiian mythology for bringing fire to the early Hawaiians. Hawaii ’s golden plover (kolea) can be spotted in the winter along with other shorebirds, including the ruddy turnstone (‘akekeke), wandering tattler (‘ulili), and sanderling (hunakai). At dawn and dusk, you may see a black-crowned night heron hunkered down on an elevated mound waiting to feed, or flying to its night time roost.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Note: Condensed version. The Hawaii Wildlife Viewing Guide’s complete site description also contains Background, Nearby Services, Special Tips, Facilities, Viewing Tips and Location Map.

Description: Hanauma Bay is not only beautiful; it is one of Hawai’i ’s most popular snorkeling spots. Despite the crowds, its reefs continue to support abundant fish populations. In 1990 the City and County of Honolulu began controlling visitor numbers and emphasizing education to stem environmental damage (the bay was being “loved to death”) and improve the quality of the visitor experience. As soon as the preserve’s parking lot is full, vehicle access to public parking from the highway is temporarily closed. As parking becomes available, vehicles are able to enter the preserve. An award-winning visitor center is the gateway to the site and features informative exhibits and displays. All visitors are required to watch a short video that provides an orientation to Hanauma and encourages stewardship of the bay and other living reef environments. The entry procedure at the visitor center also helps control over-crowding by regulating the rate of flow of visitors to the beach. If you need to wait to enter the preserve, you won’t be disappointed: the views and snorkeling can be superb.

Hours: Preserve is always closed all day on Tuesdays. Otherwise, open daily 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. from October through March. Open second Saturday of the month until 10:00 p.m. Open 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. from April through September. Open second and fourth Saturdays of the month until 10:00 p.m. Hours may vary. Please check before visiting by calling the park’s information line at 808/396-4229, or check online at www2.hawaii.edu/~hanauma or www.co.honolulu.hi.us/parks/facility/hanaumabay/index1.htm.

Contact Information: Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, 100 Hanauma Bay Road, Honolulu , HI 96825 , 808/396-4229, www.hanaumabayhawaii.org. For more information, contact the O'ahu Visitors Bureau at 808/524-0722, www.gohawaii.com/oahu .

Wildlife to Watch: Nearly 100 species of fish inhabit the nearshore reefs. Schools of fish sometimes form a shimmering rainbow of color and may include many large fish, such as parrotfish and jacks. Symmetrical rows of black dots on the sides of the bright yellow milletseed butterflyfish make this favorite easy to spot. The sergeant major with its five bold stripes is a regular reef inhabitant, and can often be seen swimming in groups. Other abundant signature reef fishes include the kole, convict tang, and saddleback wrasse. You may occasionally spot green sea turtles. While you are on the beach, notice the fragments of white coral limestone and dark basalt rock embedded in the cliff walls. They are remnants of the violent volcanic explosions that created the crater. When you’re in the parking lot, look for non-native birds.

Ka’ena Point Natural Area Reserve

Note: Condensed version. The Hawaii Wildlife Viewing Guide’s complete site description also contains Background, Nearby Services, Special Tips, Facilities, Viewing Tips and Location Map.

Description: Today, the scars from tire tracks have somewhat disappeared beneath carpets of colorful wildflowers and the anchoring tentacles of native plants, such as the vine, pa’-o-Hi’iaka (sarong of Hi’iaka). According to Hawaiian mythology, this vine protected Hi’iaka, Pele’s baby sister, as she napped in the scorching sun. Other unusual species inhabit this wind-swept, arid, and salty environment, such as the Ka’ena ‘akoko, a plant found only at Ka’ena Point, and the ‘ohai, a shrub with salmon-colored flowers that is a member of the pea family. The wind and surf-lashed point is also home to the Laysan albatross (moli) and wedge-tailed shearwater (‘ua’u kani), which returned once the area was closed to motorized vehicles. With peace reigning, the albatrosses and shearwaters have resumed nesting. Hiking to the point can be rigorous but rewarding: during the nesting season, the trail passes so close to the shearwaters’ nesting burrows that the odor of the fish consumed by the youngsters is evident.

A cadre of volunteers is actively removing generations of non-native plants, fencing off areas, and trapping mongoose and feral cats to restore the dune ecosystem. These efforts are allowing the return of such plants as ‘ilima papa, whose golden flowers are a common symbol for O’ahu. Along the trail to the point, a sacred rock called Leina a ka ‘uhane is revered by native Hawaiians as a “souls’ leap,” which is a place where spirits depart from earth to enter the ancestral realm. This is considered a sacred site, so please respect the site and remain on the trail.

Contact Information: Department of Land and Natural Resources, State Parks and Division of Forestry and Wildlife, 1151 Punchbowl Street , Honolulu , HI , 96809 , 808/587-0290 (State Parks) www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dsp, and 808/587-0166 (Division of Forestry and Wildlife/NAR) , www.dofaw.net/.

Hours: Sunrise to sunset daily

Wildlife to Watch: If you make this rigorous trip to see wildlife, you shouldn’t be disappointed. Wedge-tailed shearwaters, noddies (noio), and Laysan albatross wheel through the air offshore. The shearwater has a gray back and moves through the air with a graceful, soaring flight. The large, white albatross are especially easy to spot. Humpback whales pass by during winter. Look for green sea turtles (honu) in the water and watch for Hawaiian monk seals that sometimes haul out on the beach or rocks. Ka’ena Point is one of the few places on O’ahu to see these playful seals. The albatross and shearwater are the only species that nest near the point, but you may see other seabirds, including black-footed albatrosses, glaucous gulls, and glaucous-winged gulls.

Makapu’u Point State Wayside

Note: Condensed version. The Hawaii Wildlife Viewing Guide’s complete site description also contains Background, Nearby Services, Special Tips, Facilities, Viewing Tips and Location Map.

Description: The trail initially climbs past kiawe, p’nini (cactus), and other non-native or dryland plants. As it ascends toward Makapu’u Head, you are treated to views of grassy meadows and coastal wetlands in the Kealakipapa Valley extending toward the ocean in the distance. Most of these coastal wetlands have been filled and developed over the last century throughout O’ahu. As you pass through the arid landscape, watch for doves, mynas, and red-vented bulbuls.

As the trail hairpins to the north, the point extends into the windy Ka Iwi Channel. This offers hikers welcome ocean breezes and incredible views of the Pacific and surf pounding hundreds of feet below. The vistas are breathtaking, so stop often to savor the views of Koko Head and Diamond Head and also keep an eye out for leaping spinner dolphins (nai’a). The ocean below is part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and each winter you will have the opportunity to view humpback whales (kohola) that often come remarkably close to shore. To spot them look for their blows, which can rise over twenty feet. If you’re lucky you may even get to see a mother and calf breaching, slapping, or just resting offshore. Other wildlife, such as green sea turtles (honu) and Hawaiian monk seals (‘ïlio-holo-i-ka-uaua), also inhabit this beautiful area.

The trail eventually leads past the weathered cement foundations of a former lightstation and positions you above the red-roofed lighthouse. There is an elevated viewing platform 647 feet above the sea that overlooks the rugged coastline and two offshore islands (K’ohikaipu and M’nana islands) that are bird sanctuaries for Hawaii ’s seabirds, such as the great frigatebird (’iwa) and tropicbirds (koa’e). On a clear day you may see colorful hang gliders gliding on thermal updrafts near the cliffs and can enjoy views of Moloka’i and Lana’i in the distance. At any time you might see mongoose crossing the road. If the hike back heats you up, stop off at nearby Makapu’u Beach Park to cool off or watch bodysurfers catch the big waves. Be careful, as the waves can be dangerous.

Contact Information: Department of Land and Natural Resources,/ Makapu’u Point State Wayside, 1151 Punchbowl Street , Room 310, Honolulu , HI 96813 ; phone 808/587-0300; www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dsp. Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, 6600 Kalaniÿanaÿole Highway, Suite 301, Honolulu, HI, 96825, 808-397-2651, 1-888-55-WHALE, http://hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov.

Hours: Sunrise to sunset daily

Wildlife to Watch: Except for an occasional dove, myna, or mongoose near the trail, the real attraction is the seabirds, humpback whales, and spinner dolphins. The offshore island sanctuaries attract red-tailed tropic birds (koa’e ‘ula) , great frigate birds, and other seabirds, such as red-footed boobies (‘a), brown noddies (noio koha), and sooty terns (‘ewa ‘ewa) throughout the year. Thousands of sooty terns seek the islands to breed from March to August. Whales are present during winter and you can spot spinner dolphins throughout the year. Your chances of seeing seabirds and whales are excellent during winter from December through April, with the very best viewing from January to March. You can also see an array of captive marine species at Sea Life Park , north on Highway 72. The park displays everything from small whales to penguins and rehabilitates marine mammals that are injured.

Waimea Valley Audubon Center

Note: Condensed version. The Hawaii Wildlife Viewing Guide’s complete site description also contains Background, Nearby Services, Special Tips, Facilities, Viewing Tips and Location Map.

Description: While many visitors consider the valley’s scenery, gardens, and waterfall the main attractions, wildlife lovers will be rewarded with views of several native and non-native species, including breeding populations of endangered Hawaiian moorhen (‘alae ‘ula), four species of Hawaiian freshwater gobies, and beautiful pinao -- Hawaiian dragonflies and damselflies. The Audubon Society has recently assumed management of the 1,875- acre park to “protect and enhance Waimea Valley’s cultural, botanical and ecological resources and interpret those resources through quality educational programs.” About 200 acres are open to the public.

Park at the visitor center, and then walk on paved pathways past some of the 35 botanical collections from around the world. The gardens feature plants native to Hawai’i and from distant locations, such as Sri Lanka and South America . Be sure to allow a few extra minutes to tour the Makai Hawaiian garden, which showcases many native and rare species found only in Hawai’i and provides a glimpse of some very rare hibiscus that no longer exist in the wild.

Each of the four ponds next to the walkway offer very reliable views of the endangered Hawaiian moorhen. Stream shallows in the estuary attract wintering shorebirds. Colorful peacocks abound. Bird feeding stations used to be present, but have been removed. Audubon asks visitors not to feed the birds because it leads to a host of problems, from dependency on handouts and the spread of diseases to reduced caution around humans.

Hours : 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily, except Christmas and New Years day.

Contact Information: Waimea Valley Audubon Center , 59-864 Kamehameha Highway , Hale’iwa, HI, 96712, 808/638-9199, www.audubon.org/local/sanctuary/hi.html.

Wildlife to Watch: The endangered Hawaiian moorhen is common at ponds within the valley. There are fewer than 500 moorhens on O’ahu and Kaua’i and about 20 individuals reside in this valley. You can watch them walk on pond lilies, spreading their long, unwebbed toes to maintain balance on the floating vegetation. Native black-crowned night herons (’auku’u) are often visible hunting along the stream or within the ponds. Pacific golden plovers (kolea) and wandering tattlers (‘ulili) appear during winter. From spring through fall, you may catch a glimpse of the white-tailed tropic bird (koa’e kea) gliding along the valley walls. When you see their long, elegant tails, you’ll understand why ancient Hawaiians coveted them for their feather decorations. Common peafowl abound; these natives of India were reputed to be a favorite of Princess Ka’iulani. You may see an occasional mongoose scurrying past the ground level plants.


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Updated: Sunday, January 25, 2009 1:59 PM