COURTESY OF HINA ADVENTURES, INC.
Na Pohaku o Hauwahine, along Kawainui Marsh, is one of the sites visited on the Storytelling, Legends & Sacred Sites of Windward Oahu tour.
Getting a tour through culture as well as place
Nature was Ena Sroat's playground when she was growing up in Kaneohe as a fourth-generation kamaaina.
"I was always exploring the streams, mountains and cultural sites on the Windward side of Oahu," she said. "My parents are avid hikers, and they would take my brother and me on fabulous treks into the valleys and up into the Koolau range."
Storytelling, Legends & Sacred Sites of Windward Oahu
» Pickups: All Waikiki hotels
» Offered: Fridays, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
» Cost: $78 per person, including round-trip transportation, snacks, a souvenir polycarbonate water bottle and use of binoculars. Children 3 through 12 receive a 15 percent discount (kids younger than 3 usually aren't allowed on this tour). Kamaaina, including keiki, receive a 20 percent discount.
» Phone: 499-9753 on Oahu or toll-free (888) 933-HINA from neighbor islands
» E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
» Web site: www.hinaadventures.com
» Notes: Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes. Participants should be able to walk on uneven ground.
» Four other tours are offered weekly: "Stargazing," "Star Legends and Secrets of the Polynesian Navigators" on Mondays; "Ancient Hawaiian Fishpond Experience" on Tuesdays; and "Waikiki Walking Tour" and "Sacred Valley Exploration" on Wednesdays. "Hoolaulima: Community Service Project & Sacred Sites" takes place the second and third Saturdays each month. Prices run from $20 to $125. Half-day and full-day custom tours also are available. Subjects include Hawaii's monarchy, healing sites and native Hawaiian plants. Prices range from $78 to $140, depending on the itinerary, duration and number of guests. Check the Web site for more information.
One of the family's favorite escapes was a trail that meandered through the foothills to a large mango grove.
"I instinctively knew that it was a special place, and I felt at peace and inspired there," said Sroat. "I later found out the grove was the site of a heiau, which explains why the mana (spirit) is so strong there."
Sroat, who holds bachelor's degrees in history and international relations, nurtures a deep interest in the culture and history of the Hawaiians and their belief that all things, both animate and inanimate, are important elements of a balanced and interconnected world.
"The more I learned, the more impressed I became with this philosophy," said Sroat. "In the Hawaiians' view, nature should be appreciated and cared for with as much love and respect as a family member."
In January 2006, Sroat partnered with her good friend Uluwehi Hopkins to launch Hina Adventures. Like Sroat, Hopkins was born and raised on Oahu. Proud of her Hawaiian ancestry, she is pursuing a master's degree in Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and has worked with many Hawaiian cultural organizations, including the Polynesian Voyaging Society.
The two women named their ecotourism venture after Hina, goddess of the moon, who is associated with growth, production, fertility and healing. Hawaiians believe Hina reigns over planting and fishing cycles, and is able to take many forms, including plants, sea life, birds and winds.
"Because of Hina's associations with the land, sea and sky, we felt she was the best representation of what we hope to accomplish with our company," said Sroat. "We want to focus not only on nature adventures, but on how the Hawaiian culture has been intimately tied to the landscape and life forms of these islands. Ecotourism should combine both elements -- nature and native culture -- and seek to benefit both."
COURTESY OF HINA ADVENTURES, INC.
The Storytelling, Legends & Sacred Sites of Windward Oahu tour conveys a philosophy of balance and human interconnectedness with nature.
SROAT AND HOPKINS lead all of Hina Adventures' tours, which accommodate four to 12 participants to minimize environmental impact. They share information they've learned through research from academic, archaeological and ecological studies; books about Hawaiian mythology and religion; firsthand accounts of early island travelers; and discussions they've had with noted cultural practitioners.
"I instinctively knew that it was a special place, and I felt at peace and inspired there. I later found out the grove was the site of a heiau, which explains why the mana (spirit) is so strong there."
Ena Sroat / Co-owner of Hina Adventures
They carefully selected the tour's sites based on their political, economic, geographical, cultural and historical significance. For example, the "Storytelling, Legends & Sacred Sites of Windward Oahu" tour explores Ka Lae o Kealohi peninsula in Heeia, which overlooks Kaneohe Bay, the largest bay in Hawaii; Na Pohaku o Hauwahine along 830-acre Kawainui Marsh, the state's largest wetland preserve; and Ulupo Heiau, which is on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
At Heeia you'll view an 88-acre fishpond that might date to the 13th century. Legend says it is guarded by the goddess Meheanu, who can change shapes from lizard to eel to woman at will. As in ancient times, moi is being raised there, a testament to the ingenuity and efficiency of the Hawaiian aquaculture system.
Na Pohaku o Hauwahine is a 12-acre promontory studded with large, smooth stones upon which Hauwahine, another shape-shifting goddess, supposedly loves to rest. She is the guardian of the fishpond in the marsh, and long ago the Hawaiians left offerings there for her, including the awa (kava) she so loved. In return, Hauwahine ensured there was always abundant fish in the pond.
The nonprofit group Ahahui Malama i ka Lokahi, caretaker of the site, is reviving the landscape with native trees and plants, including koa, pili grass and mao hau hele (yellow hibiscus, Hawaii's state flower).
Ulupo Heiau measures 140 by 180 feet and has walls up to 30 feet in height. Tales passed down orally for generations say a race of little people, called the Menehune, built this mapele (agricultural temple) in one night, using stones passed hand to hand from Kualoa, more than 10 miles away.
Ahahui Malama i ka Lokahi is overseeing the restoration of fresh springs, taro patches and rock terraces at the heiau. Sroat and Hopkins volunteer regularly there and at Na Pohaku o Hauwahine, helping to remove weeds and to plant and tend native species.
In fact, many of their tours have been planned through such collaborations with Hawaiian cultural organizations.
"By working with them, we benefit from their knowledge," says Sroat. "In turn, we assist them in the development of sustainable tourism opportunities and support their cause in the form of donations, profit-sharing or giving them a percentage of ticket prices.
"Meanwhile, our guests learn about little-known cultural and natural treasures, and leave with newfound respect for Hawaiian practices, beliefs and values. Everyone is enriched by the experience."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.