Waimea Valley makeover


POSTED: Friday, May 22, 2009
This story has been corrected.  See below.

Some local residents—myself included—tend to make assumptions about certain parts of Oahu, judging them as off limits to all but tourists. But after hiking in Waimea Valley over the weekend, I realized what I'd been missing.





        Waimea Valley Hiking Series

» Where: Waimea Valley, 59-864 Kamehameha Highway


» When: 8:30 a.m. Saturdays through Oct. 31; hike departs promptly at 9 a.m.


» Cost: $5 to $10, plus cost of admission to Waimea Valley ($6 kamaaina; $3 for keiki and seniors); advance reservations required


» Call: 638-7766





        » Staff members will notify you by 7:30 a.m. if the hike is canceled (however, they do hike in the rain). Minimum age is 7 years old for family hikes and 12 years old for regular hikes.

» Don't leave home without closed-toe shoes (you can't hike without them), water and backpack, sunscreen, insect repellent, headgear and a snack or lunch for longer hikes.




Under new management and with a fresh, consumer-friendly attitude, the 1,800-acre Waimea Valley is re-branding itself as a place to indulge in a little adventure off the beaten path while learning about plant restoration, Hawaiian culture and the valley's history. One way the staff has begun to share this with the public is by offering a group hike every Saturday. The program started in March and continues through the end of October, featuring excursions of varying levels of difficulty.

“;We want to welcome the community back in; we want them to feel a sense of stewardship,”; said Laurent Pool, a Waimea Valley hike leader. While volunteerism from specific groups has increased recently, he said many Hawaii residents aren't sure what Waimea Valley is anymore.

As it turns out, it's a pretty glorious place, rich with Hawaiian history. Our family hike, labeled “;easy to moderate,”; covered about 2.5 miles up and along Kalahee Ridge in just under three hours. That might sound painfully slow, but given the terrain, side trips and pauses to enjoy the view, it seemed just right.

Pool started by taking us through the valley's botanical gardens along Kamananui Stream, where we glimpsed the 'alae 'ula, or endangered Hawaiian moorhen and its habitat, as well as a Hawaiian damselfly exhibit currently under construction. The valley also boasts one of the most impressive collections of hibiscus, a flower that thrives in the area's significant annual rainfall.

Pool, a marine biologist from the Seychelles off Madagascar, shared an abundance of information about the vegetation, and carefully—and respectfully—conveyed some Hawaiian history. He noted the park's other guide is native Hawaiian, and the two are learning from each other to enrich the hikes both scientifically and culturally.

Based on the fitness level of the four people in our randomly assembled group, Pool altered the planned course to make it a little more challenging (he promises never to make a hike more difficult than participants can handle). After our stroll along the paved road near the Visitors' Center, the trail to the ridge turned steep, narrow and overgrown—Pool carried a machete and sometimes needed it—in a matter of steps. Ropes are set in certain places to help hikers with the slippery trail and steep traverse, and I found myself happy to use them on occasion. Along the way, he educated us about the constant threat invasive species pose to endemic vegetation.

Near the top we eased through an ironwood forest and a gathering of koa, Hawaiian ebony and strawberry guava trees, noting the stripped bark where wild pigs had scratched themselves. Our reward for clambering up approximately 400 feet was a stunning view down to Waimea Bay and all the way to Kaena Point.

An avid hiker, Pool prefers the longer outings, which can last up to six hours with a stop for lunch, because they include such an array of terrain and vegetation.

“;The variety of hikes we could do in this place is pretty much endless,”; he said.

If participants are willing, Pool encourages them to gather seeds from native plants for propagation in the nursery under the guidance of resident botanists. Our group collected a'ali'i seeds.

“;Volunteers have a good time doing it, and it's pretty easy,”; explained Pool, who added that valley officials work to preserve native Hawaiian plants because of the link they have with Hawaiian culture.

After walking along the ridge and getting a feel for the area as the last complete traditional Hawaiian ahupua'a on Oahu, we started down a much more gradual path to complete the loop, ambling through a grove of coffee trees in a part of the island people can't see on their own.

“;I never really came to this valley,”; said hiker Wayne Shimata, who was born and raised in Hawaii but now lives on the mainland. He said he learned a lot from the outing. “;Even if you're local, a lot of times you don't know about that stuff,”; he added. “;And you don't appreciate it until you go away.”;








Friday, May 29, 2009


This story originally included an incorrect number for hiking reservations and information. The correct number is 638-7766.