Both on- and offshore, the Hawaiian islands are home to thousands of unique species of flora and fauna, many of which you’ll never see elsewhere.
One of the safer and most beautiful places to go snorkeling is Hanauma Bay, a marine preserve just a short drive to the east from Honolulu. It can get crowded during the middle of the day, but that’s because of the bay’s crystal clear, calm waters and its abundance of sealife. Turtles are quite common here, as are a plethora of tropical fish species swimming in and out of the coral. An educational video shown before visitors are allowed entrance to the park attempts to inform snorkelers about taking care to not harm the coral or sealife.
Along the northern tip and northeastern edges of the island is the Oahu National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which is made up of two smaller refuges, the James Campbell and Oahu Forest National Wildlife Refuges. The Oahu Forest refuge is on the slopes of the Ko’olau mountain range, and protects a number of endangered plant, snail, and bird species. The James Campbell refuge is on the northernmost tip of Oahu, and contains a freshwater marsh as well as land and ocean. Species found here are a number of endangered Hawaiian birds, plant species, turtles, and monk seals. Entry to these areas is sensitive to the breeding, migration, and growth patterns of the species within them, but guided tours are available during a number of months.
On the northwestern shore of the island is Waimea Valley, a nature park complete with botanical gardens. The gardens contain a number of very rare plants, including endangered species endemic to the Hawaiian islands, and also gardens featuring flora from other isolated islands from different parts of the world. Now run by a non-profit, guided educational tours through the valley are a good way to familiarize yourself with some of the islands’ most precious plantlife.
Or get a taste of a different Hawaiian ecosystem with a hike to the Manoa Falls, just north of Honolulu in the Hawaii Watershed Forest Reserve. A one hour hike through tropical forest is required before reaching the falls, but you’ll be treated to the beauty of towering trees, bird calls, and tall bamboo. Bring a camera for the 100-foot-plus falls themselves, but for the lush plantlife, too – and you might want to bring hiking boots and bug spray as well, just in case!
[photo courtesy of Smart Destinations]