Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens
A scavenger "art" hunt of sorts awaits visitors at Kauai’s Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens (808-828-0525, naainakai.org). Tucked among the 240 acres of gardens are more than 120 bronze sculptures, adding to the landscape’s beauty. Tuesdays through Fridays, six different guided tours are available, from 90 minutes to five hours.
The five-hour Wild Side Trek ($75, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, lunch included) will appeal to the adventurous. Among its many stops is the Wild Forest Garden, a valley canyon lush with moss, bamboo and ferns. Throughout the property, those with keen olfactory senses might smell some of the foliage before seeing it — chocolate, nutmeg and cinnamon trees intermingled with cardamom, ginger and vanilla vines. Flitting through the aromatic branches are exotic songbirds such as the white-rumped shama.
As enthralling as this valley is, there’s more to be seen from the Koli Ridge Bird Walk and Kulihaili Canyon to Kaluakai Beach. Amid the "wild," a surprise detour to Japan occurs via features within Shower Tree Park and Kaula Lagoon. Heralding the change in venue are multicolored bouquets hanging from shower trees. Water lilies beckon for a peek into the nearby lagoon, where koi gracefully swim past a waterfall. A staircase beside the waterfall leads up to a teahouse. The sight of footbridges brings on the urge for further exploration, rewarded by the discovery of Malie, a Hawaiian hula dancer in bronze by Robert Shure located on the garden’s Hula Island.
Many have heard of Johnny Appleseed, a.k.a. John Chapman, who sowed apple trees throughout Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Though Chapman didn’t make his way to Hawaii, another Johnny Appleseed of sorts did — George Munro. Arriving on Lana‘i in the early 1900s, Munro was the manager of Lana‘i Ranch. During his rambles on the island, Munro introduced myriad plant life to the vivid red soil. In tribute to his efforts, one of Lana‘i’s most verdant areas has been named after him: Munro Trail.
The best way to access this one-lane dirt road is via a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Despite the short distance — 12 miles round trip — those embarking on the journey should allot up to three hours for its completion. Ascent to the 3,370-foot summit begins at Palawai Basin and traverses a cloud forest. Evidence of Munro’s pursuits can be seen along the way via ironwood forests, Cook pines, swamp mahogany and California redwoods.
A bit of history can be found as well at Hookio Gulch, a stronghold for Lana‘i’s warriors during a battle in 1778 against Chief Kalaniopuu’s troops from Hawaii Island.
At the trail’s summit is an abundant growth of guava, just one of the fruits of labor to be had here. From atop Lanaihale, the island’s highest peak, are breathtaking views of up to five neighboring islands.
One of Hawaii’s most magical times of the year occurs November through April during the humpback whale migratory season. Spectacular views of these majestic creatures can be had from one of Hawaii’s Heritage Sites: Makapuu Trail, along the Ka Iwi State Scenic Shoreline. Located on the southeastern point of O‘ahu just off Kalanianaole Highway (Highway 72), the park is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Note: Parking in the area can be challenging, and no restrooms are available.
Whales aren’t the only visions of beauty to be seen along this easy 2-mile (round trip) hike. The yellow flowered cactus and other exotic succulents line the paved path. To the right of the trailhead is "Pele’s Chair," a stone structure that legend links to the goddess of volcanoes for which it is named. Further along the trail are views of Koko Head Crater, Sea Life Park, as well as the islands of Molokai, Kaohikaipu and Manana, a.k.a. Rabbit Island, named for the rabbits that once made their home there.
From the trail’s 647-foot summit, it’s possible to see historic Makapuu Lighthouse (not open to the public). Still in operation today, the lighthouse was first built in 1909, then automated in 1974. It houses the largest lighthouse lens in the United States, measuring 12 feet high and 9 feet in diameter. Also seen from the bluff are magnificent panoramas extending from Makapuu Beach all the way to Waimanalo.
Finding the reality behind Hawaii’s mythology is a worthwhile pursuit. A great spot for doing so is Molokai’s Kamakou Preserve. The Nature Conservancy (nature.org, 808-553-5236) offers monthly guided hikes through the 2,774-acre rain forest at the base of Mount Kamakou, Molokai’s highest peak. A 3-mile (round trip) boardwalk winds through terrain ripe with 250 rare species of Hawaiian plants, 219 of which grow no other place on Earth beyond the preserve. Some flora to be on the lookout for: ohia lehua trees, ohelo bushes and manono.
As for the aforementioned mythology, the preserve is said to be home of Hawaii’s menehune, magical "little people" who are credited for the islands’ mysteriously completed construction projects. It seems they might be gardeners, too, since in Pepeopae Bog the flora suddenly grows in miniature.
Still to be seen: indigenous birds, native insects and land snails. There are more views as well, among them vistas of the Pacific from Pelekunu Valley.
Kailua Bay & Mount Hualalai
There are numerous ways to enjoy the great outdoors on Hawaii Island. A unique experience that takes guests from 2,850-foot-high peaks to depths of 100 feet below the ocean is Atlantis Kona’s "Green" Sub Tour and Makalei Golf Combo ($150 for adults, $70 ages 7 to 18; 800-548-6262, atlantissubmarines.com).
The eco-friendly tour, one of four offered through Atlantis, begins aboard a shuttle boat that departs from historic Kailua-Kona town en route to Kailua Bay. Participants then board a 48-passenger submarine with ample viewing ports. Once the vessel dives, a whole new world is opened to guests while viewing a 25-acre coral reef garden formed on an 18,000-year-old lava flow. More marine life can be seen at the sites of two sunken shipwrecks, one a World War II – era landing craft, the other a 55-foot steel-hulled yacht, both now home to schools of tropical fish and colorful coral.
Back on dry land, the adventure continues on Mount Hualalai, where vouchers procured during the sub/golf combo tour can be redeemed at the Makalei Golf Club (golf club rental not included). Fairway features range from native forests to lava tubes and cinder cones. Though there’s a lack of tropical fish to be seen here, other creatures, like resident peacocks, pheasants and wild turkeys, may add their commentary on golfer skills.
Kipahulu and the Seven Sacred Pools
Though the 52-mile Road to Hana (Route 360) is itself a back-to-nature experience, a destination it leads to is also a venture into the wild: Kipahulu. This is the coastal area of Haleakala National Park (nps.gov/hale; call 808-572-4400 to check for road closures) and the location of Maui’s Seven Sacred Pools.
Hiking in this section of the park is self-guided. A popular route for exploring is Pipiwai Trail. The 4-mile round-trip trek takes two and a half to five hours to complete. The trail, which gradually ascends to 650 feet, follows Pipiwai Stream through Oheo Gulch. Though there’s abundant plant life to be seen among the dark lava rocks, hikers should keep an eye out for whales and dolphins swimming along the shoreline.
Multiple waterfalls make appearances along the path, too, including a 200-foot beauty near an area named the Infinity Pool. Then there’s Waimoku Falls, a stunning 400-foot waterfall that descends along a sheer lava rock wall.
As for the Seven Sacred Pools (there are actually more than seven), both they and waterfalls lure you for a dip before making the return trip.