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COVID-19 IN HAWAIʻI: WHAT LIES AHEAD

A reflection from the Spring of 2020 and Hawaiʻi Walks’ plans moving forward with COVID-19 in Hawaiʻi .

A Honolulu Police Department officer writes a ticket to a man sitting on a bench in an unusually empty Waikiki park on Saturday, May 2nd, 2020.

The Arrival of COVID-19 IN Hawai’i

When news first broke of a novel coronavirus spreading around the world, tensions ran high in Hawaiʻi. On any given day, Hawaiʻi has upwards of 250,000 tourists, and hosts over 450 cruise ships each year. Since one of the first major publicized outbreaks of the virus occurred on the infamous Diamond Princess cruise ship, we here in Hawaiʻi were bracing for an explosive outbreak of the virus. Indeed, our first recorded case was from a man returning from the ill-fated Grand Princess cruise ship. While businesses remained open and travel continued, many began to prepare for a very uncertain future ahead.

A worker paints a boarded store-front at the Marriott Beach Resort on Kalākaua Avenue, Waikiki

outbreaK AND THE CLOSURE OF THE STATE

After the initial case of COVID-19 in Hawaiʻi on March 6th, reports of cases were steadily increasing daily. However, these cases were linked to recent travel, meaning COVID-19 had likely been circulating via community spread on the mainland and in East Asia for the past month. In Hawaiʻi, the first reported case of community spread occurred March 20th. At this point, it became apparent that serious measures would need to be taken to stop the spread of COVID-19. The next day, Governor Ige announced that a strict 14-day quarantine for anyone visiting the islands. A stay-at-home order from the Mayor that shuttered non-essential businesses was the final move bringing the economy to a halt.

Economic Shutdown

Hawaiʻi Walks officially closed operations on March 16th, several days before the official closure by the Mayor. It seemed unsafe to continue to host guests on tours when we did not know the scope of the virus. Many other companies shuttered their doors as well in the following days. This caused Hawaiʻi to have the country’s highest unemployment rate of 37%. The tourism industry in Hawaii supports over 200,000 direct jobs. The income generated from those positions keep other businesses running as well. Thousands of individuals have turned up at free food drives, with some folks to waiting over 4 hours for food.

One of the most popular and crowded parking lots in Waikiki at the Honolulu Zoo sits empty.

Hawaiʻi Flattens the curve

However, good news lies ahead. Despite worries that Hawaiʻi would be an epicenter of the outbreak, Hawaiʻi’s COVID-19 rates are very low. Our strict quarantine measures most likely reduced transmission rates greatly. Scientific studies about the transmission of COVID-19 are in exploratory phases, it appears there may be a connection between warm weather and being outside that can slow transmission.

As of May 1, 2020, Hawaiʻi appears to have flattened the curve on COVID-19 and now has less than 5 cases a day on average. Source: Google with data from Wikipedia

COVID-19 IN HAWAI’I: What’s next

The stay-at-home orders in Hawaiʻi are extended until May 31st. Non-essential businesses must stay closed during this time, and visitors will continue to have to undergo their 14-day quarantine. Hawaiʻi Walks is happy to uphold the requirements decided upon by our public health officials. We are planning to re-open in July at the earliest. This is because we do not want to re-open business and cause an increase of the virus. However, we are monitoring the situation daily and may adjust these plans as needed.

Taking a walk through Waikiki with a facemask. We were sure to observe 6 or more feet of distance between ourselves and any one else nearby.

COVID-19 IN HAWAIʻI: Tour Changes

The first change to our tours is that we will be scaling down the number of tours offered. We expect demand to begin low and develop over time. In addition, our north shore Turtle Bay tours may take longer to resume. We will have to wait on the resort to re-instate their staff and operational capacity. Our East Waikiki Walking Tour will resume first on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and during the week at 5PM on Wednesdays. Because of the many different realities we are facing with the re-opening of bars and restaurants, the Waikiki History and Drinks tour is postponed until further notice. This may change as we come closer to opening again.

In conclusion: Mahalo!

While these have truly been trying times, we’ve been touched by how many former guests and business partners have reached out to say hello and share aloha during this time. We treasure every guest we’ve had the pleasure of meeting and we can’t wait to resume our tours. Being able to share the history and nature of Hawaiʻi with folks from all over the world has been an invaluable experience, and we can’t wait to get to share that again with all of you. Mahalo and stay healthy, safe, and positive for what lies ahead.

    View of West Side from Ka'ena Point

    KAʻENA POINT HIKE: NORTH SHORE SPOTLIGHT

    Wondering where to hike on North Shore? Want to explore one of Oʻahu’s most wild and rugged coastlines? The Kaʻena Point hike has wildlife, geology, and history that every visitor to the North Shore of Oʻahu should experience.

    View of the West Side from Kaʻena Point

    What to expect

    The Kaʻena Point Hike is 5 miles round trip along generally flat terrain. Going at a leisurely pace, it is good to budget approximately 3-4 hours for the entire walk. Put simply, this hike is flat, long, and hot. You’ll notice at the start of the hike, you can follow a straight dirt road closer to the mountains that will be the shortest distance to the point. Or, you can follow along the coastal trails to the right. I recommend walking along the coast on the way, and taking the main road back. It will be easy to distinguish between the two.

    Expect to see rugged, wild beach coves, visiting seabirds, monk seals, and whales in the winter months. At the end of the walk you will find an enclosed Natural Area Preserve. Inside, there’s large seabird colonies and many visiting monk seals at the point.

    The history of Kaʻena Point

    Koʻolau and Waiʻanae have been thought to be the main two volcanoes that make up the landmass of Oʻahu. However, in 2014 scientists discovered a third volcano–the Kaʻena volcano. This volcano emerged over 3 million years ago and once extended from Northwest Oʻahu out further into sea. This means the land of Kaʻena Point is extremely ancient. In fact, there are fossilized coral heads that line the point that are thought to be over 130,000 years old.

    A map of the three original Oʻahu volcanoes. Photo Credit: J. Sinton, et al., UH SOEST

    Several hundred years after the arrival of Polynesians to Hawaiʻi, the remote stretch of Kaʻena was eventually colonized. The northern portion of the Kaʻena Point Hike was part of the Waialua moku (district) and more specifically, the Kaʻena ahupua’a (roughly translated as a self-sufficient community). Within the Kaʻena ahupuaʻa, archaeologists have discovered ancient fire pits, burial sites, and prehistoric paving for houses (known as ‘ili ‘ili) suggesting that despite the hot, dry nature of this area, it once sustained a permanent and robust community of Native Hawaiians.

    Many Native Hawaiians lost their lands in the “Great” Mahele and the ahupua’a system was dissolved after the arrival of Europeans. In the 19th century, Hawaiʻi was being rapidly industrialized in order to develop various crop production, especially sugar cane and pineapples. However, mobilization was difficult and moving product was a laborious undertaking. In 1888, Benjamin Franklin Dillingham (father of Walter Dillingham, the creator of the Ala Wai Canal), began construction on a railway that would extend around the island to help move crops, materials, and workers. The railway eventually wrapped around Kaʻena Point until it was mostly destroyed in 1946 following the Aleutian Islands Earthquake. On the West side of the hike you can still see some pieces of the train tracks.

    The Oʻahu Railway and Land Railroad extended along this dirt path. There has not been any road or railway around the point since the railroad’s destruction in 1947.

    How to get there

    There are two ways to reach Kaʻena Point. Therefore, it is very important you know if you are going to the West or the North entrance. Because Kaʻena Point is home to a protected Natural Area Reserve, you cannot drive around the point. As such, each entrance to the point is many miles away from the other (over an hour!), as you can see in the below map. I’ve had many issues meeting friends for this hike who went to the West entrance instead of the North. This blog is about the hike to the point from the North Shore entrance (for the google maps directions click here).

    Note how far away these two entrances are! It is not an easy mistake to correct if you go to the incorrect entrance.

    Arriving to the Kaʻena Point Hike

    The drive along the North Shore to reach Kaʻena Point is worth the trip itself. You will drive down Farrington Highway through Waialua and Mokuleia, two of the less-developed neighborhoods on the island. Feel free to pull over and enjoy some private beach time at Mokuleia Beach Park on your way to the point. It is a wonderful spot to relax and do some snorkeling. Once you reach the end of Farrington Highway, you’ll see a gate and a small parking lot. Pull in here to park.

    Note, this is an older satellite photo. There is a gate at the end of the road and a small container building to the left of the parking lot.

    As you begin the walk along the coast, you’ll see lots of spectacular bays nearly untouched by other humans. Do not expect to actually get in the water, however, because the rip-tides and waves in this area are some of the most dangerous on the island. It would be extremely rare to see anyone swimming along the hike.

    View of one of the coves called “The Ponds” along the Kaʻena Point Hike

    Along the Kaʻena Point Hike

    As you move up the coast, you’ll encounter breathtaking views of the Waiʻanae “mountain range” to your left. Note, this is not actually a mountain range, but the exterior cone of the extinct Waiʻanae volcano that formed over 2 million years ago. The exterior of the cone collapsed into the ocean hundreds of thousands of years ago, leaving just half of the volcanic cone still standing. Due to millions of years of erosion and rain, this volcanic cone looks like other traditional mountain ranges with multiple peaks and valleys.

    Waianae Volcano during the Ka'ena Point Hike
    The “mountains” along Kaʻena Point are actually the ancient remains of the Waiʻanae Volcano

    The Natural Area Reserve – Predator proof fence

    After walking about 2 miles, you will see a large and impressive fence wrapping around the tip of the island. This fence was installed in 2011 to protect the resident seabird populations, namely the Laysan Albatross and Shearwater birds which nest in and on the ground. Before the construction of this fence, invasive species like rats, mice, dogs, and especially feral cats were decimating the local bird populations. After the fence was installed, local plants and birds have enjoyed a boom in their population and deaths from invasive species has plummeted. This fence encloses nearly 60 acres of land and is managed by the Department of Land and Natural Resources which regularly removes invasive species and tracks native flora and fauna growth within the NAR.

    The predator-proof fence that lines the Natural Area Reserve at the end of the Kaʻena Point Hike

    cultural Site #1: Ka Leina a ka ʻUhane

    After entering the Natural Area Reserve, you will see on your right a distinctive, large, sloping limestone rock. This rock is the sacred leina a ka ʻuhane, which roughly means “leaping off place of the soul.” There is a leina a ka ʻuhane on most main Hawaiian islands, and it is typically found on the northwestern point of the land closest to the shore. It is thought in Hawaiian religion that upon death, the ʻuhane (spirit) leaves the kino (body) and often wanders the land before departing from the leina a ka ʻuhane to enter the afterlife. It is important to treat this site with the utmost reverence and respect. Do not approach or touch the rock, and take photographs at a respectful distance. This rock represents the most sacred of processes–the transition from life to death.

    Ka leina a ka ʻuhane: A sacred symbol of transition from the mortal world to the afterlife.

    The albatross of Kaʻena Point

    Once you pass ka leina a ka ʻuhane, if you are visiting from October-June, you will encounter the most charismatic residents of the Kaʻena Point Hike—the Laysan Albatross. These birds are winter visitors to Kaʻena, where they return to the point year after year in order to nest. The albatross are incredible creatures to view up close you will see plenty of them at the point if you visit during their nesting season. During the rest of the year, they spend their lives in the open ocean in the North Pacific feeding. When they come to the point to nest, they lay their eggs directly next to the walking path. Meanwhile, the albatross swoop above you, often pausing to look you in the eye. These are truly magical creatures and their presence makes the hike to Kaʻena truly memorable.

    Cultural Site #2: Pohaku o Kauaʻi

    After passing through the paths lined with albatross, you will follow the sandy paths to the point. This is marked by a tall light post and a couple small bunker-like structres. Upon reaching this light post, you will look down and see the end of Ka’ena Point. The last rock in the far distance is pohaku o kaua’i.

    The last rock at the end of this point is pohaku o Kauaʻi

    One legend states that this pohaku (rock) was thrown by the demi-god Haupu from the shores of Kauaʻi. Allegedly, chief Kaʻena had called all his fishermen out to Kaʻena Point to engage in a large-scale fishing trip. They lit torches and shouted into the night with large nets laid around the point. The plan was to scare fish into the nets. However, Haupu was awoken from his slumber on the coast of Kauaʻi and mistook the lights and shouting to mean men from Oʻahu were coming to invade Kauaʻi. To protect the island, he flung a rock towards to commotion, where it landed in the middle of the group of men fishing, killing many of the fishermen. The rock remains there to this day and is known simply as the “rock of Kauaʻi” (to read the entire story visit Sacred Texts).

    Hawaiian Monk Seals

    Finally, at the point, you are very likely to see one, if not several, Hawaiian Monk Seals. You can read more about this species on our other blog. The Hawaiian Monk Seal is the most endangered marine mammal in the United States, with only 1400 individuals left. There are only approximately 45 on the island of Oʻahu, so seeing one is certainly a treat. The seals love to visit Kaʻena Point, with often multiple seals crowding the beach at once.

    Several monk seals interacting at Kaʻena Point

    If you are lucky enough to see a Hawaiian Monk Seal stay at least 50 feet back. Do NOT approach these seals for selfies. Please note, many people get too close to these seals, post a picture of themselves with the seal on social media, and are then fined by the Department of Natural Land and Resources for harassment. Don’t be that guy! Give them their distance. Also, please do not yell, whistle, or otherwise bother the seals. I have seen multiple instances of individuals yelling at the seals so it will “look” at the camera. This is illegal. Altering the behavior of an endangered species can count as harassment. Let them rest and make sure to tell others to do the same.

    Instead, if you do see a seal, please call Hawaiian Marine Animal Response at 1-888-476-HMAR and let them know the size, description, and behavior of the seal you have observed. HMAR tracks all seal sightings and provides informational data about these animals to scientists.

    The walk back

    If you walked up to the point along the coast, I recommend heading back down along the main road. At the time of this blog, cars are not permitted to drive in Kaʻena Point due to erosion. However, eventually cars with special permits will again be allowed to drive down this road to fish. This road is the fastest way back to the parking lot, but watch out for the vehicles you’ll share the road with. It is not as scenic, but at this point you are likely a bit tired and dehydrated and are probably ready to head home or out to lunch. If you are really into walking long distances, you can walk past the point and all the way to the West side entrance and back again, for a 10 mile total loop.

    Kaʻena Point is a unique and fascinating hike that’s great for those who don’t want to do a strenuous up-hill climb, those who love wildlife, and for those looking for something off-the-beaten-path. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

    After your Kaʻena Point Hike, be sure to check out our North Shore tours at Turtle Bay to continue exploring the historic North Shore of Oʻahu!

    WAIKIKI TRAVEL GUIDE: A SATURDAY ON KAPAHULU

    Wondering how to spend a relaxing but interesting Saturday in Waikiki without driving all around town? Looking for a place that isn’t drowning in tourists? Read our Waikiki Travel Guide for Kapahulu avenue to learn how to spend a perfect Saturday in East Waikiki.

    All the places you’ll need to stop for a kick-ass Saturday in Waikiki

    *Note, none to the businesses mentioned in our Waikiki Travel Guide are advertisements or posted in exchange for financial or other gifts. Hence, this is pure, 100% opinion offered without the judgment cloud of potential instagram fame or fortune. These are actually places I went on my own and thought they were great and worth sharing.

    7:30 AM: Coffee Time at KNots Coffee

    • Knots Coffee Roasters Main Picture
    • Coffee from Knots Coffee Roasters
    • Patio at Knots Coffee Roasters at Queen Kapiolani Hotel in Waikiki
    • Merchandise at Knots Coffee Roasters in the Queen Kapiolani Hotel
    • Baked goods at Knots Coffee Roasters

    First of all, if you’re not already in Waikiki, it’s time to splash some water on your face and head down to the shore to get caffeinated. We recommend the delicious coffee at Knots Coffee Roasters inside of the Queen Kapi’olani Hotel. This is a chain from Tokyo that just opened this Honolulu location in 2019. This is probably one of the few coffee bars that sells not only coffee, but also alcohol and dog treats. Yep! Knots Coffee is dog friendly and before-noon-cocktail friendly too. Choose your poison–booze, coffee, or pupper. They’ve got it all.

    A picture of a croissant from Knots Coffee Roasters in Waikiki Hawaii
    Knots Coffee Roasters Croissant

    I was really impressed with the latte I ordered. It was exceptionally rich and smooth with a subtle taste of lavender. Turns out they brew with coffee from Big Island Coffee Roasters based out of Puna, Hawai’i, which was recently named the 2nd best Coffee Roaster in the U.S. by Forbes. I also was pleasantly surprised by their croissant, which was really tasty and flaky. Feel free to take your goods to go, or do as I did and sit and enjoy the view from their street-level patio.

    Knots Coffee Roasters is open from 5AM – 11PM daily. It is located at The Queen Kapi’olani Hotel at 150 Kapahulu Ave. Instagram: @knotscoffeehawaii Facebook: /KnotsCoffeeRoastersHawaii

    8:00 AM The Waikiki Specialty Farmers’ Market

    • Specialty Farmers Market Waikiki
    • Specialty Farmers Market Sign
    • The line for produce at the Specialty Farmers Market in Waikiki

    The Waikiki Specialty Farmers Market is a very small but quirky outdoor market open every Saturday. It is held by Creations of Hawai’i, a non-profit that supports community programs around cultural arts and social awareness. Touring the entire market should take around 30 minutes, even with stopping at each booth. Expect to pick up some local Filipino food, some baked goods, and cheap produce.

    The Waikiki Specialty Farmers Market is held every Saturday from 8AM – 2PM. It is located at 324 Kapahulu Avenue. Facebook: /Waikiki-Specialty-Farmers-Market

    9:00 AM The Hawaii Walks East Waikiki Walking Tour

    Kapiolani Park by Hawaii Walks Walking Tour Company
    Waikiki Travel Guide: Kap’iolani Park on a perfect day during the East Waikiki Walk

    We may be biased, but we are fairly confident the absolute best way to spend 9AM -10:45AM on a Saturday morning is on our East Waikiki Walking Tour. Our walking tour was created to bring information and wonderment in an accessible and affordable way to tourists and residents in historic Waikiki. We want you to look up, see birds, trees, learn about the history of the area, and understand Waikiki in ways you haven’t ever had the opportunity to do before. Let our expert guide show you why Waikiki is so much more than just high rises and fancy restaurants. Join us!!!

    The Hawaii Walks East Waikiki Walking Tour takes place Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9AM. It starts and ends at the “Surfer on a Wave” statue. Facebook: /hawaiiwalkstourco Instagram: @Hawaiiwalkstourco Twitter: @HawaiiWalks

    11:00 AM Art on the Zoo Fence

    • Art on the Fence in Waikiki
    • Vendors along Monsarrat in Waikiki

    After enjoying your Hawaii Walks East Waikiki Walking Tour, check out the Saturday morning Art on the Zoo Fence along Monsarrat Avenue right across the street from the ending spot of the walking tour. During this event, local artists line the fence along the East side of the Honolulu Zoo to sell their photographs, paintings, and mixed-media art. Unlike most expensive galleries, you buy the works directly from the artists themselves. Incredibly, Art on the Fence has been being held for more than 50 years. If you’re visiting Hawai’i and looking for something authentic and affordable, check out Art on the Fence.

    Art on the Zoo Fence is open every Saturday and Sunday from 9AM – 4PM. It is located along the Zoo fence on Monsarrat Avenue. Facebook: Art-on-the-zoo-fence-Hawaii

    11:30 AM: Lunch at Lulu’s

    Storefront of LuLu's Waikiki
    Storefront of LuLu’s Waikiki

    Amidst the $30 hamburgers throughout the menus of rapidly gentrifying Waikiki, there stands one relatively affordable spot with a view–LuLu’s Waikiki. LuLu’s is perhaps the last restaurant in Waikiki that normal local folks go to for normal meals. Otherwise, Hawai’i residents usually only venture to Waikiki on birthdays and anniversaries as most the affordable spots have long since been converted to high-end bistros that charge $10 for a Heineken. Most importantly, with plenty seats facing the ocean, you’re almost guaranteed a great view while you eat. Expect non-fussy, straight-up American fare–burgers with fries, nachos, and dips. Lastly, feel good about supporting this local business, as they are a certified ocean friendly restaurant meaning that they use sustainable policies in the establishment to cut down on plastic waste.

    Lulu’s Waikiki is open 7AM-2AM. Location is 2586 Kalakaua Avenue. Instagram: @lulus_waikiki Facebook: /LulusWaikikiHI

    1:00 PM: The Honolulu Zoo

    • The entrance of the Honolulu Zoo
    • Flowers at the Honolulu Zoo
    • A bench in the HNL Zoo
    • The playground at the HNL Zoo
    • A walking path in the Honolulu Zoo

    After checking out the artists on the back of the zoo fence, we recommend visiting the Honolulu Zoo itself. The zoo was founded back in 1877 on a small plot of land, and has since grown to encompass 45.5 acres housing hundreds of animal species. With affordable entry prices, it can be a great way to spend your afternoon. If you have children, you will find a huge playground in the center of the zoo where you can watch your wee ones play while you sit under gorgeous canopy trees on a large landscaped lawn. However, beware of overly friendly peacocks! Look at this guy who came up and squawked at me while I was enjoying a drink at one of the rest spots inside the zoo:

    The Honolulu Zoo is open 9AM – 4:30PM daily. It is located at 151 Kapahulu Avenue. Instagram: @TheHonoluluZoo Facebook: /HonoluluZoo

    5:00 PM: Sunset Drinks and dinner at DECK.

    After working up an appetite walking around the zoo, it’s time to reward yourself with a drink, a view, and a great meal. You’ll need to return to the Queen Kapi’olani hotel where you had that morning coffee at Knots Coffee Roasters, and head up to the Mezzanine by way of the central elevators. Once on the mezzanine, you’ll see the gorgeous patio view of DECK. bar and Grill overlooking Kapi’olani Park.

    • The outside of the Queen Kapiolani Hotel
    • An indigenous pohinahina plant
    • A view of Leahi from Deck Bar and grill in Waikiki
    • The Queen Kapiolani Hotel sign in Waikiki

    DECK. Bar and Grill opened in 2019 after the renovations were completed at the Queen Kapi’olani Hotel which transformed the spot into a retro-chic boutique hotel with major nods to its historic past. However, DECK. is actually a separate company from the QK Hotel, as its parent company is the massive Plan Do See America, a corporate chain from Japan that develops hotels and restaurants around the world. The open-air design is really laid-back, unpretentious, and the views it offers are really unrivaled. Happy hour is from 4-6 and from 9PM until close, and we recommend trying one of the local beers on tap!

    Sunset view of Kapahulu from DECK
    Sunset view of Kapahulu Avenue from DECK.

    DECK. is open from approximately 6:30 AM – 11PM daily. It is located at 150 Kapahulu Avenue. Instagram: @Deckwaikiki Facebook: /Deckwaikiki

    7:30 PM: The Royal Art gallery at the Queen kapi’olani hotel

    • The Royal Art Gallery at Queen Kapi'olani Hotel
    • Portrait of Queen Kapi'olani at the Queen Kapi'olani hotel
    • View of the Royal Art Gallery at the Queen Kapi'olani Hotel

    Finally, after you’ve drank and eaten yourself into a soft stupor, take a moment of repose at the Royal Art Gallery located at the back of DECK. Note, to get there, walk back towards the elevators and head down the small set of stairs located behind the pool. At this gallery, you can see re-paintings of the monarchy’s official portraits in large and gorgeous detail. Above all, read the placards below the images to learn more about these important royals’ history. In fact, there’s even an old map of Kapi’olani Park that shows its former use as a horse race track! Furthermore, the gallery will really help contextualize all that you learned on your tour. It’s a really fantastic room with gigantic ceilings that make the Queen Kapi’olani such a special hotel that includes such a valuable and interesting display of Hawaiian history.

    The Queen Kapi’olani Hotel is open 24/7. It is located at 150 Kapahulu Avenue. Instagram: @QueenKapiolaniHotel Facebook: /QueenKapiolaniHotel

    Closing time

    After these many stops in this small area of Waikiki, you’ll certainly be ready for bed. Or, if you’d rather continue drinking, you can head over to Hulas next door (gay bar), or venture down Kuhio avenue to one of the many bars down the road.

    Our Waikiki Travel Guide reflects our philosophy as a tour company. The world is rich and full of details that need your attention to be seen. We encourage you to appreciate the less-popular, small streets in Waikiki–and life. Too many times tourists think they have to go to the most famous or fancy hotels or restaurants, missing the smaller spots that have great history and real soul. So next time you’re in Waikiki, make a day of it on Kapahulu Avenue: The most underrated block in town.

    Leahi during sunset from DECK. in Waikiki
    Waikiki Travel Guide: Le’ahi during sunset from DECK. in Waikiki

    THE INTRODUCED BIRDS OF OʻAHU

    In the lowlands of Oʻahu you’ll find birds from Indonesia, Brazil, and Japan–but almost no birds from Hawaiʻi. Why are our local birds from everywhere but here? Learn about the birds you will encounter during the Hawaii Walks Waikiki Walking Tour and elsewhere around Oʻahu!

    An introduced rose-ringed parakeet sits on a tree branch. Photo:  Maxx Rush on Unsplash. These birds are common during out Hawaii Walks Waikiki Walking Tour.

    Ancient Hawaiʻi : A diverse and robust aviary

    The first Polynesians likely arrived to Hawaiʻi around 1200 AD. These explorers likely arrived from Tahiti and The Marquesas Islands in two separate migration events. When these first settlers arrived, they encountered dozens of rare, endemic birds not found anywhere else on Earth. Due to the absence of other birds or predators that were common on continental lands these birds evolved into unique species. In fact, there were upwards of 70 different endemic land birds before the arrival of humans. However, now there is only one, the nēnē.

    An endemic Hawaiian Goose, the nēnē, takes flight in Hosmer’s Grove, Maui. Photo: Hawai’i Walks

    Why the native birds disappeared

    Upon the arrival of humans, birds encountered this new predator for the first time. Land birds were slow, full of protein, and had little to no fear of humans. As a result, the first settlers consumed a large percentage of these birds as a source of meat. The large number of bird bones found in ancient Polynesian caves corroborate this finding. Sadly, after the arrival of humans they were never to be found anywhere again.

    Artist depiction of a Moa-nalo, an ancient flightless bird that most likely went extinct in the late 1700’s. Photo: Apokryltaros at English Wikipedia

    Non-human threats to Native birds

    Not all birds died by the direct hands of humans. When the first humans arrived to Hawaiʻi, they brought with them rats, dogs, and pigs. These animals likely preyed on ground birds as well as forest birds. Because rats had the ability to climb trees and attack nests, they were particularly damaging to the bird population. As a result, many native birds had their eggs eaten by rats.

    A rat sits on the ground. Rats most likely decimated the population of nesting ground birds by attacking their eggs. Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

    Humans also brought with them what would prove to be the most dangerous threat to native birds yet–the mosquito. Introduced in 1827, The Southern House Mosquito carried two deadly diseases, Avian Malaria and Avian Pox. Because Native Hawaiian birds had no exposure to other birds or mammalian species, they had no immunity to these diseases and native birds began a quick fall towards extinction. However, mosquitos cannot live in lower temperatures. As a result, birds in lowland Oʻahu quickly died out, while birds in higher elevations survived. This is the primary reason there are very few endemic and indigenous birds in Waikiki. These birds are usually found exclusively on the high-slopes of volcanoes like Mauna Kea on Big Island and Haleakalā on Maui.

    An endemic ʻIʻiwi bird sits on a ʻOhia branch on the slopes of Haleakalā in Maui. These birds used to be found throughout the islands, but now live exclusively in high-altitude climates where mosquitos cannot live.

    Climate change

    While native birds can still be found in high-altitude locations throughout the Hawaiian Islands, climate change brings about a new threat. As global temperatures increase, this means the “mosquito line” will effectively shift higher since temperatures overall will increase allowing them to reach higher altitudes than ever before. Current models adjusted for climate change suggest that, because of the growing encroachment of mosquitos, the native Kiwikiu could experience extinction in just 25 years.

    A native Kiwikiu, which has a population of just around 300 birds. Photo: The Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project

    the introduction of new birds

    As the native bird population has declined, the number of introduced species has greatly increased. The greatest contributor to this was most likely the Hui Manu (“Bird club”). This group of wealthy bird enthusiasts wanted to beautify the islands with colorful songbirds in the early 20th century. Since so many of the beautiful native birds had been killed off, these European settlers felt that there weren’t enough birds to beautify their garden. To fix this, they imported tens of thousands of birds, selected based on their looks and singing ability. Most of these birds further hastened the decline of native birds, as they out-competed native birds for food and eventually spread to overtake their forest habitats.

    A drawing of four birds introduced by the Hui Manu. These birds are now wide-spread throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Can you identify these birds? They are common during our Hawaii Walks Waikiki Nature Walking Tour. Photo: Honolulu Magazine

    Escaped parrots

    In Kapiʻolani Park, it’s likely you will hear the distinctive squawk of the rose-ringed parakeet echoing high above you. These birds have drastically altered the landscape of the Hawaiian Islands in just a few years. The first of these birds escaped from a bed-and-breakfast in Kauai in the 60’s, with the population slowly increasing until a rapid exponential growth over the past decade. These birds have been decimating local crops, increasing the spread of Avian Malaria, and annoying residents with their loud calls. Currently, there is no removal plan in place in Hawaiʻi for this species, and as a result, many people have taken matters into their own hands and have admitted to shooting the birds at will. Even with this renegade bird-justice, however, the population continues to climb.

    A Rose-Ringed Parakeet dangles upside down while consuming a fruit on a tree. See this bird during our Hawaii Walks Waikiki Nature Walking Tour. Photo by spandan pattanayak on Unsplash

    Where are we now?

    The trends we see of declining native bird populations coupled with increasing numbers of invasive birds will most likely continue. However, conservationists have been working hard to stabilize native bird populations. The Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project has seen successes with their Kiwikiu conservation work, and they continue to develop additional measures of protection for the birds. The Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project is best known for its conservation efforts of the Akikiki. In addition, avian biologists from the ʻAlalā Project have successfully brought back the Native Hawaiian crow, the ʻAlalā, from the brink of extinction and are observing an increase in the population due to their conservation efforts.

    The future of Birds in Hawaiʻi

    The future of native birds in Hawaiʻi will depend on our action or inaction as stewards of the islands. Slowing climate change and supporting local bird conservation agencies will be important to ensure we do not lose any additional birds to extinction. See below for a list of bird conservation groups that could use financial donations or volunteers to keep their work going strong!

    Our best suggestion to support native birds is to learn about their struggles, donate to their cause, and most importantly, don’t forget to look up! Every bird above you has a story….

    A native ʻElepaio. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife

    A kolea walks on concrete in Hawaii

    All About the Kōlea – Hawaiʻi’s Resident Winter Bird

    The kōlea’s presence in Hawaiʻi has sacred roots and their annual migratory journey is a modern wonder. Read why this bird is not your average plover!

    Kolea Bird Walking Tour Hawaii Walks
    Photo: JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/)

    “Is that a sandpiper in the grass?” guests often ask during our Waikīkī Nature Walk as they point to the long-legged Pacific Golden Plover (called the Kōlea in Hawaiian), picking at bugs in Kapi’olani Park. With most tours counting upwards of a dozen of these birds on any given day from October – April, they certainly pique the curiosity of visitors and locals alike with their elegant walk and distinctive calls. These birds look similar to sandpipers, with long legs and pointy beaks. But what makes them different? What makes the Kōlea such a treasured part of the Hawaiian landscape?

    Plovers and sandpipers belong to different families. Sandpipers are part of the Scolopacidae family, which refers to a group of shore-birds. Plovers belong to the Charadriidae family, which includes birds like the Kōlea, that are larger and don’t feed exclusively on shore lines. Amazingly, these families of birds are thought to have been around up to 33 million years ago! Even though they are cute, scientists often refer to birds as modern dinosaurs, and seeing as how long they’ve been around, it’s no wonder why.

    Image by Vinson Tan ( 楊 祖 武 ) from Pixabay

    Amazing Navigators

    The Kōlea is a migratory bird that breeds in Alaska and Siberia during the summer months, and then flies over 4,000 miles to Hawaiʻi every year to fatten up in the warm tropical weather on a buffet of bugs, berries, and seeds. Amazingly, these birds return from their Northern climates down to the same patch of land on the islands year after year. Many Hawaiʻi residents will say they have their “own” Kōlea, even going so far as to give them names. In fact, many families in Hawaiʻi consider the Kōlea their ʻaumākua, which is a spirit of protection that takes the form of a particular animal.

    Fiercely territorial, the Kōlea will fight off any other Kōlea that may try to conquer their grassy knoll. The distance they have traveled to return to the same location every year is no small feat, which explains why the birds are willing to take on any rival Kōlea that ventures into their territory. And while older birds know the path to get to Hawaiʻi, newly hatched offspring do not. After baby birds are old enough to fly, the adults take off for Hawaiʻi. Meanwhile, the young are left behind for several more weeks. Amazingly, the young birds find their way to Hawaiʻi on their own without any guidance.

    HD quality shot of the Pacific Golden Plover by Youtube user: JH1RNZ

    Kōleamoku – The God of Healing

    The Kōlea is named after Kōleamoku, the God of Healing in Hawaiian religion. It is thought that the Kōlea bird is an incarnation of Kōleamoku, and would fly to bring messages to the Aliʻi (Hawaiian leaders) from the Heavens. Since they departed for much of the year, it is easy to see how it would make sense that these birds were thought to be leaving to communicate with spirits in far off places.

    Spotting the Kōlea

    The best place to look for Kōlea are on flat stretches of grass. They have long legs and move in quick successions of small steps. Their call is a shrill and loud, and you’ll only hear it when you’ve gotten too close. Before the birds depart in April, the males grow a distinctive black plumage known as their “breeding tuxedo.” This is how locals know it’s almost time for the birds to head back to their Northern habitats.

    A male Kōlea in its recently changed breeding plumage. Photo: snowmanradio

    If you don’t see any around grassy spots in Waikīkī, you can always go visit the Kōlea at the Honolulu Zoo.

    Enjoy your warm winter stay, Kōlea!

    Book at tour today at hawaiiwalks.org to meet this bird in person from October – April!