As Mike Shanahan and I strolled across the Great Lawn to the
Bishop Museum’s new Science Adventure Center on a warm Hawaii
afternoon, I had to wonder. What’s so hot about this place? Why is
everyone so fired up?
While stopping to admire the sleekly modern 16,500-square-foot
structure such an architectural contrast to cultural counterpart
Bishop Museum Shanahan enlightened me.
“There aren’t many places where learning about science can be
fun,” the education director said with a serious tone. Then he
smiled. “This new facility accomplishes that.”
Long revered for its collection of over 23 million cultural
objects and natural history specimens, the 117-year-old Bishop
Museum stands unrivaled in tracing Hawaii’s rich cultural past. The
$17 million Science Adventure Center extends the museum’s mission
by showcasing the natural phenomena that continue to shape the
“This is a nice facility for tourists in general, especially
those with younger children,” Shanahan said. “It shows them where
Hawaii came from and what’s unique to the islands.”
Erupting with 30 custom-designed exhibits both interactive and
immersive, the center tempts even the most laidback guests to
become active adventurers.
For touring ease, the center is divided into six distinctive
zones: Arrival and Orientation, Hawaiian Origins, Volcanic Hot
Spot, Kilauea Volcano, Living Islands and Ocean Hot Spots.
Hands-on displays lead explorers through three stories of
discovery. Linking it all is the 26-foot, steam-belching
centerpiece of Puu Oo Volcano, a man-made marvel loosely modeled
after the active vent of Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island.
I cruised through the entry gallery, gawking at “good guys and
bad guys,” as Shanahan put it.
“Hawaii’s native species are the good guys and invasives are the
bad guys,” he explained.
A videoscope made the distinctions crystal clear, bringing me
eye-to-eye with endemic friends, like the koa bug, and alien foes,
such as centipedes and cockroaches.
I took a lead from 6-year-old Zachary, who was visiting the
center with his grandmother. As the Portland native worked his way
across the Hawaiian Archipelago via an interactive globe, his
grandmother remarked that he loved any display he could touch. No
doubt Zachary was in his ultimate happy-land.
Other visitors were gravitating to the adjacent Hawaiian Origins
Tunnel. Brimming with artwork all aglow, the 160-foot lava tube
replica was like walking through a black-light poster.
It was fantasy-like with fluorescent flora, animals and ancient
cultural symbols, a little bit of everything from the cosmos to the
depths of the ocean. The audios were just as captivating.
“It’s inspired by Kumulipo, a chanter who speaks of origins and
life,” said Shanahan.
The powerful chants were interspersed with translations and the
natural sounds of birds, water and wind.
Consumed with the underwater world, I decided to dive into the
action at the Deep Ocean Tank. I tried my hand at controlling one
of two remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) floating near a model of
the submerged Loihi volcano located off the Big Island’s coast.
Equipped with camera and light, my submersible seemed to have a
mind of its own. But the youngster next to me managed to maneuver
his ROV through volcanic vents with the greatest of ease.
At the Hot Spot Theater, we were welcomed with a blast of
“Almost feels real,” someone remarked.
It wasn’t even close, by a couple thousand degrees.
The image was surreal. A center staff member garbed in asbestos
tossed chunks of lava rock into a 2,500-degree furnace, melting it
The half-hour process included a multimedia presentation
exploring the core of island creation. Sitting beneath a ceiling of
rippling, backlit translucent panels, I understood how kids could
actually sense being inside an active volcano. The audience oohed
and aahed as the molten lava finally flowed.
As we worked our way up to the summit of the center’s signature
hot spot, Puu Oo began to spew as if on cue.
“Water, colored lights and steam do the trick,” Shanahan
reported. “But try convincing kids of that.”
Erupting periodically throughout the day, this multilevel
monster allows bird’s-eye and interior views into what’s considered
Hawaii’s heart of creation. Volcano visitors were scattered across
a mezzanine bridge for an aerial glimpse into an apparent pool of
A larger-than-life tree house geared with “good guys and bad
guys” costumes is an even bigger draw for the youngest visitors.
Strangely, several adults were also decked out without a child in
The rest of the afternoon was smooth sailing until the fire
alarm sounded. It seemed that a wee one was so fired up, he took
the interactive approach a bit too far.
Bishop Museum’s Science Adventure Center is the only facility in
the U.S. featuring state-of-the-art highly interactive exhibits
that focus on an environmental theme. Nearly 30 custom-made
exhibits include Puu Oo Volcano, Hot Spot Theater, Deep Ocean Tank,
Hawaiian Origins Tunnel, Living lslands Gallery and Makani and Wai
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Hours: 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. daily, except
Admission: $14.95 for adults, $11.95 for kids ages
4-12 and free for children under 4. Admission covers both