Hot on the Trail

With ecotourism in Hawaii on the rise, there's no better place than Oahu

By: Marty Wentzel

Hawaii Ecotourism Association, a 100-member nonprofit group, recently released a set of visitor’s guides to Oahu’s Windward Coast. The seven brochures, titled Ke Ala Moae The Tradewind Trail, profile the people, history and culture of the area, with maps, local legends, eateries, shops, sites to visit and places to stay.

“We see this as a good, community-based economic development project, and a fun trip for the leisure traveler,” said Annette Kaohelaulii, the association’s president. “The guides are perfect for visitors who choose to explore Oahu in their rental cars.”

Available at participating Windward businesses or online at www.hawaii, the guides demonstrate how nature, history and culture are playing a role in the Oahu visitor experience, said Kaohelaulii.

“Ecotourism in Hawaii has been increasing, slowly but steadily,” she said.

Case in point is Oahu Nature Tours, which pays 30 percent commission. It recently responded to growing visitor interest by adding the four-hour Valley of the Rainbows Adventure, taking clients into a rainforest surrounded by seven waterfalls and towering trees.

Participants spend time at Lyon Arboretum, a 200-acre botanical garden with 5,000 species of plants ($37 per person). Clients wanting to explore Oahu’s Windward Coast on a tour can book the firm’s new five-hour Lost Coastof Oahu Adventure. Stops include Lanikai Beach, known for its views of the offshore Moku Lua Islands ($42). 808-924-2473;

Bike Hawaii recently introduced the Oahu Explorer program, commissionable at 15 percent. The two-night adventure gives active clients a chance to pedal through historic Kaaawa Valley, located in 4,000-acre Kualoa Ranch in Windward Oahu.

As participants ride along dirt roads, they see sites of such movies as “Jurassic Park,” “Godzilla” and “Windtalkers”; and they visit a reconstructed ancient Hawaiian village. There’s time for hiking, snorkeling, kayaking and swimming as well.

The rate of $295 per person includes meals and transportation from the airport or Waikiki. Use of bikes and camping gear costs extra. 877-682-7433; www.

The Real Hawaii now has three eco-excursions on Oahu. Its Real Wet tour takes clients into bamboo groves and across streams a few miles from Waikiki as guides talk about the plant life and culture of the area ($44 per person).

The Real Tropical excursion, a nine-mile hike for serious adventurers, heads into the forests of the Koolau Mountains ($69 with lunch). The Real Sacred trip takes visitors to sites that are treated with respect by Hawaiians, including heiau (outdoor shrines), fields of petroglyphs (rock drawings) and cliffs ($69). 877-597-7325;

Wild Side Specialty Tours, operating out of Waianae Harbor, recently upgraded from a six-passenger monohull to a 36-passenger catamaran; but to maintain intimacy, it limits its sailing charters to 15 people.

Clients pay $95 per person, whether they go on a dolphin, turtle or whale encounter, snorkel cruise or sunset sail. 808-306-7273;

Mauka Makai Excursions is introducing clients to the sacred and legendary side of Oahu on archaeological field trips and hiking eco-tours. During half- and full-day trips, guides recount legends and myths of the area. Customized activities range from evening torchlight fishing to full-day hikes to remote areas. 808-593-3525;