Island Address Book

Art Medeiros, Naturalist, On Hawaii’s Best Nature Spots

By: Karla Aronson

Art Medeiros is a fourth-generation inhabitant of Hawaii, yet it took him many years to appreciate the native plants and animals of his home.

“I grew up with a family that didn’t have knowledge of the environment. They were ranchers,” he said.

Medeiros has been a research biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey for the past 20 years. He received his Ph.D. in botany from the University of Hawaii.

“I used to think things like guava were from here,” he remarked. (They are actually from Central America.) “It was a discovery process to learn the native plants and animals. It took traveling throughout the Pacific to learn that Hawaii is without comparison.”

Hawaii’s isolated location as the farthest outpost of Polynesian navigation and its volcanic geology, which gives rise to some of the tallest mountains in the Pacific, makes it unique.

“There is only one Hawaii. There is so much other appeal beside the beaches. People in Hawaii and visitors can be slow to realize it,” he said.

Medeiros encourages people, especially Hawaiians and also visitors, to learn a little about the native plants and animals.

One of his favorite places on Kauai is Kokee State Park. Its trails traverse rainforest to dry-land forests, and the park has several cabins that can be reserved for overnight stays. For birders it is also one of the best spots to find unique species.

“Kauai is an ancient island, one of the oldest in the chain. It has a number of endemic species,” Medeiros said, noting that the Hawaiian names for birds are generally onomatopoeic, thus most of the birds are identified by their calls.

Another one of his favorite sights is the state’s number-one tourist attraction, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.

“Most people think of it as Disneyland,” he said, adding that it is truly amazing to be so close to one of the world’s few active volcanoes. “You are at the hot spot that created the Hawaiian islands 7 million years ago.”

Medeiros said the park rangers are top-notch and will tell visitors what they can and cannot do, as well as provide hourly reports.

“In relative safety, you see rocks that are orange-colored liquid, pouring into the ocean. It’s unforgettable,” he said.

Clients can marvel at the Kilauea crater, hike on fresh black lava, walk through the Thurston lava tube or simply drive through the rainforest and hear the birds.
On Maui, Medeiros recommends Haleakala National Park.

“It is a full-on physical experience and it can even be spiritual to go into the crater,” he said. “You don’t see a city. You barely see people. You feel like you are really alone on earth. It is such splendid isolation in such a small place. It feels like the land that time forgot.”

To hike with the silversword plants if the silversword is flowering in the summer is especially majestic.

Medeiros also recommended spending a day, or even half a day, at Ahihi-Kinau Natural Preserve at the end of Makena Alanui Road in South Maui. Clients can hike on Maui’s newest lava field and then snorkel some reefs where they will see a lot of fish, he said.

As a child, Medeiros’ visits to the Bishop Museum on Oahu inspired his own searches for artifacts. He was fascinated with the museum’s giant whale and brilliant red-and-yellow feather cloaks, helmets and staffs.

“It took 80,000 birds, which are now extinct, to make King Kamehameha’s cloak,” he said. “The museum teaches you about culture and history.”

Not every place is as rich as Hawaii, Medeiros stated, and learning about the natural history and indigenous culture can add a whole different dimension to anyone’s experience of the islands.


Kokee Lodge, Kauai

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park,
Big Island

Haleakala National Park, Maui

Bishop Museum, Oahu