The reinvention of Waimea Falls Park officially began on June 29,
when the North Shore attraction reopened to the public as Waimea
Valley Audubon Center.
Officials with the National Audubon Society which was recently
awarded management of the park say they are shifting the focus away
from pure entertainment. Instead they are turning the park into a
place where visitors and residents can learn about the area’s rich
history, culture and nature and have fun at the same time.
Over the years, Waimea Valley officials have taken various
approaches toward keeping the attraction competitive. They
presented cliff-diving shows at the 45-foot waterfall and hula
lessons for guests. They introduced theme areas, including a
butterfly house and children’s play structure. A live evening show
depicted the legends of the valley, and other activities included
kayaking, horseback riding, all-terrain vehicles and mountain
biking. Guests could tour the park on foot or in motorized
Despite the innovations, Waimea Valley’s most recent owner, New
York investor Christian Wolffer, was forced to place it under
bankruptcy protection in April 2001. The City of Honolulu bought
the park from Wolffer last year for $5.1 million. It awarded a
30-year lease to Audubon on April 30, 2003.
Now, according to Diana King, Audubon Society project manager,
the park is going the natural route, eliminating the cliff-diving
and hula shows, and removing all electric amplification, except for
during special events.
“We’re working on developing more authentic, cultural, botanical
and ecological experiences and programs,” King said.
“We want to encourage people to get out in nature, so we are not
providing tram rides any more,” said King. “We have wheelchairs for
those who need them, and we are exploring options for offering
solar-powered golf carts for rent.”
The 1,875-acre valley, populated centuries ago by Hawaiians, is
well known for its restored living sites and ancient agricultural
terraces. Clients may spy endangered birds, walk through 35 gardens
with thousands of rare plants from around the world and visit Hale
o Lono heiau, a sacred outdoor place of worship for early
Audubon will present a true ecotourism experience.
“Native species will gradually be restored to uncultivated
portions of the valley, creating a backdrop of ancient Hawaii,”
said King. “Visitors can explore the valley’s stream, walk gentle
paths, hike valley trails or picnic in a secluded spot.”
Under Audubon management, each guest gets a self-guided trail
map/brochure identifying key points of interest, focusing on the
history and culture of the valley.
Visitors can walk to the waterfall, approximately three quarters
of a mile from the entrance, where they can swim from noon to 4
p.m. daily under the supervision of a lifeguard.
The park’s visitor center sells food, beverages and picnic
lunches. Clients will also find a nature store with books,
exploring gear, logo items and gifts.
Under Audubon’s management, the park is also reducing its
admission fees, previously $24 per adult. Visitor rates are now $8,
with a $5 charge for children ages 4-12. Parking costs $2 per
Waimea Valley Audubon Center is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
daily, except Christmas and New Year’s Day.