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I loved the near-perfect view of Waikiki Beach from my hotel room, and I imagined many happy hours of relaxing on the beach as I looked out my window. But a different world of unique natural discoveries also awaited me just 15 to 20 minutes from Waikiki.
Before leaving home, I booked three hikes with Oahu Nature Tours, which calls itself “the original nature adventure company on Oahu.” Founded in 1995, it specializes in small-group guided adventures to see colorful bird and plant species, cascading waterfalls, lush rainforests and volcanic craters. In addition, special custom bird-watching tours can be arranged for a small group.
The arrangements for the hikes could not have been more convenient. Each day, I met the nature company’s white van (with its logo of Hawaii’s rare red honeycreeper, the iiwi) just across the street from my hotel.
Michael Walther, founder and president of Oahu Nature Tours, has written four books about Hawaii’s native species and is dedicated to conserving the islands’ natural habitat. His vision for the company is simple: “Let us show you the real Hawaii.”
Manoa FallsThe Manoa Falls trip, rated moderate in intensity, was a two-hour, 2½-mile hike to the highest accessible waterfall on Oahu. The trail led past giant ferns, gurgling streams and plants that cannot be found anywhere else on earth. Steven Spielberg filmed some of the jungle scenes of “Jurassic Park” on the same trail.
“It’s a myth that Oahu is mainly an urban center,” said Sky Chamberlain, our guide and also a documentary filmmaker. “This is my higher calling — to learn about some of the world’s most endangered species.”
While driving through the neighborhood of Manoa to reach the trailhead, Chamberlain added color to the trip by sharing insights into Oahu’s lifestyle. He also pointed out President Obama’s exclusive Punahou High School and the Baskin Robbins store where the President once scooped ice cream.
Valley of the RainbowsThe Valley of the Rainbows Adventure the next day was an easier journey. The trail meandered through 200 acres of Lyon Arboretum, an exotic paradise that is considered one of the world’s finest botanical gardens. Greg Arndt, our highly educated guide, revealed the valley’s fascinating history and the arboretum’s effort to save over 5,000 species of some of the world’s rarest plants.
After exploring the cloud-swept valley’s vibrant flowers and emerald-green hills, we drove to Puu Ualakaa State Park, high above Waikiki. The park afforded a breathtaking view of Oahu’s famous icon, Diamond Head Crater, and the shimmering waters of Pearl Harbor.
Climbing Diamond HeadThe summit of Diamond Head was the destination on my last hike with Oahu Nature Tours. During the steep climb (500 feet over a three-quarter-mile distance), we learned about the crater’s intriguing geology and military history.
While the Diamond Head tour is rated moderate, the late-morning heat made it the most challenging hike of the three. Still, the hike was well worth the extra effort for the breathtaking view at the top, not to mention the personalized “I Climbed Diamond Head” certificate.