Bird-watching in Honolulu is all about finding the forest birds along the Ko‘olau Range trails, including the Lyon Arboretum trails. Most of the birds are introduced species, like the shama thrush and the red-billed leiothrix, but beautiful nonetheless. The shama thrush is black on top with a chestnut-colored chest and a long, black and white tail and is able to mimic other birds’ songs. There are few native forest birds remaining on O‘ahu in accessible places, but this region is a great place to look for the red ‘apapane, which likes to feed on nectar from ‘ohi‘a lehua blossoms, and ‘amakihi, a yellow Hawaiian honeycreeper with a black, curved beak.
If you’re not specifically looking to bird-watch along your hike, there are plenty of trails to choose from with a great variety of local flora, fauna, and sights to see along the way.
The Makiki-Tantalus hike is an eight-mile loop that circles Tantalus Peak and is a great way to see a few different valleys and Ko‘olau peaks up close. The trail is known for songbirds and some native Hawaiian flora. Look for the native white hibiscus and ‘ohi‘a ‘ahihi, with clusters of delicate red flowers. The hike takes advantage of the Kanealole Trail at the trailhead, then connects in succession to the Makiki Valley Trail, the Nahuina Trail, the Kalawahine Trail, the Pauoa Flats Trail, the Manoa Cliff Trail, the Moleka Trail, and back to the Makiki Valley Trail as it rounds Tantalus. The junctions are marked well.
To get to the trailhead, from Makiki Street heading north, bear left on Makiki Heights Drive. As the road switches back to the left, continue straight on an unnamed paved road into the Makiki Forest Recreation Area and past the Hawai‘i Nature Center. Park on the side of the road by the gate. There is a native plant identification guide available in the nature center office for a small fee.
In the back of rainy Manoa Valley are a myriad of trails all within Lyon Arboretum (3860 Manoa Rd., 808/988-0456, 8am-4pm Mon.-Fri., 9am-3pm Sat.). These trails are designed to take you through the different sections of the arboretum, so there’s a wealth of interesting and colorful exotic, tropical, and native Hawaiian plants and trees everywhere you look. There’s so much area to cover that you could hike for a half day and not walk the same trail twice.
The trails range from wide and dry to narrow, muddy, and graded. They are marked with numbers on wooden stakes that correspond to a trail map, which you can pick up in the visitor center. The main trail through the arboretum terminates at a small waterfall. Be prepared for mud, rain, and mosquitoes. Lyon Arboretum has its own free parking lot by the visitor center. Follow Manoa Road all the way to the back of the valley, past the houses, past Paradise Park, and turn onto the arboretum’s private drive before the end of the road.
Also in the rear of Manoa Valley are several of the 18 trails that comprise the Honolulu mauka trail system. Manoa Falls is a great introduction to the area, a short 0.8-mile hike with a gradual grade under canopy and through lush foliage, up to a small waterfall and pool. Manoa is famous for its pervasive mist, so the trail can be muddy and crossed with roots in some sections. This is a popular hike, so it is well used, especially on the weekends. To get to the trailhead, either park on Manoa Road just before it narrows at the intersection with Wa‘akaua Street, or continue driving on Manoa Road till you reach Paradise Park, where $5 flat-rate parking is available. If you prefer to park for free in the nearby neighborhood, tack on a quarter-mile walk just to reach the trailhead. From the paid parking lot, continue on foot on the gravel road until it becomes the Manoa Falls Trail. The trail follows Waihi Stream to the falls and pool.
At the top of Saint Louis Heights, in Kaimuki, you’ll find a hike with views of Manoa Valley and Palolo Valley, terminating on top of Mount Olympus, a massive peak at the back of Manoa Valley. The Wa‘ahila Ridge Trail begins in a stand of Cook pines—a misnomer since they are actually columnar araucaria, native to New Caledonia. The hike along the ridgeline is perfect for novices, but once you find the narrow trail that ascends to the summit, the route is more suited for intermediate hikers. At the 2,486-foot summit, in addition to breathtaking views, you’ll find a thicket of native vegetation, including slow-growing hapu‘u ferns. The hike is 6 miles round-trip. To get to the trailhead, park in the Wa‘ahila Ridge State Recreation Area (7am-7:45pm daily Apr-early Sept., 7am-6:45pm daily early Sept.-Mar.) by following Saint Louis Drive to nearly the top of the rise and turning left on Ruth Place. There are restrooms, drinking fountains, and picnic tables by the parking lot. Parking is free, but the gate is locked when the recreation area is closed.