Waimea Valley

hawaiian ruins recreated

If you’re looking for a nice way to spend a morning on Oahu, Waimea Valley is lovely. I originally went because I had heard that you could see a waterfall. However, I soon discovered that there is a lot more to see and do in Waimea Valley.

Upon arrival, I parked in the lot in front of the park. Thankfully I arrived early (at 9am,) so there was parking available. Later in the day, you may have to wait until a spot opens up.

I paid my $12 (price for anyone with a Hawaii state ID or military ID.) The clerk gave me a map and a bird identification guide; as the garden is visited by many types of birds. Full price would have been $18, in case you are visiting as a tourist.

I opted not to spend the extra $15 for the shuttle, as they said it wasn’t a long walk. Now, “long walk” is a relative term. Folks with heat sensitivity, chronic illnesses, children, or elderly people should definitely consider the shuttle. It’s hot and humid in the valley, and there are several steep hills.

However, if you are young and healthy, then I would agree with the park staff that it is a short walk.

ginger

I had no idea that in addition to have a waterfall, Waimea Valley is also a botanical garden. The park features plants from all over the Pacific, and even has some plants from Guam!

There is a main path to the waterfall which is clearly marked with signs, and most people opt to take that path straight to the waterfall. However, there is also an upper terrace with even more plants, and a walkway through a wetter area by a stream that is filled with ginger.

If you have time, it’s worth the detours to see all the tropical plants. The garden possesses labels for common plants (in green) and detailed descriptions for some (in blue.) There are also some plants which are critically endangered (labeled with red.)

sign for waterfall

Since the garden has so many rare plants, they do not allow smoking in the park. They also discourage feeding the animals, since many of the birds that are attracted to the garden are also threatened or endangered.

As always, stay on the path. So many tourists want to get a picture in that special spot in the jungle, but this can damage the plants that you must step on to do so. Be a good steward of the Earth, and only go where permitted.

square picture of orchid

As for Waimea Waterfall, it is sacred to the Hawaiian people, and it is said to have very special qualities. Hawaiians believe that soaking in the pool below the fall can cure ailments and promote good health.

As such, you can expect the pond to be full of people throughout the day.

A changing facility is provided, as well as lockers. It’s required that you wear life jackets in order to swim, but you may check them out from a stand next to the falls. There is also a sitting area to rest and wait, in case some of your party do not wish to swim.

sign about falls

I didn’t go when the park was closed or get special access. I just Photoshopped the people out of this picture (below,) so you can see the waterfall in its natural glory. You should be aware that, unlike my pictures of Guam, none of my Oahu pictures ever start out without people in them.

This is a very crowded little island.

When I moved here, I debated keeping the people in the pictures, but I decided to remove them for two reasons:

First, I don’t have their permission to post them on the internet, so I don’t think I should.

Second, it’s nice to see these places as they would look without people. If you want to see how they look when they are crowded, all you need to do is go there yourself.

the waterfall

I think it’s wise to set aside an entire morning for Waimea Valley. There is a lot to see. One of the things I always have to remind people to do is to look up. Any time you’re in a jungle, you’re likely to see just as many amazing things above you as you will see in front of you.

Along the main part of the path, the trees that grow there exhibit a phenomenon called “crown shyness.” This means that the leaves will grow right up to each other, while leaving a space between them.

Scientists are not sure why trees do this, but it makes for some pretty amazing pictures.

tree tops

Another thing you should always keep in mind in the jungle is to look down. This (below) is a bean slug. They are unfortunately not very common, as many people use pesticides to kill them. They are voracious eaters, and can consume your garden plants in short order.

In spite of their designation as a pest, Hawaiian slugs are pretty neat. Many of them possess a hard exterior than other slugs, and flatten themselves out in a way that I haven’t observed elsewhere.

So, remember to look on the ground and in the leaves. You never know what you’ll see in the jungle if you look closely.

weird flat slug

One last thing to keep your eyes out for as you make your way through Waimea Valley: This fabulous joke (below.)

As I’ve mentioned, there are signs all along your way to tell you about the many amazing plants that you can find in the valley. However, I also came across this sign, labeling a wild value. I had a good chuckle about it when I spotted it, and hopefully you will too.

Two inch valve

Finally, Waimea Valley does living culture exhibits, and has ancient ruins as well. If you wanted to learn a little about ancient Hawaiian culture, this would be a good place to do it. After all, it’s far more affordable than the Polynesia Cultural Center, and there are lots of cool things to read about.

If you take the side tour into the area with ancient Hawaiian dwellings, a series of plaques will tell you all about how the ancient Hawaiians used to live, and how their culture was structured.

If you’re visiting our island, this little gem might not make your list. However, if you live here, you should absolutely make time to visit.

The many ponds and water features do ensure a humid experience, but it’s still worth going in the summer when all the food trees are laden with wax apples, star fruits, and other island favorites.

There are many daily activities available, so call ahead if you want to get involved in lei making, hula, ukulele, cultural and botanical tours, Hawaiian games, or crafts.

ancient fishing shrine

Dragon Fruit

flower

Dragon Fruit, or Pitaya, is a unique cactus that grows in tropical areas. It’s actually Native to the Americas, but they can be found all over the world, from Florida to the Philippines.

Here on Oahu, dragon fruit cactus grow all over the island. They like to climb on walls and up trees, and they can be seen in many yards and wild spaces.

cuctus on a wall

In Arizona we have cactus all over the place. We’re famous for our saguaro cactus, which have become a symbol of the southwest. But, we also have prickly pear, cholla, and a wide variety of other species.

Dragon fruits remind me a little of prickly pears because the fruit looks similar. However, prickly pear fruit is drier, and it’s better in syrup than when eaten raw.

It’s weird to see a cactus in places that seem otherwise tropical, but dragon fruit are adapted to all sorts of environments, and can handle both a little or a lot of water.

dragon on the vine

I’m hoping to grow some while I’m here. You guys know that I love plants! I’ve tried to grow something different everywhere I’ve lived.

In Guam, I kept a variety of orchids. I’d never lived in a tropical place before, and so I enjoyed having happy orchids for once that would bloom and bloom. As you can imagine, they don’t bloom a lot when kept in Arizona.

Here, I’m hoping to grow dragon fruit, avocados, and maybe some pineapples just for fun.

fruit on the end

Laniakea Beach

Jenifer DeLemont

The North Shore is a famous place, and this can be both good and bad. It’s good for the businesses there that market to tourists. But, it’s tough on the wildlife and the environment. One place where this is the most noticeable is Laniakea Beach (nicknamed “Turtle Beach” by tour operators.)

From a scientific standpoint, Laniakea Beach is fascinating. Algae grows on the rocks that are under water at high tide. Since this algae is a favorite food of Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, they can sometimes be seen coming out of the water to eat. No other sea turtle is known to come out of the water to eat, so this makes Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles unique.

Jenifer DeLemont

On occasion, the turtles also come out of the water to bask in the sand. Land-based turtles are known to bask, but no sea turtle except the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle is known to do this. Scientists do not know why they do this, but it’s a behavior that warrants further study.

I volunteered doing reef monitoring for NOAA when I was living in Guam. I’m also very passionate about science and education. That makes me enjoy sitting at Laniakea Beach just to watch and learn.

wave about to break

However, the residents of the North Shore claim that no one outside their community should be allowed there. They want the parking lot blocked off, and have resisted a crosswalk or a pedestrian bridge that could insure the safety of visitors. I know this is a hard situation all around. People who live somewhere tend to feel an ownership of that place, even in public spaces which are meant for everyone.

With all due respect to the people of the North Shore, I think this beach should stay open. The volunteers who protect the turtles do a wonderful job, and I never see people standing on the algae or touching the turtles. We could use more signage to inform tourists of correct etiquette, of course. Signs in a few languages are always helpful!

face buried in food

Zoos and wildlife parks justify their existence by saying that they provide people a chance to learn about wildlife and get educated on conservation. I don’t argue that this is an important function. And yet, I feel that observing free animals who choose to come near humans provides a better way to see wildlife and learn about it. These animals are not in captivity and they can go anywhere they like. There is no cruel choice to trap them so their wild cousins can be understood.

I think a nice compromise would be to to give tour groups binoculars to use, or to build a viewing platform where people had to stay (so they wouldn’t be able to walk up to the turtles. Personally, I use a Cannon Rebel with a telephoto lens. This allows me to stay in the shade under a tree, and still get great shots of the turtles when they come out of the water. I really think an area with railing like the state has created above the famous Oahu Blowhole would be the best option for all.

turtle butt

Let’s not have the knee-jerk reaction of wanting people to be restricted from seeing wonderful things. Instead, let’s just make sure that they can see these amazing things in a way that is safe for both the turtles and the humans.

I understand people’s desire to want to keep things all to themselves. I appropriate that feeling. However, giving our visitors the chance to learn about how unique Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles really are is an opportunity. Appreciating them in the wild lets people connect them with their ocean home, and helps them realize why they shouldn’t use products that come in plastic packaging or use plastic bags. I think it’s an opportunity that we should take!

Oh, and here’s a view without the telephoto lens so you can see where I watch the turtles from:

Jenifer DeLemont

My Latest Tumor

Jenifer DeLemont, Cancer, Jenifer DeLemont's Tumor, Tumor

As I’ve said before on this blog, I grew up on a farm around dangerous chemicals. I’ve had several tumors as a result of this. I’ve been fortunate, and they’ve all been very survivable. However, I had number four out for my birthday this year, and it’s really forced me to take stock.

Cheers to you all for being in my life. I’m grateful for every one of you. My life has been extraordinary in spite of the challenges that I have faced. I’m very lucky, and I’m very thankful.

hole in my leg

Makua Beach

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Makua Beach is on the Leeward Side very close to Ka’ena Point. Parking is only available on the side of the road, but there is a fair amount to be had. We went snorkeling there because we’d heard that people often saw dolphins. Unfortunately, there were a lot of spear fishers when we were there, and they scare all the wildlife away.

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The leeward side actually has a lot of spear fishmen. This can be very dangerous, so make sure you keep an eye out for them. They tend to swim with their spears in front of them, and they don’t always look where they are going. I have nearly been impaled, so I’m warning you because I have personal experience with the very real danger.

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Another thing to remember is that sometimes there are incidents in Hawaii where a shark bites a human. This is most common for surfers (who look like seals from below) and spear fishers (who have bleeding fish on their belts.) Since sharks can make mistakes, it’s best to stay away from, the things that they like to bite.

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One thing we found neat about swimming at Makua was the holes that occur naturally in the sea floor. They fill with rocks (which are thrown around during hurricanes) and then the rocks are worn into round balls by the waves.

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In spite of the lack of sea life, it really is a very pretty beach. If you were going to just sit and listen to the waves somewhere, this might be a nice place to do it.

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Three Tables

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I’ve already written about Shark’s Cove, which is part of Pupukea Nature Preserve. The other side of this park is called Three Tables, due to three flat rock formations out in the water.

This is a great place to go snorkeling between April and September. I don’t recommend it in the fall or winter months because the surf is too high. If you’re not sure, you can always check Surfline Oahu for updates on how high the waves are.

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You want to be careful not to get too close to the rocks in Three Tables. People sometimes get smacked into them by a wave, and this can be bad because there are sea urchins hiding inside all the cracks in the rocks. It hurts a lot more than you might expect to rub up against them.

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However, if you keep your distance from the rocks, this is a nice place to snorkel because the turtles come eat algae off the rock formations. You can get a front-row seat to watching them munch; though it’s challenging to get a good picture because the water is so churned up.

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This is also a great place to see schools of surgeon fish, and octopus. It’s fairly sandy at the entry point, so you don’t need boots. However, it’s not as deep as the Shark’s Cove side, so I don’t recommend it for divers.

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The sand is round on this beach, which means you really sink into it. I’d keep your towel up in the trees or over on the rocks. You wouldn’t want it to be eaten up by the sand. Even if you’re not going in the water, this is a lovely beach to just sit on and relax. Pupukea is beautiful, and Three Tables is the best spot to enjoy it.

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Kokohead Hike

kokohead from parking

Kokohead Trail is really just a lot of stairs. I did Likeke Falls in the morning and I still had some energy, so I went and did Kokohead before heading home. It’s sort of rough unless you have long legs (because some of the stairs are quite big,) but it’s only 2.9 kilometers to the top.

You park in a paved lot and walk along a paved trail to the base of the mountain. Then you see the stairs, bracketed by railroad tracks on either side. It looks like a long way to the top, but it’s not as bad as it looks.

the long view

Fair warning: There is absolutely no shade, nor is there any good spot to rest. I recommend a hat, sunscreen, and a lot of water. Some people do it in the dark so they can be at the top for sunrise, and I hear that is pretty neat.

Kokohead trail is really just a set of railroad tracks that used to run munitions up to the top of the mountain during WWII. For the most part, it’s a fairly safe trail, but there is a spot where the tracks go out over a ravine, and that can be frightening if heights bother you.

hahauma bay

People do bring their kids, but I don’t recommend it. First, the college students hike in very little clothes, so you’re going to have some awkward moments when your kids shouts out: “Why is that girl in her bra?” But second, the stairs really are tall and it’s easy for a child to slip on the loose sand and fall down the mountain. People do.

Anyway, the views from the top are amazing and it’s only about a two-hour hike, so it’s worth a look even if you’re only on Oahu for a vacation. Just remember water and snacks. It’s a hot, dry hike to the top.

the other side