When I first arrived on Hawaii I was familiar with most of the big attractions and activities that most people want to try when they visit. The typical Hawaiian vacation on Oahu consists of relaxing on a beach, catching some sun, snorkeling, scuba diving, para-sailing, hiking, watching the sunrise or sunset, and going to watch big waves on the North Shore. Maybe even trying to surf a wave or two, yourself.
Waimea Falls Park is one of the secondary, not so famous attractions that many people may not consider when planning their vacations on any of the Hawaiian Islands. Similar to the Dole Plantation or hiking to the top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s highest point. And while Waimea Falls Park could be classified as a hike, it’s really no more than a pleasant stroll through beautiful, natural gardens. The waterfall, also known as Waihi Falls, at the end of the short trip is an awesome bonus to a nice walk through a jungle forest.Credit: Ken Muise
A Little Back Story
Waimea Falls Park was once known as the Waimea Valley Audubon Center and was managed by Honolulu city up until 2003. At that time the National Audubon Society took over the park and later passed it on to a non-profit company that was actually created by the OHA (Office of Hawaiian Affairs.)
Waimea Falls Park sits on a little piece of history. The culture that was once there and the remains of the structures that you can still see on the hike were part of a culture in Hawaii that is hard to find today but one which Hawaiians take very seriously.
The park sits on 1800 acres of beautiful, natural and man-made, landscape. You can almost feel the old Hawaiian cultures of hula, fests, grand meals and cliff diving.
Parking was pretty easy to find and it was free. When you first enter the park you’ll pass through a courtyard-like welcoming area where you will find some demonstrations of Hawaiian culture and a gift shop. On the day we went there was a gentleman making toy animal designs using leaves and vines from the surrounding area.
$15 for adults
$7.50 for children 4-12 years old
$7.50 for seniors
$10 for military adults
$5.00 for military children
$5.00 for military seniors.
There are also individual annual passes and family passes available. The group of “more than 10 is $12 per. If you wanted to you could even pay for a shuttle service to the falls at the end of the hike for $4 one or $6 round-trip. This is great for those who are unable to walk long distances.
So, if I were to take my family of four it would normally cost me $60. That’s a little bit pricey for the length of the hike. However, with the military discount I was able to hike with my family for $40, so bonus there.
The Hike Through Waimea Falls Park
Again, this is only about a three-quarters of a mile (.75) hike (1.5 miles roundtrip) and it Credit: Ken Muiseshould take even the slowest of walkers only about 30 to 45 minutes to reach the waterfall at the end. If you’re stopping to take in the many different species of tropical plants, the remnants of structures from the past, and the botanical gardens then you might take longer.
It was really interesting and cool to see the different plants of regions around the world that are on sight in the park’s botanical gardens. My family loves to see Hawaiian fruit plants, in particular. On this hike we saw plantain trees and mango trees. They’re not uncommon in Hawaii but they are still exotic plants and trees to us that grow food that we could only buy in the produce section of grocery stores before.
For me, though, hike was all about the birds that we saw and even a lizard.
When you enter the park you get a pamphlet with your ticket purchase where it has a listing of 8 or 10 different birds that you may be able to see on your hike thought the Waimea Falls Park.
I saw lots of these wild chickens and roosters. That’s what I called them at first, anyway, until the pamphlet actually told me they were “jungle fowl”. As you might imagine, they’re not that skiddish and you can get pretty close before they get nervous enough to move away.
I also saw Northern Cardinals. Red-Crested Cardinals and, of course, my new friends-the jungle fowl. The pamphlet lists other birds as well, such as peacocks, but we didn’t see any of them on the day we were there.
You could also enjoy the old structures like burial sites and terrace walls that were gardened at one point. The park has re-structured some old huts that are fun to take pictures in as well.
Get Some Waimea Shades for Your Hike
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(price as of Oct 17, 2016)
Waihi Falls, The Prize at the End of the Hike
Well, it wasn’t a great prize for us that day. Unfortunately, the area was in a flash-flood Credit: Ken Muisewarning and we were unable to swim in the watering hole that the falls empty in to. The water was also a bit brown from all the rain and dirt getting turned up. That was a bummer, yes. (And, I promise I didn’t know that there was a flood watch on the day I took my family there until the very end of the hike!)
The falls are spectacular, though. While you won’t get to see any cliff divers because that is frowned upon now (or illegal), it is a breathtaking scene and great photo op. There are lifeguards on duty and free life-vests available which are required to be worn.
Also, towards the end of the hike there is a place for refreshments and to use the bathroom, as well as covered seating to rest and enjoy.
All in all, the Waimea Falls Park is worth the trip. It can be pricey if you have a medium to large-size family (What I like to call the “fun-pack” size) but it really is an event and experience that you won’t come about that often. There’s something for everyone: a little bit of exercise, beautiful gardens, interesting birds and a swim at the end if youre lucky. Highly recommended.
Bonus Information: Many Hollywood productions have used the jungle setting of Waimea Falls Park as backdrop for their sets. Most recently, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was filmed within the park’s acreage.