From the lush rainforests of the North Shore to the arid valley of Waimea Canyon, Kaua‘i has wonderfully diverse hiking options within reach. And while hiking is an excellent way to clear your mind and simply appreciate nature, wouldn’t it be great to know a little more about your surroundings? If you find yourself hitting the trails on one of Kaua‘i’s many scenic hikes, here are a few things to look for on the trail.
Much of Kaua‘i’s habitat is rainforest, so naturally it is abundant with exotic plant life and vibrant flowers. Walk on any Kaua‘i trail and you are bound to see various species of ginger, fern, and orchid in impressive pops of color. Many of these flowers are also very fragrant. Since first contact, many species of plants have been introduced to Hawai‘i, but among the endemic species of flowers, the Ohia lehua may be the most culturally significant. This tree is often associated with Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, because of its ability to grow on new lava flows. The Ohia lehua flowers are typically a brilliant shade of red and can be found anywhere on the island. Traditionally used by ancient Hawaiians to build houses and certain parts of outrigger canoes, the Ohia lehua today is an iconic representation of native Hawaiian plant life. Look closely, and you should be able to spot one on the trails, but please don’t pick them. Even Native Hawaiian have been foregoing adding them to traditional lei and adornments, since the tree has been the victim of a blight that has been ravaging the population in recent years. Enjoy, smell, but please don’t touch.
Hawai‘i is an absolute treat for birdwatchers. An impressive 338 unique bird species have been found living in the Hawaiian Islands—from petite chattering sparrows, to broad-winged seabirds along the coast. Of the birds living in Hawai‘i, a whopping 48 of them can only be found on these islands! For the expert ornithologist, Hawai‘i is a truly fascinating corner of the planet; the lack of predators and various unique food sources created an ecosystem ideal for these birds to flourish. Hiking provides the best opportunity to see them, since many of these creatures are a little elusive. For those who unable to tell the difference between the rare ‘Apapane and ‘I‘iwi, perhaps it’s best to look out for more conspicuous species. An easier bird to spot is the Nene goose. Although similar in appearance to the Canada Goose, this bird is also endemic to Hawai‘i, and it is the state bird. The Nene can be seen throughout Hawai‘i, but theyare flourishing on Kaua‘i due to the absence of mongoose, which is their worst predator. Your best shot to see one on Kaua‘i would definitely be on the North Shore in the morning. They can often be seen and heard flying overhead or lounging at The Kīlauea Lighthouse.
Forget to pack a lunch for your hike? You may be able to forage for something on the trail, just to hold you over. It only takes a cursory glance at the flora of Hawai‘i to recognize some edible plant life; wild coconuts, bananas, mangos, and lychee—a local favorite—are commonplace across Kaua‘i. But these fruits are less common on the trails as elevation increases and you get farther away from agricultural areas. You are instead more likely to find fruits such as guava, mountain apple, and lilikoi on the hiking trails. These fruits won’t satisfy an empty stomach, but they are a nice treat to pluck and nibble on as you venture through the wilderness. These fruits can be found all over the island, and provide a tasty (well, maybe not the mountain apple) alternative to supermarket varieties.
Since Kaua‘i is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, it has the most mature and developed wilderness, with a diverse, abundant, and pristine rainforest that exceeds expectations. It is home to dozens of incredibly beautiful species of flora and fauna. We’ve named just a few here, but we hope you will encounter some of these on Kaua‘i, on one of our many beautiful hiking trails suited to the novice or expert hiker. Next time you hit the trails, be sure to keep your eyes and ears open and take it all in!