Sunday, December 9, 2012

Slow Down, Save an Endangered Nene on Maui

From December through April is nesting season for nēnē, the endangered Hawaiian goose. At Haleakala National Park, these birds are often seen along the roadsides and in parking lots, where careless drivers sometimes hit or run over them. The remarkably curious birds have little fear of humans, and they aren't able to fly away quickly.

Just a few days ago, a motorist rushing up the highway to catch the sunrise from Haleakala's volcanic summit fatally struck a breeding pair of nēnēUnfortunately, in 2012 there has already been a greater than average number of nēnē who have died after being hit by motor vehicles.



So how can you help? It's easy: just slow down and obey the posted speed limits in the park. Drive even more carefully during rainy or foggy weather, when visibility is limited. Check around your parked car before backing up, to avoid any birds that may be hanging out underneath your vehicle.

Related links:
Hawaii's National Parks Go Social: News for Hikers
Haleakala's Summit Wilderness: High Winds & Other Fascinatingly Dangerous Weather
The Best Hike on Maui Is...

Photo credits: Haleakala National Park (Michael Connolly Jr.)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Hawaii's National Parks Free This Weekend

In honor of Veterans Day, US national parks are waiving entry fees November 10-12. That's right: visiting any national park is free, including in Hawaii. If you're headed to Haleakala National Park on Maui or Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, you won't pay a cent. Go hike the otherworldly craters of the Big Island's Kilauea Iki Trail inside an active volcanic zone, or traipse through musical bamboo groves up to Waimoku Falls on the Pipiwai Trail beyond Hana on Maui. You'll save $10 per carload all weekend long.

Related links:
The Best Trail on Maui Is...
Big Island's Volcanoes and Valleys - My CNN Story
Haleakala's Summit Wilderness: High Winds & Other Fascinatingly Dangerous Weather

Photo credit: Haleakala National Park (Sara J. Benson)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Big Island's Volcanoes and Valleys - My CNN Story


In six months of living on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi, I learned to do things that even growing up in a Midwestern farm town hadn't taught me. I hauled my own trash to the dump in the back of a sputtering 1980s Volvo. I paid for water delivery when our rainwater catchment system bottomed out. I stole eggs from the backyard chickens and picked ripe, soft papaya fruit right off the plant. The Big Island brought me as close to the hippie dream of living off the land as I'm likely to get.

Kilauea Iki Overlook

But what I remember most about the Big Island is its raw, lunar-looking lava landscapes. I hiked across sun-baked lava fields in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park - and almost succumbed to heat exhaustion after my water ran out, frantically finding some last-ditch relief in the shadow of an ancient Hawaiian rock wall. After dark, I scampered across ropy pahoehoe lava to a viewpoint of fiery molten lava glowing hellishly red while it oozed downhill into the ocean, sending up billowing clouds of steam. As dawn broke, I drove partway up Mauna Kea's summit road, then continued to climb steeply uphill on foot, curving around rainbow-colored cinder cones and a prehistoric, frosty green lake at eye level with the clouds. Out of breath, I reached the top of Hawaii's highest volcano, dusted with snow and marked with a cold metal USGS elevation marker and a traditional stone-and-wood Hawaiian altar.



After all of that fire and ice, the Big Island's lush amphitheater valleys were a refreshingly wet and temperate escape, where waterfalls leapt over cliffs and swollen streams ran headstrong into the Pacific. I tramped from Waipiʻo Valley up the Z-shaped switchbacks of the Muliwai Trail, then rock-hopped over streams, strode past emergency helipads and slipped over kukui nuts for the final mile downhill with nothing to hold onto but tangled hau trees. The rough trail ended in abandoned Waimanu Valley, where under the light of a full moon by a rising tide, I camped alone on an eerily deserted beach. It was too easy to hallucinate the sounds of Hawaii's night marchers - the ghosts of ancient warriors - pounding their feet on dirt and making tree branches creak and rocks crash as they slipped through the forest.

View from Mauna Kea's Summit Road

Getting to know the Big Island's volcanic landscapes and timeless valleys in depth requires taking serious risks, but it pays off with huge rewards. If this sounds like your kind of adventure, check out my guide to "Exploring the Big Island's Volcanoes and Valleys," published by Lonely Planet. It was recently reprinted by CNN with a gorgeous gallery of digital images, so you can see for yourself the drama that unfolds on Hawaii's youngest - and most wildly unpredictable - island.

Have you been hiking on the Big Island? What's your favorite trail? Are you a volcano trekker or a valley explorer? Let us know by leaving a comment below!


Related links:
Volcanoes and Valleys on the Big Island [CNN]
Exploring the Big Island's Volcanoes and Valleys [Lonely Planet]
Kauaiʻs Coast & Mountains: A Hiker's Dream [Lonely Planet]

Photo credits: Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, Waipiʻo Valley, and Mauna Kea (Michael Connolly Jr.)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Maui Video: Hiking Trail Clips

Over on the independent travel website Matador Network, Ian MacKenzie just published a high-definition travel montage video of a recent trip to Maui. The video is worth watching in its entirety, but island hikers will be especially excited to see shots from the summit of the Waihee Ridge Trail (for once, without cloudy conditions obscuring the view!) and the Pipiwai Trail inside Haleakala National Park that leads through a bamboo forest to Waimoku Falls. You can find out more about both of these hikes in my book, Top Trails Maui: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone, available in print from Wilderness Press and as a Kindle ebook.

Related links:
Matador Network: Maui Paradise Dubstep [VIDEO]
The Best Hike on Maui Is...
Hidden Hiking Trails in West Maui

Photo credit: Haleakala National Park (Sara J. Benson)

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Best Hike on Maui Is...

Local alternative weekly newspaper Maui Time has declared that the best hike on the island is the bamboo forest trail at Kipahulu. Although I'm usually a hard-nosed media critic, I agree. 

When I first visited Maui in 1995, this is the trail that captured my imagination and memory: the musical rustling of bamboo plants sounding like an orchestra of xylophones whenever the wind blew; spray from a wildly rushing stream as I crossed the twin footbridges; and postcard-worthy Waimoku Falls tumbling into a jungly pool at the trail's end. 

Officially called the Pipiwai Trail, this day hike is no secret. You'll meet dozens of other hikers, all swatting away the mosquitoes (bring insect repellent!) and gulping from their bottles of water in the hot, humid and sweaty conditions. Moderately strenuous, the Pipiwai Trail measures 2 miles each way, winding uphill over tree roots and crossing bridges and a rocky stream before finally arriving at powerful cliffside Waimoku Falls.


This is one of Maui's most popular hikes, but it's also one of the most dangerous. Why? Because people ignore the national park's warning signs and hike off-trail to reach off-limits waterfalls, then slip, fall down cliffs or drown in flash floods. The good news is that you can easily avoid these dangers simply by sticking to the trail, not swimming in any waterfalls (falling rocks could conk you on the head) and not crossing any streams when flash floods are possible. Stop by the Kipahulu ranger station for advice and to check today's weather report before starting your hike.

The Pipiwai Trail starts near the parking lot for the coastal Kipahulu section of Haleakala National Park, 10 twisting and narrow miles beyond Hana near mile marker 42 on the Hana Highway. Entry to the national park (including its volcanic summit area, which has even more amazing hikes) currently costs $10 per vehicle for three days. 

Find out all about the many hiking and backpacking trails in Haleakala National Park in my guidebook Top Trails Maui, available in paperback and also digitally as an Amazon Kindle ebook.

Got another favorite trail on Maui? Let us know by leaving a comment below. Mahalo!

Related links:
Hawaii's National Parks Go Social: News for Hikers
Hidden Hiking Trails in West Maui
Our National Parks: So Wild That You Should Sue?

Photo credits: Haleakala National Park (Michael Connolly Jr.)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Five Great Hikes into Hawaii's History on Oahu


Manoa Valley above Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Hawaii

Want to dig deeper into Hawaiian culture on your next island vacation? There's no better place to start on than Oahu, home to ancient temples and battlegrounds, WWII historical sites, and the wild scenery of the Windward Coast and North Shore.


Over on LonelyPlanet.com, check out my list of five of the most worthwhile day hikes across Oahu, from the easy ascent of Diamond Head near Waikiki to the Maunawaili Trail that snakes below the jagged pali (cliffs). Visit WWII pillboxes or a Hawaiian temple of traditional medicine and healing, all within a surprisingly short drive of Honolulu and Waikiki.


Here's a bonus for readers like you! I didn't have room in my Lonely Planet article to point out the best locals' places to refuel after your hike:


1. Diamond Head - Back in Waikiki, drop by Waiola Shave Ice for icy treats or 1950s-era Leonard's Bakery for malasadas (Portuguese-style doughnuts).


2. Maunawili Trail Network - Drive from any trailhead to Sweet Home Waimanalo cafe, pouring veggie smoothies and mint lemonade.


3. Lanikai Pillboxes - Line up at Lanikai Juice for tropical fruit smoothies, often made with produce from organic farms, and heaping fruit bowls.


4. Kaena Point State Park - Backtrack to Haleiwa for  Matsumoto Shave Ice from a roadside shack.


5. Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area - Gorge on an island plate lunch or poke rice bowl with spicy eggplant fries at chef Elmer's Poke Stop.


Got another favorite hike on Oahu? Let us know about it by leaving a comment below. Mahalo!


Related links:
Big Island Trekking: From Coast to Volcanic Peaks
Hawaii: Go Green, Live Local & Save Money
Hidden Hiking Trails in West Maui

Photo credit: Sara Benson & Michael Connolly Jr.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Maui's Cowboy Country: Annual July 4th Parade & Rodeo This Weekend in Makawao

Hawaii's paniolo (cowboy) culture stretches back to the turn of the 19th century, when cows and horses were first brought here by foreign sea captains as gifts for Kamehameha the Great. Spanish vaqueros came to the islands in the 1820s to teach Hawaiians how to herd cattle and saddle up on horseback. Less than a century later, a Big Island ranch hand named Ikua Purdy won the world roping championships in Cheyenne Wyoming, setting (then) a new world record of 56 seconds.


That all goes to show how quickly and strongly cowboy culture took root in Hawaii. Starting on the Parker Ranch in Waimea (Kamuela) on the Big Island, it spread to other islands, including Maui on the slopes of Haleakala volcano. Every year around the July 4th holiday, the small upcountry town of Makawao puts on a parade with lei-draped riders on horseback and holds competitive roping and stock events at the Oskie Rice Rodeo Arena off Olinda Rd. This year the parade starts at 9 a.m. on Saturday, July 7, 2012. Rodeo qualifying rounds kick off at 9 a.m. on Thursday, July 6, and Friday, July 7, with the finals starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 8, and Sunday, July 9. Check the full events schedule published by Maui Magazine.




Want a sneak peek, or maybe you can't be there in person? Watch this YouTube slideshow video of the 2011 Makawao Rodeo, showing both women and men competing for top prizes. Year-round, you can visit Makawao in Maui's upcountry on your own. Book ahead for a guided horseback ride with Pony Express Tours, which leads day trips across the slopes of Haleakala volcano, both on a private ranch and inside Haleakala National Park's summit area on the Sliding Sands Trail, which is also open to day hikers and overnight backpackers. 


Related links:
Haleakala's Summit Wilderness: High Winds & Other Fascinatingly Dangerous Weather
NPR Interview: Hiking and Ecotourism in Hawaii
Welcome to Top Trails: Hiking on Maui


Photo credits: 
http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenniferboyer / CC BY 2.0
http://www.flickr.com/photos/daveynin / CC BY 2.0

Monday, June 25, 2012

Big Island Trekking: From Coast to Volcanic Peaks

Itching for a longer overnight or multi-day hike to test your skills? If you've already done every trail in Maui's Haleakala National Park, including switchbacking down the back side of the volcano to Kaupo and the lunar-like Skyline Trail to Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area, then fly over to the neighboring Big Island.


Many hikers know about the Big Island's very tough summit trails up Mauna Kea, Hawaii's highest peak and Mauna Loa, a more massive mountain inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. But less well-known is the ambitious 175-mile Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, which traces the shoreline of the Big Island from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, around South Point and all the way up the Kona coast into Kohala to northern Upolu Point. 


Along its planned (but not yet fully implemented) route, this national historic trail passes historical heiau (Hawaiian temples), ancient Hawaiian village sites and a place of refuge, as well as beaches both lonely and crammed with sunseekers. Parts of the trail are utterly remote, while others border some of the busiest towns on the Big Island.


Be aware that Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail is not entirely open to the public yet, although some sections under National Park Service (NPS) and state land management are, including more than 15 miles along South Kohala's sun-baked lava coast between Kawaihae and sandy Anaehoomalu Bay.


Have you hiked any of the Big Island's overnight trekking routes or volcanic peaks? Which trails do you think are the best? How do they compare with Maui's Haleakala volcano or Kauai's Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast? Let us know about your hiking experiences by leaving a comment! 


Related links:
Haleakala's Summit Wilderness: High Winds & Other Fascinatingly Dangerous Weather
Go Green, Local Style: West Hawaii (Big Island)
Go Green, Local Style: East Hawaii (Big Island)
National Parks of the Pacific Islands: Walk This Way 


Photo credits: Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park (Michael S. Connolly, Jr.), Kohala Historical Sites State Monument (Michael S. Connolly, Jr.)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hawaii's National Parks Go Social: News for Hikers

It used to be that the best way to find out whether or not the pools at Oheo Gulch in Haleakala National Park were open for swimming was to call the Kipahulu visitor center and cross your fingers that someone would pick up the phone. Now all you have to do is follow @HaleakalaNPS on Twitter. The park tweets about stream closures to save you the disappointment of driving all the way down past Hana, only to be told it's unsafe to swim today due to the possible danger of flash floods. (Of course, you can still hike the Pipiwai Trail even when the Oheo Gulch area is closed to swimmers!)


Also on Twitter, @PacificNPS is the official tweeter for all of the National Parks of the Pacific Islands, covering Hawaii, Guam, Saipan and American Samoa. Their tweets give you a daily dose of Polynesian history, culture and science. One of today's tweets linked to 60-second YouTube video introduction to the flora, fauna and landscapes of the Big Island's Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (@HawaiiNPS), another beautifully diverse destination for island hikers and backpackers.


Got any favorite YouTube videos of hiking on Maui you'd like to share? Nominate your favorites by leaving the link in a comment below. Mahalo!


Related posts:
Wild Weather High on Hawaii's Haleakala Volcano
Go Green, Local Style in Hawaii: Maui Edition
West Maui's Waihee Valley Trail Closed Again


Photo credit: Haleakala National Park (Michael Connolly, Jr.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Freebie Alert! National Parks Week Is Now


From April 21 through April 29, US national parks are waiving entry fees. That's right: every single national park will be free. So, whether you're dreaming of heading to Maui's Haleakala or the Big Island's Hawaii Volcanoes, you won't pay a cent. (Of course, some parks are free year-round, like the Big Island's Puuhonua o Honaunau, but that's a story for another day.)


Visit this National Park Week site to find out about special events happening at parks across the country. April 28 is National Junior Ranger Day, too. (Kids can earn their badges at almost any national park year-round, or even online at home).


And since the national parks are letting you in for free, why not give back by helping them out with a volunteer project? Even if you missed the public programs on Earth Day (April 21), you can still find an opportunity to help out near you, wherever you live, just by searching the volunteer database.


What's your all-time favorite national park for hiking, anywhere in the USA? Tell us where we should travel next by leaving a comment below!


Related posts:
Wild Weather High on Hawaii's Haleakala Volcano
Go Green, Local Style in Hawaii: Maui Edition
Are US National Parks Now Too Noisy for Hikers?


Photo: Haleakala National Park (Michael Connolly Jr.) 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hawaii: Go Green, Live Local & Save Money, Too

Ever dream of vacationing in Hawaii, only to have your Polynesian island fantasies come crashing down on dry land once you find out how much a hotel or condominium and a rental car are going to cost? The budget-saving solution: travel more like local residents live, shrink your carbon footprint, and then you won't have to break the bank.


Over on Gogobot, a social travel network that's a real resource for independent DIY travelers, I've been doing a series of columns that tell many of my secrets for green, local and budget travel in Hawaii. Years of living, working and traveling all around the islands has taught me that the most unforgettable trips are often the cheapest.


Camping, hiking, hanging out at beaches, and learning about Hawaiian culture and history all cost less than one night squeezed in a tiny beachfront resort hotel room with mai tai cocktails. Plus you'll get better acquainted with a more authentic side of Hawaii, both its multicultural traditions and its hang-loose-outdoors contemporary lifestyle.




Check out my guest post with travel tips for Maui on Gogobot. If you've got your own money-saving, eco-travel ideas to share, leave a comment here or over there. My first post in this Hawaii eco-travel series: Oahu. Next up: Kauai on April 24. Aloha!


Related posts:
Go Green, Local Style in Hawaii: Maui Edition
Go Green, Local Style in Hawaii: Oahu Edition
My NPR Interview: Hiking and Ecotourism in Hawaii


Photos: West Maui (Sara J. Benson & Michael Connolly, Jr.)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Are US National Parks Now Too Noisy for Hikers?

As audio ecologist Gordon Hempton mentions in his book One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World, there are "snowmobiles roaring through Yellowstone, helicopters flying over Hawaii volcanoes, and air tours over the Grand Canyon." I agree that these are all annoying disruptions to the soul-recharging experience of wilderness. Too many times to count, while hiking around the summit of Maui's Haleakala or on Sierra Nevada backcountry trails, my serenity has been spoiled by noise pollution.




One of Hempton's recommendations is "to prohibit all aircraft from flying over our pristine national parks." Yet what national park can claim to be pristine? Recreational tourist development means that all parks by definition are already sullied. Even in the wilderness backcountry of Alaska's Denali National Park, as recently reported by the New York Times, it can be hard to find deep silence. Ranger Davyd Betchkal pointed out that when "a jet will go over...[it] breaks that flow of consciousness, that ecstatic moment" of being immersed in nature when you're traveling on foot.

To preserve America's last silent spaces and to stop the negative ecological effects of too much noise on wildlife, tourist overflights and other noise-making leisure pursuits should be severely curtailed in our national parks. In Hawaii's Haleakala National Park, for example, helicopters are allowed too near the summit area. At Grand Canyon National Park, helicopter and airplane tours are a nuisance to hikers and anyone else wishing to experience the solitude of the canyon. You can't ignore that air tours also leave a sizable carbon footprint on the environment.


Until more national parks start to restrict noise-polluting air and overland tours inside their boundaries, each one of us can help preserve America's last quiet places by voting with our tourist dollars. Skip the noise-making helicopter or plane tours next time you visit a national park, and strike out on foot instead. The wilderness, the wildlife and your fellow hikers will all thank you.


Got any tips for finding true silence on any of Hawaii's hiking trails? Let us know about your favorite spots by leaving a comment below!


Related posts:
Our National Parks: So Wild That You Should Sue?
NPR Interview: Hiking and Ecotourism in Hawaii
Saving Hawaiian Monk Seals: 4 Ways You Can Help


Photo credit: Haleakala National Park (Sara J. Benson)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hidden Hiking Trails in West Maui

Spring break means peak tourist season on Maui. That makes it key to find places where you can escape the crowds and be immersed in nature --  a lonely but beautiful beach, a remote rainforest waterfall or a hiking trail with no one on it.

On the west side of Maui, you don't have to be a guest of the Kapalua resort to set your boots on its groomed hiking trails. Kapalua's Coastal Trail, which stretches for 2 miles along prime beachfront, is always busy with walkers, runners and cavorting kids. But high in the hills above the golf course, the historical Maunalei Arboretum is practically deserted. Here gentle footpaths wind through shady groves planted with native and non-native arboreal species. Even kids will enjoy the 0.5-mile Lower Loop, or the 1-mile Banyan Loop that passes by those exotic gargantuan trees.

More of a cardio workout, the 1.25-mile Honolua Ridge Trail climbs from the arboretum's tangled maze of shorter trails to an impressive forest lookout. If you want a real adventure, follow the epic Mahana Ridge Trail another 6 miles downhill to the ocean, treating yourself to gorgeous views of Lanai along the way. When I hiked this trail, I didn't see another sunburned soul. A side loop through a sugi pine grove was a cool, shady relief, but the spur through overgrown pineapple fields was a bush-whacking waste of time. Still, this was one of the most memorable hikes I've done on Maui.

If you plan to do the entire 7-mile Honolua & Mahana Ridges route, wear shoes with good traction and bring plenty of water. When you get to the end of the trail at D.T. Fleming Beach Park, you'll need to march your muddy, sweaty self for another 10 minutes uphill through the grounds of the Ritz-Carlton hotel and back to the Kapalua Adventure Center. Prepare yourself for disapproving looks from resort guests by the pool.

The Kapalua resort provides a free shuttle service from the Kapalua Adventure Center, near the driving range and golf course, uphill to the arboretum a few times daily. Private vehicles are not allowed to access the arboretum or its trailheads. Make sure you sign a liability waiver and pick up a free hiking guide booklet [PDF] at the check-in desk inside the Kapalua Adventure Center before boarding the shuttle and hitting the trail.

Related posts:

Photo credits: West Maui (Michael Connolly, Jr.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Haleakala's Summit Wilderness: High Winds & Other Fascinatingly Dangerous Weather

Planning on driving up to the summit of Haleakala volcano on Maui anytime soon? Not so fast, tweeted the National Park Service yesterday: "Please use caution when visiting the summit today. We are currently experiencing sustained winds of 40mph." Today the summit has been closed due to high winds and ice. Whoah!


As if the constantly changing weather patterns in the volcano's summit wilderness -- white-out fog, lashing rain, blistering high-altitude sunshine followed by sudden bone-chilling drops in temperature -- weren't enough to contend with. You'd best come prepared to do battle with the elements up here at nearly 10,000ft in elevation.


But that's exactly why hiking and backpacking in the wilderness of Haleakala National Park is such a thrill. A minute is long enough for the clouds to shift and reveal a brand-new vista of rainbow-colored cinder cones. A brief tropical rain shower can send lacy waterfalls cascading down the cliffs. Even driving up the summit road after starting from sea level is its own adventure: the pre-dawn fog covering the narrow ribbon of asphalt can be so soupy that cows grazing on the open range can look like ghostly aliens or disappear from view.


At the summit visitor center, leave your car behind and start trekking down the Sliding Sands Trail [PDF trail guide] into the volcano's erosional valley (erroneously referred to as a crater, even though it wasn't formed by an explosion). Any smart hiker will be carrying at least: 

  • Warm, waterproof layers of clothing, for example, a fleece pullover or hoodie and a Gore-tex shell or plastic poncho, because at this elevation temperatures can drop below freezing (yes, even in Hawaii!)
  • A flashlight or head lamp in case you get caught trudging back up out of the volcano after dusk, since climbing back up the trail can take twice as long as hiking down
  • A hiking pole to balance yourself on slick, muddy and rocky trail sections while reducing wear-and-tear on your knees
  • Plenty of water and sunscreen because the high-altitude sunshine can dehydrate and burn you before you even realize it's happening
  • A first-aid kit and pocketknife to treat those minor irritations like blisters or skin scraped by a chunk of lava, or to stabilize a more serious injury until you can hike out to get help (no, those nene aren't going to fly out and carry a note to the ranger station for you)
  • Map, compass and GPS so that even in white-out conditions you can avoid getting lost and wandering off-trail; over lava rocks and cinders, the trail might only be marked by cairns, which can disappear in dusk or fog

Got a tip for hiking safely on Haleakala or any of Hawaii's other awesome volcanoes? Let us know by leaving a comment below. Thanks!

Related links:
Photo credit: Haleakala National Park (Michael Connolly Jr.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Saving Hawaiian Monk Seals: 4 Ways You Can Help

Years ago when I first landed in Hawaii, seeing a Hawaiian monk seal haul out on a beach was a rare event. It was almost unheard of, no matter how far off the beaten path you hiked, surfed or swam. The first place I ever saw a monk seal was in the university-run Waikiki Aquarium. To see one in the wild, I would've had to journey all the way to Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.


Recently, many more of these endangered pinnipeds have been hauling out on beaches where people also go on the main Hawaiian Islands, from Kaena Point State Park on Oahu to Salt Pond Beach Park on Kauai to Hookipa Beach on Maui. That's good news for hikers and wildlife lovers who want to glimpse the seals up close, especially spectators who are respectful enough to leave the resting seals a buffer zone and keep back at least 150ft. 


Now the bad news. In the past month, four Hawaiian monk seals have died in what Hawaii's Department of Land & Natural Resources has called "suspicious circumstances," with three deaths on Molokai and the latest on Kauai. Although investigations are ongoing, it seems that these seals were intentionally killed by humans.


Bewilderment and sadness are my first responses. But these tragic events shouldn't be too surprising, because even here on the California coast I've seen northern elephant seals threatened with violence by beach visitors and even shot with pellet guns, despite their protected status as a marine species brought back from the brink of extinction after commercial hunting during the 19th century. 




Hawaiian monk seals are the most endangered marine mammals in the Hawaiian Islands, which also makes them the rarest pinnipeds in US waters. According to NOAA, scientists estimate that the total population of Hawaiian monk seals -- already shrinking at an alarming 4% annually -- will dip below 1000 individuals within the next few years. It's time for all of us to pitch in and help!

  • Do not disturb. Hawaiian monk seals haul out on island beaches to rest. When humans approach them, it not only disturbs their recuperation, but can scare them back into the ocean without enough energy to feed, fend off predators or take care of their pups. Always stand back at least 150ft, turn off the flash on your camera and speak quietly.
  • Call someone. If you see a monk seal that may be in distress or the victim of a crime, or just want to report a sighting no one else has noticed yet, call the appropriate hotline (for a full list of contact numbers, click here).
  • Stay informed. Follow Hawaiian monk seal news and share what you've learned with your friends and family. Sign up for email alerts nonprofit organizations such as Na Mea Hulu, and the Hawai'i Wildlife Fund, which you can also find on Facebook and Twitter.


Related posts: 
NPR Interview: Hiking and Ecotourism in Hawaii
Hidden Hiking Trails in West Maui
Welcome to Top Trails: Hiking on Maui!

Photos: USFWS Pacific 
http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwspacific / CC BY 2.0