Some tourists visit Hawaii just for the scenery: think sunsets on the beach, towering volcanoes and rain forest waterfalls. But if you take a closer look at the landscape on foot, you'll be amazed by the biodiverse wildlife living on these Polynesian islands. Hawaii's flora and fauna spectacularly show off the same evolutionary principles that naturalist Charles Darwin famously found in South America's Galapagos Islands.
Evolving in isolation, a single kind of honeycreeper that arrived in Hawaii centuries ago eventually became dozens of new species, each better adapted to its new island home. Today few places in the world offer such a variety of biomes and wildlife as do the Hawaiian Islands - and there's no better way to see it all than by hiking.
On Maui, Haleakala National Park is has many of the island's top trails for wildlife watching. To spot a rainbow variety of bird life, start with the short loop around Hosmer Grove or sign up for a longer guided hike into Haleakala's wet, wild Waikamoi Cloud Forest, managed by the Nature Conservancy. Day hikes and overnight treks around the park's volcanic summit will bring you almost nose-to-beak with nēnē, the endangered Hawaiian goose.
Back along the central Maui coast, Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge has built a boardwalk that lets you spy on not just rare native and migratory Pacific birds, but also sea turtles basking down below on golden sands. In West Maui, the Kapalua Resort's hiking trails are open to the public. Explore the shady Maunalei Arboretum of native and exotic trees, then trace the coastline of Kapalua Bay, where humpback whales swim and give birth in the warm offshore waters in winter.
You can find out more about all of these hikes in my book Top Trails Maui: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone, available in print from Wilderness Press and as an Amazon Kindle ebook.
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Photo credits: Haleakala National Park, Kihei & Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge (Sara J. Benson & Michael Connolly Jr.)
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