Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge Adventure in Kona, HI

Hawaii Forest & Trail73-5593 Olowalu StreetKailua-Kona, Big Island, HI 96740
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Offered by Hawaii Forest & Trail, the Bird Watching Tour: Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge Adventure lets guests enjoy Hawaii’s most beautiful birds and wildlife during an 11- to 12-hour experience. Each tour departs in the mornings and includes a continental breakfast as well as a deli-style lunch. Guests are provided with walking sticks, binoculars, backpacks, warm wear, and ponchos.

Good To Know

from Ashley, one of our Kailua-Kona, Big Island Travel Experts
  • Tour duration: approx. 11-12 hours.
  • Continental breakfast and a deli style lunch included in tour.
  • Walking sticks, binoculars, day packs, warm wear, and rain ponchos provided.
  • Approximately 2 to 4 miles of hiking completed throughout the tour.
  • Numerous photography opportunities during the tour.
  • Wear sturdy shoes and a light jacket.


from Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge Adventure
Named by Hawaiians long ago, Hakalau means "many perches" and is still considered critical bird habitat today. Once part of a large cattle ranch, it was the first National Wildlife Refuge established in the United States for forest birds. It is home to some of the rarest plants and animal species on earth. Hakalau Forest is a fascinating example of conservation in action. The forest you'll access is recovering from a hundred years of grazing by cattle and damage from pigs. Our permit allows us to bird the Pua Akala meadow. Giant koa trees, ohia-lehua trees estimated to be a thousand years old, ferns, and rare lobeliads are just some of the native plants encountered.

This Tour is great for:
  • Birders

  • Bird Lovers

  • Nature Lovers

  • Hawaii Veterans

Like our Rainforest and Dryforest Birdwatching Adventure the forest here is filled with the sounds of Hawaii's rare birds. Often, we will encounter researchers or resource managers on our walks who are always willing to share up-to-date information. Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, because of the history of grazing, has a park like setting in the higher elevations, and is densely forested below. Our trail is a four-wheel drive road that bisects the meadow, and there is an elevation gain and loss of about 650 feet.

From Hawaii Forest & Trail headquarters, we will head up to Mamalahoa Highway heading north towards Waimea and the Saddle Road. Once on the Saddle Road, there will be an opportunity for some car-birding primarily for game birds and the Pueo or the Hawaiian Short-eared Owl. We stop in route on the Saddle Road for a restroom stop and a continental breakfast of fresh fruit, breads, and pound cake along with juice, Kona coffee, and an assortment of teas. After the breakfast stop, we follow the unpaved Keanakolu Road 11 miles to the Pua Akala tract of the Refuge.

Schedule: Morning trips departing daily. 11 - 12 hours round trip, departs Hawaii Forest & Trail Headquarters.

Rated: Moderate; ages 8 and over.

Included in the Tour: Continental breakfast including fresh local fruit, baked goods, 100% Kona coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. Plus, deli style lunch, with assorted soft drinks, juices and bottled water.

Gear Provided: Walking sticks, binoculars, day packs, warm wear and rain ponchos.

Group Size: Tour limited to a maximum of 12 guests. Minimum tour group must be 4 total.

Restrictions: Guests should be able to hike on uneven or rocky terrain.

Big Island Customer Reviews

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TripAdvisor Reviews
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Anchorage, Alaska
"Awesome Mauna Kea Summit & Stars Adventure"
TripAdvisor user rating 5 out of 5
Reviewed March 19, 2019 NEW
Our group of four participated in the Mauna Kea Summit & Stars Adventure last night. Justin was our trusted leader & guide. From the very start, he was friendly, upbeat and learned all of our (sometimes unique and hard-to-pronounce) names. He outlined our itinerary for the day, explaining where we would stop, bathroom breaks, meal plans and, ultimately, what to expect for our sunset & Star-gazing experience. Every aspect of the trip was carefully orchestrated for efficiency, timeliness and fun. We had a great time hearing about the geologic history of the island, the evolution of the land, vulcanology, and Justin’s personal experiences with them all. Our group was 14 people from all over the world and Justin was a effective host / facilitator, encouraging us to get to know one another and then including everyone to share their personal backgrounds. Ultimately, I’d recommend this experience to the amateur astronomer, geologist, naturalist, scientist, or any small group looking for a cool (literally COLD 😉), nighttime excursion. Couple of tips: Long pants, warm socks, plenty of layers, and closed-toed, solid shoes (not a lightweight air-hole, mesh sneaker!) are an absolute must! Lastly, spend a couple minutes reading about altitude change & it’s effects. It effected us all differently. Some felt dizzy, others mildly nauseated, and others mildly drunk and tipsy. We all felt normal by the time we hit the visitor center at 9,000 feet. To break it down: Overall Experience: Five stars Tour Guide: Five Stars Bathroom trip frequency: Five Stars Food: 4.5 stars - Big portions, good flavors, but served at about 4pm. Eat a light lunch or late brunch beforehand. Some people in our group had only just finished lunch and skipped their meal. Would definitely go again! Angela from Alaska
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Welwyn Garden City, United Kingdom
"Great excursion, unfortunately weather was poor"
TripAdvisor user rating 4 out of 5
Reviewed March 18, 2019 NEW
Picked up as arranged on time, well looked after. Food reasonable. Parkas and gloves provided and were needed. Unfortunately the weather was blowing a gale and thick cloud but guide made a real effort to find a place where we could see the stars. He was very knowledgeable.
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Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
"Top od mauna kea"
TripAdvisor user rating 5 out of 5
Reviewed March 17, 2019 NEW
Awesome experience. Everything was thoughtfully planned and arranged. Our guide was friendly, caring and super knowledgeable about the sights. The setting is breathtaking and having our own portable telescope to use after dark was a nice touch. Never thought I would be wearing a PARKA in HI. Definitely recommend.
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Tom L
La Pine, Oregon
"An Excellent Value"
TripAdvisor user rating 5 out of 5
Reviewed March 16, 2019 NEW
My wife and I went on the Hakalau Forest Reserve outing. It was a 12 hour day. Garry was our guide. Extremely knowledgeable both Hawaiian culture and birding wise. Pleasant too! We spent a good seven hours in the Reserve. He made every effort to find birds and make sure we all saw the bird. We were lucky and had excellent weather on the trip. Not that it would have been their fault if we had not. So, we had a great day of birding with an excellent guide.
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"Despite the weather, had a great time."
TripAdvisor user rating 5 out of 5
Reviewed March 15, 2019 NEW
Justin was our guide, and he was the best! Never saw such an enthusiastic and energetic guide in my life! The food was great, love the brownies and hot choco. The sunset was just amazing, must see event. We were unlucky because it was too cloudy to see the stars but still had a great time, we got to see the nebula and the stars in the orion belt and sirius. Didn’t know north star was that low in hawaii! Anyway, I recommend you all to take this trip, it was worth it. And hope you would meet Justin as your guide!
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Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge Adventure is located at Hawaii Forest & Trail73-5593 Olowalu StreetKailua-Kona, Big Island, HI 96740
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Frequently Asked Questions about Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge Adventure

How much hiking do we do on the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge Adventure?
Expect to cover approximately 2 to 4 miles in 4 hours.

Is there elevation gain?
Over the course of the hike we gain approximately 650’.

What is the difference in the birds seen on Hakalau vs. Rainforest & Dryforest?
The Akepa and Hawaii Creeper are found in Hakalau Forest, while the Palila is found on the Rainforest & Dryforest Adventure.

Is it possible to use a spotting scope?
Due to the behavior of Hawaii’s endemic birds, the use of a spotting scope can be challenging. If you feel up to the test, we do encourage you to bring your own birdwatching gear. We do provide binoculars on the tour for guest use.

Is it possible to get photos of the birds?
Typically, there are many opportunities to photograph the birds along the way for the determined photographer.