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 Hawaii Customer Reviews

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TripAdvisor Reviews
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Rochester, New York
"View from top"
TripAdvisor user rating 5 out of 5
Reviewed May 25, 2019 NEW
Growing up I always wanted to be an astronomer, but I ended up with a very different career. What a treat to see the world’s preeminent viewing venue, all the telescopes, and, oh yes, a uniquely stunning panorama!
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Chicago, Illinois
"Chicago's Finest Tours"
TripAdvisor user rating 5 out of 5
Reviewed May 24, 2019 NEW
I chose the Riverwalk Tour of Chicago's Finest Tours as close to the groupon expiration date that I could to maximize the chances of a good weather. Unfortunately, Chicago as usual, disappointed, and we started off on a cold, blustery, afternoon in front of Peet's in the Wrigley building. Even before the small group tour started, we were treated to a hot beverage or a bottle of water before starting off exactly on time. The tour guide, Cindy, was extremely knowledgeable and obviously felt passionate about Chicago. Rather than a recitation of facts, she wove her intricate knowledge into memorable stories of person, places, and events that made you feel that you were there. After an informative introduction, the tour started off with a river taxi ride to the Lyric Opera bridge. The focus was on more than the Chicago Riverwalk, and despite being a Chicagoan, I heard tidbits of the city that were totally new and outside the normal tourist spiel that other tours regurgitate. There wasn't a question asked that Cindy didn't have an answer too. Would recommend this tour without reservation. Be aware that there were stairs and a lot of walking and standing, so this would not be the tour for anyone with motility limitations.
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Joseph M
"Very interesting tour!"
TripAdvisor user rating 5 out of 5
Reviewed May 24, 2019 NEW
We took the Sunrise Maunakea tour, and the itinerary and quality of the planning, equipment, and logistics were all very good. However our guide, Matt, was the best part- he was knowledgeable, articulate, competent, diligent, and pleasant. In my experience, this is a rare combination, and in this tour he really made everyone feel safe and comfortable while at the same time conveying a wealth of knowledge about Hawaiian geology, biology, history, and culture, and astronomy to boot. The view of the sunrise is not to be missed. Great experience!
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Houston, Texas
"Matt Was Spectacular"
TripAdvisor user rating 5 out of 5
Reviewed May 23, 2019 NEW
Matt was our guide for the sunrise mountain tour. He was extremely knowledgeable, passionate, charismatic, friendly, and patient. He maintained a pleasant volume of conversation, allowing for anyone too sleepy to rest peacefully. He provided a huge amount of context for cultural, historical, astonomical, and biological features seen on the tour and present on other parts of the island. Highly recommend, would go again in a heartbeat despite 2am start time.
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Waterloo, Canada
"Amazing experience and wonderful guide"
TripAdvisor user rating 5 out of 5
Reviewed May 23, 2019 NEW
If you have the opportunity to go on the Mauna Kea Sunrise tour with Hawaii Forest and Trail, I would highly recommend it!! Melanie was an amazing guide. She was so friendly, knowledgeable and respectful of the land, the people, their history and culture. She had so much energy and made it fun even at 2AM in the morning! It was amazing seeing the stars without any light pollution, hints of the milky way and the rays of first light as it came up above the clouds. It is truly an unforgettable experience. It realigns your perspective on life...absolutely beautiful.
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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.