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, walking sticks, binoculars, day packs, warm wear, and rain ponchos.

Savory breakfast: Egg burrito, potatoes, fresh fruit, Island banana bread, croissants, oatmeal, 100% pure Kona coffee, teas, hot chocolate, and juices.

Lunch: Deli-style sandwich (turkey, ham, tuna or veggie), chips, cookie, sodas and juice drinks. Gluten free options available.

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.

What to bring & wear: Closed-toe shoes are required; long pants and a light jacket are recommended

Tripster Customer Reviews

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TripAdvisor Reviews
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Labadie, Missouri
"Great Stargazing Adventure"
TripAdvisor user rating 5 out of 5
Reviewed January 28, 2020 NEW
We took a stargazing trip on Mauna Kea with Hawaii Forest and Trail with Matio as our guide. The trip up the mountain included breathtaking views and a terrific dinner. Our guide kept up a running conversation about native ecology and history. Though bad weather curtailed our time on the summit, it didn't stop us from excellent views of the stars and an altogether terrific expedition. Would definitely go again!. Though heavy coats and mittens were provided, be sure to wear heavy socks if you have them, it's quite chilly on the mountain. Mataio was extremely knowledgeable about the telescope and the night sky, filling us in on constelations, mythology (Hawaiian and Greek) and science.
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Barbara F
Ann Arbor, Michigan
"a highlight of our trip to the big island"
TripAdvisor user rating 5 out of 5
Reviewed January 25, 2020 NEW
We enjoyed this tour very much, including the excellent picnic dinner (chicken teriyaki from Lava Java restaurant) served at "base camp," to the panoramic view and sunset from the summit of Mauna Kea, and the excellent stargazing experience at 12800 feet. Justin, our guide, was very personable as well as knowledgable. He gave us a lot of information and was able to answer our questions. We took turns looking through the telescope with his assistance when we needed it. The hot chocolate and warm brownies were wonderful. It's very cold, so the parkas, gloves and blankets provided were helpful. Dress warmly and let an experienced guide take you on this adventure, especially since rental cars are not allowed on the bumpy partiallyunpaved road.
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Taipei, Taiwan
TripAdvisor user rating 5 out of 5
Reviewed January 25, 2020 NEW
The Service is good Heraldo is very kind~ and introduce is very good~ please keep the spirit forever ^.^
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"Stargazing adventure rocks!"
TripAdvisor user rating 5 out of 5
Reviewed January 22, 2020 NEW
Heraldo from Hawaii Forest and Trail was one of the most knowledgeable, friendly and approachable guides we have experienced in Hawaii. Brought us up to Mauna Kea, explained to us novices the various constellations with his steep astronomy knowledge, and shared tonnes of personal anecdotes of his 2 decades in Hawaii. Truly enjoyable!
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"Mauna Kea summit, AKA Brooklyn girl sees stars!"
TripAdvisor user rating 5 out of 5
Reviewed January 21, 2020 NEW
My husband & I were in Hawaii for 2 weeks on vacation. We did Summit & Stars on our last night - we were very lucky that the weather cleared before we had to fly home & that the road to Mauna Kea had recently re-opened after being closed for some months due to protests...Google it.) We had attended the Birding trip with Hawaii Forest & Trail the previous week & so already knew they are great! We could have driven up ourselves as our Jeep had 4WD, but we didn't want to risk getting stranded if we got altitude sickness...and we don't have our own telescope!  Our tour guide (Jeff) was very knowledgeable & passionate about the island of Hawaii, its volcanoes, and the stars. My husband loves space, so I knew he'd love this. To my surprised I LOVED it! I hail from Brooklyn where I've lived most of my life, I had never seen this many stars!!! You feel like you're on another planet. We drove up to the top of Mauna Kea to watch the sunset, then came down a little ways off the summit to see the stars through Jeff's telescope. We learned about the constellations & individual stars that were used for wayfinding, their Greek names & Polynesian names both. Hot chocolate and brownies were served at this point - DELICIOUS! There was snow at the summit! HF&T provides parkas & mittens, but you will definitely want long pants, warm socks, and closed-toe shoes. I wore leggings, & sweatpants that I picked up at Target in Kailua. The only suggestions for future improvements would be: -Set ground rules for the group in the beginning (for ex we had some issues with non-English speakers talking loudly to each other while Jeff was presenting the star show, which interfered with our enjoyment). -Let folks know what to expect hour in terms of schedule/bathroom breaks (the tour is 8 hours) -Make the dinner something simpler - the breakfast and lunch served on the Birding tour were AMAZING (and from what I understand prepared in-house at HF&T, but the dinner was catered by Lava Java). It reminded me of airplane food - traditional dinner food simply does not travel well! -At the summit, a "local" in an SUV complained that we were blocking his view of the sunset, and got a bit threatening with our guide. Jeff handled it as best he could, asking everyone at the summit (not just our group) to stay away from this individual's car; he didn't want any trouble. But I really could not believe that a local person would be so hostile, on an island known for the spirit of Aloha
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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.