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Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
Waimea may get lots of press for the giant winter waves in the bay, but the valley itself is a newsmaker and an ecological treasure in its own right. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is working to conserve and restore the natural habitat. Follow the Kamananui Stream up the valley through the 1,800 acres of gardens. The botanical collections here include more than 5,000 species of tropical flora, including a superb gathering of Polynesian plants. It's the best place on the island to see native species, such as the endangered Hawaiian moorhen. You can also see the remains of the Hale O Lono heiau (temple) along with other ancient archaeological sites; evidence suggests that the area was an important spiritual center. Daily activities between 10 and 2 include hula lessons, native plant walks, lei-making lessons, kapa cloth-making demonstrations, depending on how many staff members are working on a given day. At the back of the valley, Waihi Falls plunges 45 feet into a swimming pond. Bring your board shorts—a swim is the perfect way to end your hike. Be sure to bring mosquito repellent, too; it can get buggy. www.waimeavalley.net. COST: $15. OPEN: Daily 9--5.
This amazing little attraction harbors more than 3,000 organisms and 500 species of Hawaiian and South Pacific marine life, endangered Hawaiian monk seals, sharks, and the only chambered nautilus living in captivity. The Edge of the Reef exhibit showcases five different types of reef environments found along Hawaii's shorelines. Check out the small new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands exhibit that explains the formation of the island chain, the Ocean Drifters jellyfish exhibit, outdoor touch pool, and the self-guided audio tour, which is included with admission. The aquarium offers activities of interest to adults and children alike, including the monthly Aquarium After Dark program when visitors grab a flashlight and view fish going about their rarely observable nocturnal activities. Plan to spend at least an hour at the aquarium, including 10 minutes for a film in the Sea Visions Theater. www.waquarium.org. COST: $9. OPEN: Daily 9--5; last entrance 4:30.
Though they may look like piles of rocks to the uninitiated, heiau are sacred stone platforms for the worship of the gods and date from ancient times. Ulupo means "night inspiration," referring to the legendary Menehune, a mythical race of diminutive people who are said to have built the heiau under the cloak of darkness. www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/oahu/ulupo.cfm.
Dolphins leap and spin and penguins frolic at this marine-life attraction 15 miles from Waikiki at scenic Makapuu Point. The park has a 300,000-gallon Hawaiian reef aquarium, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Care Center, and a breeding sanctuary for Hawaii's endangered honu sea turtle. Join the Stingray or Dolphin Encounter and get up close and personal in the water with these sea creatures (don't worry, the rays' stingers have been removed) or go on an underwater photo safari. www.sealifeparkhawaii.com. COST: $30. OPEN: Daily 10:30--5.
The Pearl Harbor visitor center, recently reopened after a $58 million renovation and now part of the World War II Valor In the Pacific National Monument, is the starting point for visitors to this historic site. The site is a must-see for many, but there are things to know before you go. Consider whether you want to see only the Arizona Memorial, or the USS Bowfin and USS Missouri as well (the latter two sights charge admission fees). Allow approximately an hour and 15 minutes for the USS Arizona tour. Arrive early—the free, first-come, first-served tickets for the Arizona Memorial can disappear quickly. There are restrictions on what you can bring with you, including purses, backpacks, and camera cases (although cameras are allowed). Baggage lockers are available for a small fee. Also, don't forget ID. www.nps.gov/valr/. COST: Free (timed tickets required for Arizona Memorial). OPEN: Daily 7--5; Arizona Memorial tours daily 8--3.
This lovely park is the site of the internationally acclaimed Prince Lot Hula Festival on the third weekend in July. Throughout the year, the Moanalua Gardens Foundation sponsors 3-mi guided hikes into Kamananui Valley, usually on Sunday; call for times. Self-guided tour booklets ($5) are also available from the Moanalua Gardens Foundation office. To reach Moanalua Gardens, take the Moanalua Freeway westbound (78). Take the Tripler exit, then take a right on Mahiole Street. Pineapple Place is just after Moanalua Elementary School. www.mgf-hawaii.org. COST: Free, guided hikes $5. OPEN: Weekdays 8--4:30.
Tucked all the way back in Manoa Valley, this is a gem of an arboretum operated by the University of Hawaii. Hike to a waterfall or sit and enjoy beautiful views of the valley. You'll also see an ethnobotanical garden and one of the largest palm collections anywhere—all within a park-like setting. Its educational mission means there are regular talks and walks with university faculty. Docents give 60- to 90-minute tours weekdays at 10 am. There are also self-guided audio tours. www.hawaii.edu/lyonarboretum. COST: $5 donation. OPEN: Mon.--Fri. 8--4; Sat. 9--3.
Encompassing 4,000 acres about 45 minutes by car from Waikiki, this working ranch offers a wide range of activities—from ATV and horseback tours to hula lessons or jungle expeditions in six-wheel-drive vehicles. The mountains, which serve as the backdrop of this scenic ranch, may seem familiar as the ranch has served as the set for movies such as Jurassic Park andWind Talkers, and TV shows Magnum PI and Lost. From the grounds, you'll have a wonderful view of the ocean and Chinaman's Hat. www.kualoa.com. COST: Admission varies based on activity. OPEN: Book activities 2--3 days in advance.
If you've visited any of Oahu's other botanical gardens, this one will be in stark contrast. Inside the tallest tuff cone on Oahu, in one of the hottest and driest areas on the island, Koko Crater Botanical Garden allows visitors the opportunity to see dryland species of plants including baobab trees, cacti, plumeria, and bougainvillea. www1.honolulu.gov/parks/hbg/kcbg.htm. COST: Free. OPEN: Daily sunrise--sunset.
Rolling hills carpeted in lush green grass greet the visitor to Kakaako park. Popular with local families and perfect for watching the sunset or the Friday evening sailboat races, it has a seaside promenade following a lava-rock wall. Though it has no beach access, the Diamond Head end of the promenade is a great spot to watch surfers and Friday evening fireworks off of Waikiki. OPEN: 7--7daily.
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