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This 194-acre independent research center, managed by the University of Hawaii, has more than 5,000 tropical plant species, and one of the largest collections of palms of any botanical garden in the world.
Minnesota botanist Harold Lyon was the arboretum’s first director, and he planted more than 2,000 species of trees during his tenure. Technicolor flowers sprang from the ground and leafy branches and birds offered up their twills and screeches.
The three of us somehow got wildly lost somewhere between the Buddha statue and our destination of Aihualama Falls. One minute we were gabbing on a well-marked trail in the leafy rain forest, the next we were tripping through a dark bamboo forest on a hillside too steep to scale.
Eventually we found our way back to a switchback trail and our destination waterfall, laughing in disbelief when we passed a sign on the way out that read: “Notice: End of maintained trail! Staff only beyond this point.” (3860 Manoa Road, Honolulu; 1-808-988-0456; www.hawaii.edu/lyon arboretum)
A neighborhood cul-de-sac provided an unassuming trailhead up Mariner’s Ridge for a healthy 45-minute hike to the top of the Koolau Mountains and a view of both sides of Oahu.
The 1.5-mile trail began with dry, scruffy bushes and a wide view of an arid landscape, but it becomes narrower and steeper in no time. We stopped to cool off and rest at a shady spot under a stand of ironwoods strewn with pine needles.
At the top of the ridge, a view of Maunalua Bay alights to the east and the Mokulua Islands crop up on the windward side. While more adventurous hikers crossed to the windward side of the trail to Mount Olomana, we were content to gaze out on the blue-green water and jagged coastline. (Trailhead at the end of Kaluanui Road, Honolulu)
Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail
The paved trail starts on the southeasternmost reach of Oahu and is gradual enough for any beginning hiker. The guidebooks suggest allowing two hours, but it’s a quick walk to the summit for those in good shape. The red-roofed lighthouse, built in 1909, isn’t open but it’s a lovely sight to behold, nested in the hillside. The breezy summit was notable for the hang gliders we saw in the distance along with Koko Head and Koko Crater. The ecosystem is dry and arid on this part of the island, so don’t forget sunscreen. We saw more cactus and low-lying shrubs than shade trees, but the view of the southeastern coastline more than compensated. Between November and May, bring binoculars to spot humpback whales on the move. (Kalanianaole Hwy., Waimanalo; www.hawaiistateparks.org/hiking/oahu)
As one of Hawaii’s most distinctive features, it’s worth spending a couple of hours exploring the volcanic Diamond Head crater just up the beach from Waikiki. It’s about three-quarters of a mile up to the crater’s rim. The popular trek provides a workout as you walk up about 175 steps and through a dark tunnel. We saw too many tourists in ill-advised flip-flops or heeled sandals. The U.S. government bought Diamond Head in 1904 and built the trail in 1908 as it sought to fortify the coastal defense system on Oahu, though no artillery was ever fired. Several military buildings, including pillbox bunkers, still exist on the ridge. (Diamond Head Road at 18th Avenue, Waikiki, Honolulu; 1-808-587-0300; Cost: $1 per person, $5 per vehicle; www.hawaiistate parks.org/hiking/oahu)
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335