Scene: How Clean Was My Valley
The Waimea Valley Audubon Center offers gentle encounters with nature.
There are people who love to hike. They set their alarms with glee, barely containing their excitement for that 5:30 a.m. charge up a mud-treacherous mountain. At the top, they snack on mountain apples and smugly wear bandannas. I, on the other hand, am one of those not-so-hearty souls who enjoys communing with the 'äina, but only for short periods of time. And if I stay clean. And if there's a gin-and-tonic waiting.
The Waimea Valley Audubon Center, located on the North Shore along Kamehameha Highway, is my kind of rugged. Locals will remember it as Waimea Falls Park, previously a nature park (kayaking, mountain biking and horseback riding) and an adventure park (a "jungle trek for kids," ATV riding and hula shows). In 2003, the National Audubon Society took over the operation, lowering admission fees, doing away with tram rides and cliff-diving performances, and focusing on turning the land into a lush nature reserve. The society has similar centers all over the country, encouraging the public to interact with nature.
endangered moorehen exists only in Hawaii.|
Courtesy of the Audubon Society
On a warm Sunday afternoon, my husband and I strolled along the self-guided walking tour, a paved, mostly shaded path that meanders for three-quarters of a mile. We passed pre-contact historical sites, as well as spectacular foliage and trees, part of the ground's 32 botanical collections. There were plenty of tourists, but the crowd was only thick at the waterfall.
"One of the nice things is that you can really feel like you're alone here," observes Hazel Shaw, the center's director of marketing and communications. "We do have a good kama'äina turnout; about 10 percent to 15 percent of our visitors."
Swimming is allowed, conditions permitting, in the pool at the base of the falls, and there's always a lifeguard on duty. In keeping with the nature-lite vibe, you'll also find changing rooms, restrooms, a place to buy shave ice-and if you're even wussier than me, you can borrow a life vest.
After winding our way back to the main visitor center, we stopped by the Waimea Falls Grill, a casual dining spot. The menu includes hearty fare, including North Shore beef, Kahuku corn and Püpükea greens, but we chose a peanut-butter-banana smoothie. As we sipped, peacocks strutted by, their ethereal colors in full display. Now this, I thought, is my kind of hiking.