Scene: How Clean Was My Valley

The Waimea Valley Audubon Center offers gentle encounters with nature.

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

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 Hawai‘i.
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.

Waimea Valley
Audubon Center

Kamehameha Highway, Hale‘iwa
Phone: 638-9199
Open 9:30 a.m. to 5:00
p.m. daily.
Family programs monthly.
Fees: Adults with local ID, $5;
4 to 12, $3; under age 3, free.
Ample parking, $2 per vehicle.