While Waikiki is known for its beach culture and shopping, just a few miles away is rainforest and plant life unlike many have seen before. Here, sweeping views showcase decades upon decades of tree growth while whispering winds highlight their strength. The area, home to this vibrant ecosystem, is the neighborhood of Manoa.
Located northeast of Waikiki, Manoa is just a short drive away if you have a car or a quick bus ride from Ala Moana Mall. In addition to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Manoa is famous for the Harold L. Lyon Arboretum and Manoa Falls.
We were able to hit both locations on an on-and-off drizzly day (weather that’s not uncommon) on Oahu.
After driving up Manoa Road from Kalakaua Avenue, we reached Rainbow’s End Snack Shop and the point at which there was a parking attendant. After paying for parking, parking, and wiping on insect repellent, we headed, first, to Lyon Arboretum to check out the views and unique plant life.
From the parking lot, Lyon Arboretum is short 3 to 5 minute walk uphill. Though the road winds back and forth, there is a trail that cuts through all of this taking you under giant trees.
Eventually, you’ll arrive at a visitor center/gift shop. They’ll have you sign-in before you’re good to wander the grounds. Admission is now free but a donation of $5 per person is suggested. If you’re looking for the restroom, make two quick rights after the entrance of the arboretum.
The Harold L. Lyon Arboretum is home to over 5,000 plants spread out amongst 193.5 acres. It features dozens of hiking trails (many which run parallel to the ‘Aihualama Stream), numerous gardens, and many areas dedicated to specfic types of plants like Pacific Palms.
When you first enter, you’ll be greeted with a wonderful view of rolling greens dotted with trees.
The first part of the arboretum is nicely styled in a way one might expect with a city arboretum. The other 3/4ths are a little more wild.
There is a main trail that is loosely connected to the west through the Great Lawn or via a dirt trail in the Hawaiian Ethnobotany section.
For the most part, we stayed on this trail which had towering plant life on both sides.
Along the way, we saw a variety of plants and flowers including this unique-looking one.
You can’t tell from the photos, but these are monstrous in size. I could easily see Totoro picking up one, trying to protect himself from rainy weather.
Many trails in the Lyon Arboretum are dirt paths which can become muddy if, wet. Because we were fresh off a rainy day, much of the pathways around the grounds were muddy. With how the area is a watershed, mud is mostly unavoidable, but it is something to consider.
We tried to make it through much of the grounds, but at one point or another, we decided to stick to more developed areas. This, of course, was after we stumbled through a couple of muddy paths and made out way along a path that—seemingly—ended in the middle of jungle.
Minus how wild Lyon Arboretum can be, it has many beautiful plants that create a patchwork of colors in a sea of green.
If you do make it to Lyon Arboretum, do stop by Inspiration Point right next to the Bromeliad Garden.
The view across the valley is stunning. Aside from actually being inside of the jungle, this is the one place where you can experience the vastness of the forest. It’s really amazing that something like this could exist.
Heading down from the entrance of the arboretum, back to the parking lot, we entered the Manoa Falls Hiking Trail. The hiking trail is at the foot of the entrance to Lyon Arboretum, so it’s quite hard to miss.
This hike takes about 1-2 hours, depending on level of fitness and how muddy the trail is. At the time, the trail was quite muddy and it started sprinkling. We made quick work of the trail making it up and down in about 45 minutes.
Once you step inside and cross a small wooden bridge, you’ll be transported to another world where seemingly endless greenery takes on gravity, climbing onto trees that reach towards the heavens.
Ever since learning about mushrooms and foraging, it’s been fun spotting little surprises like these mushroom.
The hike is slightly uphill, though the grade isn’t that bad. The trail runs parallel to the Waihi Stream and takes you through a variety of forests including bamboo.
This hike terminates at the falls where people are told not to jump into.
Because of its proximity to Waikiki, this hike has a tendency of being crowded, even when wet. Along the way, we saw a variety of people making their way to the falls including a couple with a dog, an older Japanese family, families with kids, and the like. Most of the people we saw were at the falls where people stopped to do things like eat lunch, take photos, rest, and meditate.
Going back down the trail is, of course, less strenuous. There were many times though, with the mud, where I almost slipped. Walk on less muddy areas and you should be fine.
Once we got back to the parking lot, we cleaned up our shoes with paper towels we brought over. I heard that there are hoses for washing your shoes. I didn’t see anything like this. Because of how muddy the trails can be in this area, just add this to the additional list of precautions—especially if you’re renting a car.
Anyway, this is my third time to this area. Each time, I find something new to experience. It’s a lovely little adventure that’s just a short distance from Waikiki. If you do go take care, enjoy the trail, and most of all enjoy being one with nature.
PS: For those who want to know what repellant I use, [note this is an affiliate link] I would recommend these mosquito wipes. They’re DEET free and I don’t think I got bit a single time while I was on Oahu with them.