Issue 10.4: August / September 2007

Learning the Land

story by Dennis Hollier
photo by Monte Costa


Ena sees the coot first. It’s an ‘alae ‘ula, an endangered Hawaiian mudhen, paddling shyly among the reeds at the edge of Kawainui Marsh. The ‘alae ‘ula is a rare bird. Ena, our guide from Hina Adventure Tours, points out, “There are less than 500 left in the wild.” Then she dips into the mo‘olelo, the old Hawaiian legends that tell how the ‘alae ‘ula gave mankind the secrets of fire, and the crucial part the little bird played in the origins of the Hawaiian Islands.

This is “Sacred Sites and Storytelling,” a tour of the ancient cultural sites of Windward O‘ahu. Along the way, Ena Sroat, a fifth-generation kama‘aina, deftly blends legend, culture and natural history in a way that brings the landscape to life. On a promontory overlooking Kawainui, she points out a boulder cloven by the tail of Hauwahine, the mo‘o, or lizard, goddess that guards the marsh. She has us envision Kawainui as it was 300 years ago—not the wilderness of bulrushes it is now but a complex of fishponds and taro patches that fed a community of thousands. It’s O‘ahu’s largest wetland. If you listen closely, she says, you can hear the burble of nine million gallons of water a day flowing through the marsh.

According to the International Ecotourism Society, ecotourism is about connecting conservation, communities and sustainability. At Hina Adventure Tours, this means more than looking at pretty waterfalls. In small groups, you can visit seldom-seen cultural sites or hike to the edge of a 2,000-foot cliff. You can learn about Hawai‘i’s rare and endangered plants or the rudiments of the celestial navigation used by ancient Polynesian voyagers. On one tour, guests can literally dig in and help volunteers restore Ulupo Heiau, one of O‘ahu’s oldest religious sites. As Ena says, “In one day, you’ll experience O‘ahu from mountain to sea, and know you’ve left Hawai‘i more beautiful than when you arrived.”

Hina Adventure Tours
(808) 499-9753