Bird Watching Tour: Rainforest and Dryforest Birding Adventure

General Information

Schedule:  Morning trips departing weekdays only (except holidays). 11 - 12 hours round trip, departs from Waikoloa Queen’s Marketplace, Highway 190/Waikoloa Road Junction and Hawaii Forest & Trail Headquarters.
Rated: Easy to Moderate; ages 8 and over.
Included in the Tour: Continental breakfast including fresh local fruit, baked goods, 100% Kona coffee, tea and hot chocolate. Deli-style lunch, with assorted soft drinks, juices and bottled water.
Gear Provided: Walking sticks, binoculars, day packs, warm wear and rain ponchos.
Prices: Adult: $189.00, plus tax.
Group Size: Tour limited to a maximum of 12 guests.
Restrictions: Guests should be able to hike on uneven or rocky terrain. We sometimes encounter cool, wet or muddy conditions. Other tour restrictions may apply.
What to Bring & Wear: Sturdy closed-toed shoes or boots, long pants, and a light rain jacket

Full Description

Rainforest - Our destination is the Puu Oo Trail, a historic cattle drive route, located at the 6,000 foot level of Saddle Road on Mauna Loa’s northeastern flank. This is the windward side of the island, and is often cloaked in misty clouds. It is enchanting to be serenaded by the forest birds as we make our way over three to four miles of sometimes rough lava trail, crossing over the 1855 and 1881 lava flows.

Dryforest - At the Humuula hunter check-in station just off Saddle Road, we go into the Kaohe Game Management Area and four-wheel it to nearly 7,500 feet on the western side of Mauna Kea to an area known as Puu Laau.  The area is mostly park-like and typically commands stunning views of the leeward coast below. 

On the drive to our two primary locales, we head north along the coastline before starting the climb to the old Mamalahoa Highway, keeping an eye out for open-country birds. From there we’ll connect to the Saddle Road and begin car-birding, primarily for game birds as well as for the Pueo, or short-eared owl. Depending on the weather, we’ll stop for a bit of breakfast along the Saddle Road, often at Mauna Kea State Park at Pohakuloa, or at our Dryforest birding site.

Rainforest – We’ll park just off the Saddle Road at the trailhead of Puu Oo, heading due south over the lava flows.  Small pockets of koa and ohia spring up along the trail but our destination is kipuka #34 and #35 which are some of the most productive birding areas in the state.  Some of the avifauna we hope to spot along the way are iiwi, apapane, amakihi, omao, elepaio, and the elusive akiapolaau, with its unique multipurpose beak.  Many of these are found in the ohia and koa canopy. 

Dryforest - The track leads to a gate that is the entrance to the Mauna Kea Forest Preserve.  Parked at the entrance to the Preserve we get down to some serious bird watching on foot in the mamane-naio forest.  Native Hawaiian dryforests is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world.  The sandalwoods trees which once dominated these slopes are all but gone, and the remaining mamane trees are at the top of the menu for feral ungulates which frequent the area.  Although the terrain is somewhat uneven, the hiking is easy. We are particularly interested in sighting the critically threatened palila, which feeds almost entirely on the green pods of the mamane tree. There are two other endemics of note to be found here: the Hawaii amakihi, and the local species of the Hawaii elepaio (noted for the white feathering on its head).


  1. How much hiking do we do? Expect to hike approximately 4 miles in the Rainforest portion of this adventure, and less than one mile in the Dryforest portion.
  2. Is there elevation gain? Elevation gain is minimal: 500’ in the Rainforest, and 350’ in the Dryforest.
  3. What is the difference in the birds seen on Hakalau vs. Rainforest & Dryforest? The Akepa and Hawaii Creeper are found in Hakalau, while the Palila is found on the Rainforest & Dryforest Adventure.
  4. Is it possible to use a spotting scope? Due to the behavior of Hawaii’s endemic birds, the use of a spotting scope can be challenging. If you feel up to the test, we do encourage you to bring your own birdwatching gear. We do provide binoculars on the tour for guest use.
  5. Is it possible to get photos of the birds? Typically, there are many opportunities for the determined photographer to photograph the birds along the way.
  6. Do you do birding on other islands? No, but we’d be happy to refer you to a reputable outfit upon request.




We appreciate your comments! If you've taken a tour and would like to share your feedback, please leave a comment. If you have questions regarding tour specifics, like times, reservations or other details prior to your tour, please use the contact form.

By Donna on 2015/02/18

For both a life-long birder and a non-birder, this trip into the Hawaiian countryside was an off-the-beaten-path adventure. We tracked down and observed many endangered and endemic species with our guide Garry Dean, who was patient and kind with the small group of 5 guests of various physical abilities. His extensive knowledge of Hawaiian conservation & culture both entertained & enlightened. With a total of about 4.5 miles of walking over varied terrains, including lava and grasslands and with little elevation gain, the pace was perfect. We were able to see many species without even leaving the van, including the Pueo Owl. We also observed many of the native vegetation which is important to the survival of each species. A continental breakfast of muffins, bagels, fruit & hot beverages was provided, as was a deli lunch of choice. Water is provided in a souvenir water bottle, emphasizing sustainable choices. Also provided were daypacks, binoculars and raingear (which we didn’t need). We look forward to our next trip to the Big Island, where we plan to do the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge Adventure.
Aloha & Mahalo Hawaii Forest & Trail!

By Dale Hanson on 2014/05/27

Did this tour on May 19 - I am a serious birder and photographer and was hugely impressed. Mark did a great job looking after us all and found all the species we could hope for including Palila and akiapolaau. Watching a family of akiapolaau feeding in the tree above us using their “Swiss army knife” bills was amazing. Thanks for making this possible, full marks to the team.

By Kafryn W. Lieder on 2014/02/06

Deepest thanks to Mark and Iwalani for a *fantastic* trip!

Even though we were/are not the same caliber birders as the other folks on the tour, we were delighted with the birds that we did see and hear. An ‘oma’o! Never expected to see one - would have been delighted simply to hear its call. Same goes for the ‘amakihi, ‘apapane, ‘elepaio, and ‘i’iwi. Very glad that at least some of the people on the tour saw the palila.

We especially appreciated the information that the guides shared about the plants, landscape, ecology, culture, and history. We learned about much more than just birds.

The rain shower during the rainforest portion of the tour only enhanced our enjoyment. Sure, it was wet, noisy, and a bit cool during the rain, but it brought home just what sort of environment the birds live in.

Our thanks, too, to the landholders who permit these tours on their property. Without their generosity (and the hard work of the staff at HF&T), such a tour would not have been possible.

We look forward to participating again when we return, as we hope to do. Mahalo!

By Nathan Thuma on 2014/01/03

Went out with Gary yesterday and had a great experience, very moving really, as he persistently sought out every possible endemic bird, especailly the two rarest ones, until we saw them all.  He was a lot of fun, articulate, well educated, passionate.  This was an unforgetable experience.  I went on another sort of tour today and it was sadly pale in comparison.  I am a convert to Hawaii Nature & Trail and hope to return for other outings in the future.  It was a long day, yet somehow not too tiring.  It was great to be out in these unique habitats and I could never have dreamed doing it so successfully on my own.  Two big thumbs up!

By arno keinonen on 2013/12/16

I am serious about taking bird photos, stay in Waikoloa Beach area and have seen several beautiful birds and taken photos of them. I also have difficulty as some others have expressed, choosing between the two tours. The more time in the nature I get to spend the better I believe the chances for more photography. Also I will be staying till end February, is there any better time to see certain birds? Also, if it turns out to rain hard, it is hardly a pleasure to hike 4 miles anywhere. Do you do your tours irrespective of weather?  [Hawaii Forest & Trail:]  We do run our trips rain or shine, only cancelling in the event that the weather makes it unsafe to go.  We bring along rain gear for everyone in the event we do get showers.  If you’re looking for “maximum forest time” irrespective of target species, we might recommend the Hakalau tour.  It’s a bit of a longer drive to get to the forest, but we’re able to park very close.  The Rainforest & Dryforest trip visits two distinct habitats, but we do have about a 1 mile hike to access the rainforest areas.

By Danae on 2013/12/13

I am interested in this tour, but am also wondering if you do any hiking tours on Kilaulea Volcano? 
Thanks!  [Hawaii Forest & Trail:] Yes, we do run two trips to Kilauea Volcano and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  They are not technically hiking tours, but we do end up doing several nature walks throughout the day, and one that is at least 1 mile long.  We do have a flexible itinerary, so if everyone is up for a longer hike, we can definitely include either Mauna Ulu or Kilauea Iki.

By Gary Ludi on 2013/06/27

I am scheduled to do the Rainforest Dryforest trip with you next week.  I am most interested in seeing the Palila. Is it being seen regularly or recently on this trip? Thanks [Hawaii Forest & Trail:] Yes, we’ve been getting good looks at the Palila lately.  We typically visit the Dryforest area first so we can be sure have enough time to find at least one.

By kathleen on 2012/10/15

I have read the comment about which bird watching tour may be the better choice, depending on interest but wondering if you could elaborate a bit more. I am interested in simply exploring a bit more of the Big Island in that general area via a hike and enjoying any and all flora and fauna as well as learning more about the history/habitat. Is there one more than the other that you would recommend for someone who enjoys a good hike, nature, history, etc? I will be on the Big Island early December and really want to attend one of your tours but struggling to decide which of the two I should book grin [Hawaii Forest & Trail:] Tough call to choose one over the other.  The RainForest & DryForest tour visits two different habitats so you’ll get to see both.  The Hakalau Forest NWR tour just visits a native rainforest.  If you’re after variety, we recommend the Rain/Dry.  If you want something more in depth, we recommend the Hakalau trip.  Aloha!

By Apple on 2012/06/17

Hi I am interested in either the Rainforest/Dryforest Birding or Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. Which would be best to get a good sample of the birds/wildlife on Hawaii? Thanks! [Hawaii Forest & Trail:] Both are great for guests wanting to experience Hawaii’s flora and fauna.  If you want to see the native Palila bird, choose the Rainforest/Dryforest, or if you’d like to see Akepa, choose the Hakalau tour.

By Jack on 2012/01/19

Are there any animals besides birds there?

HAWAII FOREST & TRAIL:  We typically spot several species of introduced ungulates while driving to the two sites, including Mouflon sheep and invasive goats.

By person on 2012/01/19


By Carolyn on 2011/10/11

Do you have a 1/2 day tour to the cloud forest on the Puu oo Trail?

Hawaii Forest & Trail:  Hi, Carolyn.  Unforuntately, we don’t offer a 1/2 day option.  The drive from Kona takes about 2 hours to the trail head, so we make the most of our time on Saddle Road by also visiting the montane dryforest on Mauna Kea.

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