Top 10 Animal Adventures on the Big Island – By Land

As we mentioned last week, the Big Island of Hawai’i is home to eleven of the world’s thirteen climate zone types, creating a paradise both for the creatures that inhabit them and animal lovers from around the world who come to witness the Big Island’s natural wonders. This is the second part of our series, offering our top choices for adventures to be had …

On Land…

  • feral Spanish MustangWaipi’o Valley is, by itself, one of the most majestic and picturesque landscapes on the Big Island. It is, however, also home to a herd of feral Spanish Mustangs that complete the pastoral motif. The story, according to the locals, is that these horses are descended from a herd that was left behind in the wake of the devastating 1946 tsunami. In the absence of human residents in the years following, these horses became the masters of the once-again wild Waipi’o. In any case, the horses that you will find there are not quite wild, but not quite domesticated. You can visit Waipi’o via van tour, on (domesticated) horseback, or (for the hardy) a grueling climb down and up one of the steepest public roads in the country, but however you choose to go you will soon find that the valley’s horses are in charge. Whether they are blocking the single-lane road, pushing you aside on one of the single-track trails, or breaking through the residents’ fences to get to the gardens on the other side, these horses make sure you know that you are merely a visitor on their turf. Some are friendlier than others, and may be plied with treats, so make sure you bring down a bag of goodies if you want a warm welcome!
  • big island hawaii animalsThe Three Ring Ranch exotic animal sanctuary is a unique attraction for animal lovers who visit the Big Island. This 5-acre ranch, located on the hillside above Kailua-Kona, is home to a variety of creatures such as zebras, bison, flamingos, monkeys, tortoises and peacocks (just to name a few). The ranch is also home to a number of native species, such as the nene goose, ‘io hawk and the pu’eo diurnal owl. For an opportunity to get up close to creatures that are exotic even for Hawaii, the Three Ring ranch is not to be missed. However, since their main purpose is to care for and rehabilitate the animals, tours can be difficult to arrange if not planned in advance. Find their contact information and learn more about their mission at the Three Ring Ranch website.
  • Nene GooseThe state bird of Hawaii is the Nene Goose, a smaller, terrestrial relative of the Canada Goose which is well-known on the mainland. This endemic species is believed to have diverged from a common ancestor nearly half a million years ago, and in this time it has become well-suited to a life on our islands’ volcanic slopes. The nene’s most obvious adaptation to the landscape is its feet, which have lost most of the webbing meant for helping them swim efficiently. This is because the nene spends most of its time on land, walking through rough lava fields in search of ‘ohelo, or Hawaiian blueberries. These native birds are also smaller than Canada geese, with shorter necks and a softer, cooing call (from which the name is derived) as compared to the Canada Goose’s honk. Despite their status as Hawaii’s state bird, the nene is listed as a Vulnerable species. There were as little as 30 individuals remaining in 1952. Their population has since rebounded to about 800 wild and 1000 captive birds, but seeing one in the wild is still a special experience. The best places to see the world’s rarest goose are Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Pu’u Wa’awa’a Dry Forest Reserve, or the aforementioned Three Ring Ranch.

All of these animal adventures are within reach of the Holualoa Inn. Check back next week for our Top 10 picks for animal adventures in the air and be sur to check out our favorite animal adventures by sea