Reed Travel Features
WAILUKU, Hawaii -- Tucked into Iao Valley is Maui's newest
tourist attraction, the Hawaii Nature Center's Interactive Science
Arcade, opened last June. Billed as Hawaii's first hands-on science
center, it has more than 30 exhibits and interactive experiences
featuring Hawaii's natural history.
The Hawaii Nature Center is a private environmental education
group. It has provided classes and nature excursions for Hawaii's
school kids since 1981 on Oahu and the past five years on Maui.
According to Tamar Chotzen, nature center executive director,
the new visitor attraction and gift shop were seen as a way to help
finance children's programs. "In order to survive these days, a
nonprofit group must be self-sufficient," she said. The
4,000-square-foot science arcade was created at a cost of $1.3
million, with funding from the state and foundations.
The arcade building, on Iao Valley Road, is a remodeled and
expanded former restaurant that closed in the 1980s. Behind it are
the nature center's classrooms and offices, buildings acquired in
1990 that started out as a short-lived 20-room lodge in the late
The arcade is designed to inform visitors about the islands'
unique ecology and how it is threatened. Exhibit areas are designed
around such themes as isolation, dispersal and adaptation.
There are touch pools, aquariums and waterfalls and such marine
life as freshwater shrimp and goby fish. Past the reception area
and gift shop, the facility opens onto a glass solarium, providing
views of Iao Valley and the first exhibits.
Visitors lie down and take a simulated dragonfly ride,
maneuvering through Iao Stream; learn about Hawaii's happy-face
spider and the carnivorous caterpillar, and view a rain forest
exhibit. By pressing buttons, guests can hear the sounds of the
various native birds, most of them rare and endangered.
The nature center recently started offering daily guided nature
hikes in the valley, departing the arcade at 2 p.m. The price,
including arcade admission, the 90-minute hike (less than a mile
one way) and a T-shirt, is $24.95 (minimum visitor age is 8).
It also started scheduling a series of monthly events for
families, such as petroglyph rubbing and lei making. The center in
Honolulu, headquartered at Makiki Heights Drive on Mount Tantalus,
has weekend events for families, including hikes, excursions and
Chotzen is pleased that more than 20,000 visitors already have
been through the arcade this year. "We'd like to see 150,000 a
year, but we realize the arcade is not for everyone," she said.
The center is seeking group business and has group rates. It is
on one of Maui's major sightseeing tour routes. Less than
half-a-mile farther into the valley is the six-acre Iao Valley
State Monument, with its impressive Iao Needle rising 1,200 feet
from the valley floor and visited by more than half-a-million
The center -- like Hawaii's other museums and attractions with
low admission prices, hence low commissions -- has been unable to
tap into the sightseeing tour business. Iao Valley, which stretches
several miles from Wailuku, Maui's county town, into the West Maui
Mountains, has several other attractions.
Just outside town, at the beginning of the valley, is the Bailey
House, the home of New England missionaries beginning in the 1830s.
Headquarters of the Maui Historical Society, the museum is open
Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (admission $4;
Below the nature center is Kepaniwai Park and Heritage Gardens.
Dedicated to Maui's various ethnic groups, Kepaniwai is popular for
weddings and features pavilions with picnic tables.
The nature center arcade is open daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for children under age 12; children
and under age 4 are admitted free. For further information, call
the Hawaii Nature Center on Maui at (808) 244-6525 or its Honolulu
headquarters at (808) 955-0100.