A group of tourism officials, marketing experts, and nature lovers on the Big Island of Hawaii are working together to establish a new 90-mile birding route across the destination, traveling from Kona to Hilo.   

Dubbed the Hawaii Island Coast to Coast Birding Trail, the new route won’t be one contiguous trail but rather a collection of existing trails linked together by Big Island roadways, showcasing not only some of the state’s best birding locations but also increasingly rare native forests, unique geology, and the destination’s diverse collection of natural ecosystems.

Rob Pacheco, the founder of activity provider Hawaii Forest & Trail and a member of the new trail’s steering committee, said the route is patterned after a number of existing birding trails on the U.S. mainland.

“Every state in the country has at least one birding trail like this, and most of them have multiple,” he added, noting that the route will be Hawaii’s first of this type.

“Our first product will be a website,” Pacheco continued. “It’s basically an information and marketing mechanism to showcase these different resources that are open to the public already and tie demand to experiencing the birds and nature in general.”

The site, which is still in planning stages, will likely focus around an interactive map, Pacheco reported, allowing users to highlight different locations on the trail, which will then provide destination-specific information about the difficulty of each hike and their walking times. There will also be comprehensive environmental interpretation about the different regions, describing the birds, plants and animals hikers may encounter.

Pacheco said the website will not only be a good resource for independent, first-time Hawaii Island travelers keen to see the destination’s unique birdlife and natural diversity, but it’s also likely to appeal to repeat visitors looking to do more exploring on their own.

“For repeat visitors, it might entice them to go and visit a part of the island they haven’t seen yet,” he explained. “One of the big barriers for people going out and experiencing nature is really an unease about the unknowns. So the more information people have, the more likely they are to get out there and enjoy themselves and do it safely.”

Iiwi honeycreepers can be seen on the Puu Oo Trail portion of the Hawaii Island Coast to Coast Birding Trail, currently in the planning stages.
Iiwi honeycreepers can be seen on the Puu Oo Trail portion of the Hawaii Island Coast to Coast Birding Trail, currently in the planning stages. Photo Credit: Jack Jeffrey

Trail organizers will hold the inaugural Hawaii Island Festival of Birds on Sept. 24 and 25 at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, featuring a number of ticketed expert presentations, a trade show for outdoor and birding equipment, a bird-themed arts and crafts fair along with photography and painting workshops. The second day’s schedule will feature a range of trips to different locations on the new trail, guided by Hawaii Island naturalists and bird experts.

The festival, which has been sponsored this year by the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Alaska Airlines, will serve as an annual fundraising event for the trail, according to Pacheco, who said the planning group hopes to have the comprehensive trail website complete by September.

In the meantime, folks can keep up to date on the project’s progress at hawaiibirdingtrails.com, and travel pros can use the site to help inform clients about the remarkable avian diversity visitors can discover in the Islands.

“In Hawaii, because of our isolation here in the Pacific, our native birds are unique, and all the native species of forest birds are endemic,” Pacheco said. “They’ve evolved in a spectacular way, so they’re beautiful birds.”

Big Island travelers headed to the destination before September may also want to consider one Pacheco’s favorite segments of the planned route.

“The Puu Oo Trail is really fabulous,” he said. “It’s a bit of a rugged trail, because you go across lava fields, [but] it takes you into these really nice kipuka, which are these islands of native forest surrounded by lava fields. On that trail you can see some of the rarest of the rare [endemic Hawaiian birds], such as Akiapolaau, and you get real good opportunities to see the Iiwi, which is just one of the most spectacular and beautiful native honeycreepers.”

For more information about September’s Hawaii Island Festival of Birds, including pricing and activity descriptions, click here.

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