Hawaiʻi is renowned for its towering volcanoes and picturesque beaches, but for ecotourism aficionados, the rich biodiversity of the archipelago is one of its most enticing qualities. Millions of years of extreme geographic isolation have spurred unusually high levels of endemism in its native species, with no shortage of fascinating flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth. This high concentration of unique avian species has made Hawaiʻi a paradise for visiting birders, and in the northern reaches of Oʻahu, Turtle Bay Resort is inviting guests to get a close-up look at some of the island’s most iconic wildlife.
While there’s a wealth of native and introduced birds that have been spotted on the property over the years (70 recorded species, to be precise), the property takes it one step further with the Shaka Kukakuka Birdwatching Tour, a curated expedition that offers prime birding opportunities along with some added insight into the history of the area. Led by Shaka Kayaks founder Captain Scott Sundby, this tour highlights some of the most sought-after avifauna to be found across the island of Oʻahu.
“Ironically, some of our rarest birds are not rare to us—we see them on every tour and quite often we have two or three endangered species in one field of view,” says Sundby. “The Punahoʻolapa marsh preserve is a very important habitat for the Hawaiian stilt (aeʻo) Hawaiian moorhen (ʻalae ʻula) Hawaiian coot (ʻalae kea) and the Hawaiian duck (koloa). The first three birds are all subspecies that are only found in Hawaiʻi and are all considered very endangered. During the last count, we had 1,500-1,800 stilts, 300-800 moorhen, and 2,000-5,000 coots. Shaka Kukakuka Birdwatching Tours can also see the Java sparrow, which is endangered, and the Laysan albatross, which is near threatened.”
There’s ample opportunity to spot endangered native birds during a tour, but that’s not all you should keep an eye out for. Bird life in the area also includes striking introduced species like the saffron finch—a colorful canary lookalike that’s native to South America—as well as the white-rumped shama, a songbird that was brought to the archipelago from South and Southeast Asia. Visitors can also expect to see a wide range of indigenous seafaring species including the Pacific golden plover (or kōlea) and the Laysan albatross (or mōlī). Of course, while birdlife is abundant across the resort, there’s no shortage of non-avian creatures to watch for as well.
“During the winter months, guests can view humpback whales as the ocean surrounding Turtle Bay Resort is a National Marine Sanctuary,” says Sundby. “Additionally, guests can spot Turtle Bay’s resident ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, or Hawaiian monk seal, resting on the beach during most tours, which is another critically endangered species. The same area along the shore is home to nearly the entire population of the endangered yellow face bee, only found on and surrounding Turtle Bay’s property.”
With more than seven miles of trails spanning four distinct ecosystems, Turtle Bay Resort is certainly one of the top destinations in Oʻahu for visiting nature lovers. While the island may be best known as the home of Honolulu, new arrivals to The Gathering Place should certainly spend some time getting to know the fascinating species that call the region home. Whether you’re searching for native birdlife, breaching humpbacks, or green sea turtles lazing along the shore, Turtle Bay Resort is certain to leave you with lasting memories of the pristine natural beauty of Hawaiʻi.