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outside with susan
Kawainui Marsh - Hawaii's largest wetland!
by Susan Redpath
photos by Susan Redpath
When you come into Kailua Town, you cannot help but see the beautiful Kawainui Marsh.
Whether you travel to Kailua by way of the Pali Highway or H-3, you can't miss this beautiful
preservation area. It has been protected by caring Kailua residents since the 1960's.
The Kawainui Marsh has a huge cultural significance, and much has been written about it. The
Hawaii Audubon Society has shared that - in addition to being sacred to Native Hawaiians -
Kawainui Marsh is the largest remaining wetland in Hawai'i, and the largest ancient Hawaiian
freshwater fishpond. The 1,000-acre wetland provides a primary habitat for four of Hawaii's
endemic and endangered water birds - the Hawaiian Coot or 'alae ke'oke'o, the Hawaiian
Moorhen or 'alae 'ula, the Hawaiian Stilt orkukuluae'o, and hybrids of the Hawaiian Duck or koloa
The marsh also contains extensive archaeological and cultural resources, including ancient walled
taro gardens or lo'i, the fishpond, and religious structures, and is eligible for inclusion for the
National Register of Historic Places. From a farming/agrarian perspective, Kawai'nui Marsh was
a primary food-producing area from traditional Hawaiian times to the early 20th century.
What to See
If you haven't yet walked or run on the marsh path (created by the Army Corp of Engineers in
1994 and also known as the 'levee road' or the 'dike walk') make the time. It is a great place to see
the protected native Hawaiian birds, witness changing light patterns on the wetlands or just be
quiet alone or with a friend. You can access the levee road parking at either of Kaha Road or the
Pali Highway. If you decide to run it, your access points are the same and it will add 1.5 miles to
your run, each way, along with great beauty.
To best get acquainted with the marsh, allow yourself the pleasure of experiencing it at different
times of the day - to appreciate its ever changing sounds and sights. The morning light brings all
the colors of the marsh and surrounding Koolau Mountains to the fore. The first day sun and
trade wind clouds cast gorgeous, ever-changing patterns to the marsh. While a mid-day stroll can
be warm much of the year, it is wonderful at winter time when temperatures are down and the
surrounding hillsides lend their own verdant coloring. If you choose to visit the marsh at dusk,
you will be treated to fantastic late day skies and lots of bird feeding. The Auku'u (Black-Crowned
Night-Heron) are active here at the end of day and will treat you to their call. You will likely see
them dive for fish and fly away. You will also hear Japanese Bush Warblers singing to one another
as they gather at their day's end.
When you do enjoy this Kailua treasure, respect it with your own quiet perspective and
remember to share your aloha with others through a nod or words of aloha!
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