The kahakai (shoreline) and the lowlands were the Wao Kanaka (the realm of people,) where fishing, farming, and activities of daily life took place. Further inland was the Wao Kele (the inland forest region) and above this was the Wao Akua (the realm of the gods.)
In ancient Hawaii, the Wao Akua was accessed only by trained professionals for specific purposes (medicinal practitioners gathered specific plants and bird men caught birds for their vibrant feathers,) after respects were paid and permission was granted.
Even then, however, entry into the Wao Akua (a dense native cloud forest) was seldom. It was recognized that the health of the watershed in the Wao Akua was essential to the health of the Wao Kanaka. (Hana Pono)
Hawaiians did not as a matter of course penetrate the Wao Akua if the trees they needed could be gotten elsewhere, because of the priority of promoting new growth through non-disturbance of seed-producing forest areas.
Hawaiians realized the importance of the food source and the regenerative energy of the forest. Therefore it was necessary to leave some areas or groves of trees as they stood originally, thus the name Wao Akua. (DLNR)
Waikamoi takes its name from a variety of taro named for a variety of fish, the moi. The moi kalo (taro) is a very nice tasty variety good for wetland, flood style irrigation taken to great heights by the Hawaiians system of aqueducts and loʻi kalo.
The naming of Waikamoi indicates that at the lower elevations, the stream fed loʻi kalo, taro patches, of moi taro which was a favorite of the people living in the area. (Hana Pono)
Roaming ungulates (typically cattle and pigs) and non-native habitat-modifying weeds/plants, insects and other invasive species took their toll on the mauka forested resources.
In 1876, the Hawaiian legislature also passed ‘An Act for the Protection and Preservation of Woods and Forests; this was the first step in creating what would later become the forest reserve program.
Then, on April 25, 1903, the legislature created Hawaiʻi’s forest reserve, sparking the largest public-private conservation partnership in the history of the state. Ralph S. Hosmer was Hawaiʻi’s first Superintendent of Forestry. (Hosmer’s Grove in Haleakala National Park adjoins the Waikamoi Preserve.)
In 1983, Waikamoi Preserve on the slopes of Haleakala on Maui became a reality when the Haleakala Ranch granted a conservation easement to The Nature Conservancy (TNC) over 5,230-acres (in 2014, Alexander & Baldwin conveyed a conservation easement over an additional 3,721-adjacent acres, bringing the total to 8,951-acres – the largest private nature preserve in the Islands.)
The preserve protects part of the 100,000-acre East Maui Watershed, which provides 60-billion gallons of clean water annually to Maui’s residents, businesses and agricultural community.
It is a sanctuary for native Hawaiian species, many of them endangered or rare (including several native birds: the rare ‘akohekohe, the scarlet ‘i‘iwi, the crimson ‘apapane, the bright green ‘amakihi, the yellow-green Maui creeper, the pueo (Hawaiian owl,) nene (Hawaiian goose) and the native ‘ua‘u (dark-rumped petrel.))
The preserve also shelters a large variety of native ferns, herbs, shrubs and trees that reflect the biodiversity of Maui; many are rare plants unique to East Maui.
The Nature Conservancy protects the native species that live in Waikamoi by managing this koa and ʻohi‘a forest against threats to this diverse forest ecosystem. Like other Hawai‘i rain forests, invasive species and feral predators threaten Waikamoi’s delicate ecosystem.
Waikamoi Preserve is managed in partnership with the State Department of Land & Natural Resources through the Natural Area Partnership Program. (TNC)
The National Park Service leads hikes through Waikamoi on Mondays and Thursdays; the hike focuses on the unique history, plants and animals of the area. Reservations are accepted up to one week in advance. Call (808) 572-4400. Please call early since there is limited space available.
While I was Director at DLNR, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to walk the boardwalk in the Waikamoi Preserve. The trail led to a deck in the middle of the forest … waaay cool.
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