12th annual Wiliwili Festival welcomes people back to the Waikōloa Dry Forest Preserve

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Wiliwili tree. Image from the Waikōloa Dry Forest Initiative website.

Take a walk through the forest this weekend and get inspired by the persistence of not just the native trees providing the canopy but also the people who care for them.

The 12th annual Wiliwili Festival will be hosted by the Waikōloa Dry Forest Initiative from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11, at the Waikōloa Dry Forest Preserve on the Big Island.

The preserve encompasses 275 acres of remnant lowland dry forest and is home to several native plants and trees that once dominated the Waikōloa region, including ‘a’ali’i, ‘ākia, koai’a, māmane, uhiuhi and, of course, the festival’s namesake, wiliwili.

The dry, rugged and degraded area about 2 miles southwest of Waikōloa Village is gradually being reforested by the community.

Image from the Waikōloa Dry Forest Initiative website.

Wiliwili are the lowland dry forest’s keystone species, and this year’s festival will give those who attend the opportunity to experience the beautiful trees in their natural environment. Festival organizers are excited to welcome people back to the preserve for the event.

“This will give the community the chance to experience the forest, and we really enjoy having people in the preserve, learning with their ‘ohana and exploring the diverse ecosystem,” said Jen Lawson, executive director of the Waikōloa Dry Forest Initiative.

Many learning opportunities will be available, too.

The festival will feature exhibitors presenting activities and educational materials at booths set up along the preserve’s access road.


Several free workshops also are planned. Birds, Not Mosquitoes will discuss the incompatible insect technique to help save native forest birds from disease spread by mosquitoes. Plant Pono specialist Molly Murphy and Natural Area Reserves System specialist Ande Buskirk will teach participants how to plant ʻōhiʻa, with each participant taking home one of their own.

The Plant Pono native planting workshops are at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and participants are asked to register in advance. To register, click here. The Birds, Not Mosquitoes presentation is at noon and open to everyone.

Other festival events will include a native plant giveaway at 9 a.m. at the preserve’s nursery and opportunities at Hale Hana Hou to ask experts about plant propagation, growing and care. Guided tours of the forest will be offered throughout the day; and self-guided hikes are always an option.

Big Island Now file photo.

“Attendees will walk through the forest and find booths with information and activities about our island’s natural and cultural resources and learn from the amazing people that do the important work of perpetuating them,” Lawson said. “This is a great event for people that like to hike and learn about nature!”


Those who arrive later in the day will also have a chance to win a special prize. Food, beverages and Waikōloa Dry Forest merchandise will be available for purchase as well. And, don’t forget about the keiki scavenger hunts, Wiliwili Great Photo Contest and silent auction.

Parking will be near the preserve and guests can walk or catch a ride to the front gate throughout the day. Trails are rocky and uneven, and the primary walking access is a gravel road.

Wiliwili, or Erythrina sandwicensis, is a species of tree in the pea family that is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. It is the only species of Erythrina that naturally occurs here and is typically found in dry forests on leeward slopes up to an elevation of about 1,970 feet.

Some of the wiliwili trees at the Waikōloa Dry Forest Preserve are ancient kūpuna, estimated to be 300 years old. The preserve they call home is a place to learn about the diverse forest that at one point covered the driest parts of the Big Island and how to have a positive impact on the forest’s future.

“Celebrating this place as a community gives us hope for the future of the dryland forest, and we’re so grateful for people that support the conservation of native landscapes and the people that do this work,” Lawson said.

For more information about the festival or to get directions to the preserve, click here.

Organizers are concerned about high winds forecast in the area this weekend but are proceeding with the festival. They are keeping a close eye on the weather and will make sure the public is notified if the event is canceled.

A map detailing parking for the 12th annual Wiliwili Festival at the Waikōloa Dry Forest Preserve. Image from the Waikōloa Dry Forest Initiative website.
Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at [email protected]
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