Hawaii Forest & Trail's Hilo Adventure Is An Island First

Owner Rob Pacheco Talks Flora, Fauna and Educating Cruise Passengers

Hawaii Forest & Trail's Hilo Adventure Is An Island First

Founder and president of Hawaii Forest & Trail Rob Pacheco is doing a whole lotta good over on the Big Island. Although the statement is vague, it's 100% accurate. Pacheco (with wife Cindy) came to Hawaii in 1990 having been a naturalist and ornithologist (birds, lots of them), and decided the diversity of landscape and its inhabitants were one in a million -- as well as something that people might need a hand understanding. Four year's later, Hawaii Forest & Trail began offering its first excursions, Pacheco himself leading all tours.

Now 13 years and 30 employees later, Pacheco took a moment to chat with B on Hawaii about the differences he's made and the eyes he's opened.

"We are able to communicate and connect people to the land here in Hawaii -- which is so beautiful and diverse at the same time," said Pacheco in an exclusive interview for B on Hawaii. "The landscape has all these stories to tell, which for us, is easy to pull them out and share with visitors. When presented correctly, people really take these experiences home, and use them in every day life, wherever they may be from."

HF&T offers nearly ten different excursions around the island of Hawaii, which range from 2-hour waterfall hikes to full day (or night) adventures that might have participants gazing at star clusters from the summit of Mauna Kea, bird-watching deep in the lush rainforests of Pu'u O'o or chasing "the red stuff" oozing from the ground at Kilauea's Volcano National Park. There are waterfall excursions that allow visitors to hike old turn-of-the-century plantation trails on the Kohala Coast, to hidden waterfalls where they can swim and frolic. Those who like their adventures to be seated in an all-terrain vehicle can opt for a "Hualalali Holoholo Adventure" that makes use of a 6 x 6 Pinzgauer Scrambler to show visitors otherwise unreachable sights.

Pacheco's most recent adventure has been formulating contracts with the cruise lines that fill the harbor towns with thousands of passengers daily. Typically not the most adventurous travelers, Pacheco seems to have more faith than most in those who stray from the buffet lines and trinket shops.

"I don't really differentiate a cruise ship passenger with a tourist staying at a hotel. It's argumentative," said Pacheco. "But as a naturalist, I don't think about it. Tourism itself is a very extractive industry -- people are burning their weight in kerosene getting here and traveling around. I can see how the world would be a lot better if everyone stayed home. But we have this genetic disposition to travel and see stuff. So I just do something to offer a good product."

Passengers on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity ships are already taking Kohala Waterfall Volcano trips out of Kona with HF&T; shortly Norwegian Cruise Lines will sign a contract with HF&T, who will bring Hilo-docked passengers to the inner sanctuaries of Hawaii.

"I've noticed that people are really looking to maximize their time here, as vacation is a precious commodity these days," added Pacheco. "It's a lot like the Japanese visitors of 10 years ago. They would land it was 'go go go' until they got on the plane to leave."

So what is on the horizon for HF&T? Pacheco just solidified a "Stewardship Plot" with the Department of Land & Natural Resources (DLNR) to allow visitors to Volcano National Park the opportunity to "get muddy", as Pacheco likes to say. For 30-minutes, participants have the option of getting a crash course in invasive species, while pilling weeds and "having a ball," said Pacheco. Mostly removal of Kahili ginger, which participants clear and dump for forest service crews to pick up, it saves the park time and energy while educating those only on the island for a short period.

"Of course the Parks Department and our guides love it," admits Pacheco. "But when you have a client getting muddy and pulling weeds in Volcano National Park, well, that's not something they find themselves doing every day. Now remember, we explain everything in depth -- we don't want them pulling up the wrong stuff or trampling on native specie. And this makes people aware of nature. They have to identify plants, and that's a huge step for people that have never done that sort of thing before. It creates this awareness that stays inside. They take that home with them as well."

A new tour has Pacheco equally excited. One of the first to originate from Hilo, (where Pacheco says there's more of an environmentally educated local labor pool) it brings visitors to the Hamakua side of the Wailuku River at O.K. Farms. Participants are taken through the farm's fruit and Macadamia nut trees, down a valley where they walk an old sugar mill flume trail left from the plantation days. The half-mile trek takes people over two bridges, one of which spans 60 feet over a gulch, and on to Rainbow Falls. Guests taste farm produce, see tons of tropical foliage, cross rivers and falls -- all of which is less than a 7-minute drive from the harbor in Hilo.

Visit www.hawaii-forest.com for more information.

"Hawaii's landscape has all these stories to tell. For us, it is easy to pull them out and share with visitors. People really take these experiences home, and use them in every day life."