Discover the Largest Forest in Hawaii (And What Lives Within It)

The limestone cliff and strong waves at Laie Beach Park or Pounders Beach , Northshore Oahu Island, Hawaii USA by beach background
© Hulabear/

Written by Heather Hall

Updated: June 14, 2023

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Rainforests are lush and vibrant forests that receive a high amount of rainfall, typically more than 80 inches per year. These ecosystems are characterized by an abundance of tall trees that form a dense canopy, which serves as a home to countless species of plants and animals. But which area of Hawaii is the most forested? We are about to find out.

Hawaii is a volcanic archipelago located in the Pacific Ocean. It consists of eight main islands and numerous smaller ones, with each island boasting its own unique landscapes and ecosystems. The state is known for its stunning natural beauty, warm tropical climate, and diverse cultural heritage.

Visitors to Hawaii should take advantage of opportunities like these to explore the incredible flora and fauna that make up this beautiful state’s rich biodiversity. By immersing oneself in nature here, one can experience firsthand how unique it truly is compared to other places around the world!

The Largest Forest in Hawaii

Oahu from an aeriel view, showing the large forest, coastal buildings, shoreline, and ocean.

Oahu is the third-largest island of the Hawaiian Islands and the most forested.


Hawaii is a lush and verdant paradise, brimming with dense rainforests that are home to a remarkable diversity of plant and animal life. While all the Hawaiian islands boast their own unique ecosystems and natural wonders, Oahu stands out as the most forested of them all.

With over 130,000 acres of forest land blanketing its rugged terrain, Oahu is the largest forested area in Hawaii and truly a marvel of nature. From towering trees to delicate ferns, this island’s forests are bursting with an incredible array of flora and fauna that can be found nowhere else on Earth.

Whether you’re exploring the majestic cliffs along Oahu’s stunning coastline or hiking deep into its heartland wilderness areas, you’re sure to encounter breathtaking vistas and awe-inspiring natural beauty at every turn. So if you’re looking for an adventure in one of Hawaii’s most spectacular landscapes, look no further than the largest forest in Hawaii on Oahu!


Hawaiian monk seal relaxing in a pool

Hawaiian monk seals are endangered species.


As one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, Hawaii boasts a remarkable array of flora and fauna that have evolved over millions of years. The islands’ isolation from other landmasses has allowed for the development of unique ecosystems and countless endemic species. We will discuss wildlife found both in the largest forest in Hawaii and around it as well.

However, this biodiversity is also under threat due to human activity, such as habitat destruction, invasive species, and climate change. As a result, many areas across O’ahu have been designated as protected reserves where access is restricted in order to safeguard at-risk species and their delicate habitats.

These conservation efforts are crucial for the survival of numerous endangered animals that call Hawaii home. Among them are rare birds like the Hawaiian goose (nene) and honeycreeper (‘i’iwi), as well as marine mammals like Hawaiian monk seals, which rely on pristine coastal environments for breeding and resting.

Moreover, preserving these natural landscapes benefits not only wildlife but also humans who depend on healthy ecosystems for clean air, water sources, and recreational opportunities such as hiking or birdwatching.

Therefore, it’s essential to educate visitors about responsible tourism practices when exploring Hawaii’s wilderness areas. By following guidelines such as staying on marked trails or avoiding littering, we can all contribute to protecting these precious resources for future generations to enjoy.

Whales and Dolphins

humpback whale and her newborn calve swim together off the shore of Hawaii.

Whales, like these Humpbacks, travel in groups near the shore of Oahu.

©Imagine Earth Photography/

Humpback whales (koholā) come to Hawaii every winter from Alaska, and they are the most commonly seen whales in Hawaiian waters. Minke, fin, Bryde’s, North Pacific right whales, and blue whales have also been spotted.

Dolphins (nai’a) live in Hawaii year-round and can be seen from shore when they surface to breathe and when they breach, leaping out of the water and creating huge splashes that can be seen from far away. Humpbacks are enormous, growing up to fifty feet long and weighing up to 45 tons. They are known for their impressive breaching and leaping behaviors, tail and fin slapping, and singing. The males sing in Hawaiian waters but are silent when they return to Alaska for the spring and summer to feed. The whales mate in Hawaiʻi, with females giving birth to their calves the following year.

Spinner dolphins usually form pods of numerous individuals as a way of protecting themselves, as well as to coordinate their hunting. Commonly found in Hawaiʻi, they rest in calm bays during the day and hunt in open ocean waters at night. Notorious for their leaping and spinning abilities, these dolphins are small in size, usually around 6 feet long, and have a distinct dark-gray-light coloration. Humpback whales also give birth to their calves in Hawaiian waters during the winter. To protect these animals, it is required by federal law that people remain at least 50 yards away from dolphins and 100 yards away from humpback whales.

Take the Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse trail through the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline to whale watch. From November to May, you can observe Humpback whales that migrate to Hawai’i’s waters from the Arctic.

Sea Turtle

Sea Turtle, Turtle, Hawaii Islands, Sea, Green Turtle

The green

sea turtle

is the most common type of sea turtle to spot in Oahu.


The green sea turtle, also known by its Hawaiian name, honu, is one of the most commonly spotted sea turtles in Hawaii. These graceful creatures are easily recognizable by their smooth shell and olive-green skin, which helps them blend into their surroundings while swimming in the ocean. They can grow up to 3 feet long and weigh over 300 pounds, making them one of the largest species of sea turtle in the world.

Green sea turtles are herbivores and feed on a variety of marine plants, such as seaweed, algae, and seagrass. Their diet plays an important role in maintaining healthy ecosystems as they help prevent certain types of seaweed from growing too quickly and smothering other marine life.

Unfortunately, these peaceful creatures have faced many threats over the years, including habitat loss due to development along beaches where they lay their eggs. Additionally, pollution has impacted water quality leading to disease outbreaks that harm sea turtles’ health.

Despite these challenges facing green sea turtles, populations worldwide have been slowly recovering thanks to conservation efforts aimed at reducing human impact on their habitats, such as beach restoration projects or limiting plastic waste entering oceans, which harms all kinds of marine animals, including turtles.

Sea Birds

A Laysan albatross nests on the ground, perched over her baby.

Laysan albatross nest on the ground and must not be disturbed.

©John Klavitter/U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service / public domain – Original / License

Different types of seabirds, like noddies, wedge-tailed shearwaters, and Laysan albatrosses, can be found nesting in areas along the shorelines of the main Hawaiian Islands, as well as on many offshore islets. Visitors may also spot great frigate birds, white-tailed and red-tailed tropicbirds flying around the coasts and cliffs. Pay attention to any signs or barriers when exploring these areas, as ground-nesting seabirds are very susceptible to human interference. Also, it’s important to stay on the designated trails since nests often blend in with their surroundings.

Ka’ena Point Natural Area Reserve, accessible through Kaʻena Point State Park, is an excellent spot in O’ahu to observe seabirds nesting from October to late spring.

Hawaiian Goose

The nēnē, or Hawaiian goose, is a unique bird species that can only be found in Hawaii. It is the official state bird of Hawaii and holds cultural significance to the native people. The nēnē is a medium-sized goose with brownish-grey feathers and a distinctive black head and neck.

These birds are herbivores and feed on various vegetation, such as grasses, leaves, and fruits. They typically mate for life and breed during the winter months. Nēnēs have been known to travel long distances during their annual migration from breeding grounds to feeding areas.

Unfortunately, the nēnē population has faced significant threats over the years due to habitat loss caused by deforestation, hunting, introduced predators like rats and mongoose, and diseases like avian poxvirus that kill them off in large numbers. However, conservation efforts have helped increase their population size over time.

Hawaiian goose

The nēnē, or Hawaiian goose, is a unique bird species that can only be found in Hawaii.


Scarlet Honeycreeper

The I’iwi, also known as the scarlet honeycreeper, is a beautiful and vibrant bird that can easily catch your attention when you explore the forests in Hawaii. This species is commonly found in these lush habitats across the islands, making it an easy target for tourists who visit Hawaii to spot them.

The I’iwi has a striking appearance with its bright red plumage and curved beak. It feeds primarily on nectar from native flowers and insects that live within this ecosystem. These birds play an essential role in pollination by spreading pollen from one plant to another while they feed.

This image shows a brilliantly colored 'i'iwi, or scarlet honeycreeper, as it moves amongst  māmane shrubs, seeking nectar from the yellow flowers.  This individual pauses briefly before flying away.

The I’iwi, also known as the scarlet honeycreeper, is easily spotted for its vibrant colors.

©Kendall Collett/


The ʻelepaios, a group of three species of monarch flycatchers in the genus Chasiempis, are fascinating avian creatures that are found exclusively on the Hawaiian Islands. These birds have evolved unique adaptations to their environments and play important roles in maintaining the ecological balance within their respective ecosystems.

One of the species inhabits Hawaii’s Big Island, where it can be spotted flitting about among trees and shrubs. Another species is found on Oʻahu, while a third calls Kauaʻi home. Each of these subspecies has its own distinct characteristics that set it apart from its relatives.

Despite being relatively small in size – weighing only around 10 grams each – elepaios possess an impressive range of skills when it comes to hunting insects and other small prey. They use their sharp eyesight to spot potential meals from afar before swooping down with lightning speed to snatch them up mid-flight.

Elepaios also have unique vocalizations that allow them to communicate with one another over long distances. This is particularly important during mating season, when males use distinctive songs to attract females and establish territories.


Apapane, also known as Himatione sanguinea, is a stunning crimson bird that belongs to the Hawaiian honeycreeper family. This species of bird is unique to the Hawaiian Islands and can be found throughout most of the archipelago. Apapanes are considered one of the most common and widely distributed honeycreepers in Hawaii.

These beautiful birds are typically around five inches in length and have bright red feathers covering their entire body except for their wings and tail, which are blackish-brown. The male apapane has a slightly brighter plumage than its female counterpart.

In addition to their striking appearance, apapanes have an impressive vocal range consisting of various chirps, trills, whistles, and warbles used for communication purposes during breeding season or when defending their territory from intruders.

Rare shot of the critically endangered Apapane Hawaiian Honeycreeper on Oahu, Hawaii

Apapane, also known as Himatione sanguinea, is a stunning crimson bird that belongs to the Hawaiian honeycreeper family.

©Evan Austen/

Hawaii Amakihi

The Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi is an important species of Hawaiian honeycreeper that plays a crucial role in the ecosystem of Hawaii’s largest forest. Also known as the common ʻamakihi, this small bird measures about four inches in length and has a distinctively greenish-yellow plumage. Its size belies its significance, however, as it is an essential pollinator for many native plants and trees found within the region.

Furthermore, scientists have studied the unique adaptations that allow these birds to survive in their particular habitat. For example, they have noticed how their beaks are perfectly suited to extracting nectar from flowers with long tubes or corolla shapes. They also use their sharp eyesight to locate insects which provides them with additional protein.

This photo shows a bird endemic to Hawaii. The endangered 'Amakihi, a honey creeper, is a beautiful little bird that lives at higher elevations. This bird is foraging for nectar in māmane flowers.

The Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi is an important species of Hawaiian honeycreeper that plays a crucial role in the ecosystem of Hawaii’s largest forest.

©Kendall Collett/

Where is Oahu Located on a Map?

Oahu, situated in the Central Pacific, is an island within the Hawaiian archipelago and serves as the capital of the state, housing Honolulu. Notable features of the city comprise the culturally rich Chinatown and the transformed Punchbowl crater, now a revered cemetery.

Waikiki stands out as an iconic district renowned for its beaches, dining establishments, and vibrant nightlife. Just west of Honolulu lies Pearl Harbor, the site of the infamous 1941 bombing, and the revered USS Arizona Memorial.

Here is Oahu on a map:

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About the Author

Heather Hall is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on plants and animals. Heather has been writing and editing since 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, Heather enjoys hiking, gardening, and trail running through the mountains with her dogs.

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