Location: Kōkeʻe Natural History Museum, Waimea Canyon & Kōkeʻe State Park, Kaua’i, Hawai’i, USA
Date of Visit: December 14, 2015
The Kōkeʻe Natural History Museum focuses on the flora and fauna of Kaua’i and specifically, Waimea Canyon the “Grand Canyon” of the Pacific. The moderately sized building hosts the Hui O Laka visitor center for the Kōkeʻe State Park, the museum, and a gift store. The museum is free although a donation is requested. Donations are the primary source of funding for the museum, and the money is well-spent in carefully planned exhibits and multiple hands-on elements spread throughout.
While the building isn’t the largest, there are fun activities outside like these tire steps and an interpretive nature trail. Tires were recycled in other ways such as these creative bird decorations hanging from the eaves of the museum. Kaua’i offers an enormously diverse bird population, and these species are a major focal point for scientific studies on evolution, extinction, climate change, micro-ecosystems, and more. Birds are featured in several parts of the museum, such as these back-to-back cases featuring native versus introduced avian species.
Taxidermy mounts usually make for a fairly static display, but the comparative nature of these displays prompted the viewer to really focus on how a case study of birds on Kaua’i illustrates broader scientific questions. Other displays used question labels mounted at the bottom of the display (children-appropriate placement and vocabulary) to encourage scientific observation about the animals and plants in the case.
The opposing ends of the museum focus on the natural diversity of Kaua’i at one end, and at the other, how humans are affected by the geology, climate, and ecosystem of the island. The natural diversity exhibit was nicely staged with tree trunks and branches installed between the floor and ceiling to simulate a forest. A table with wood pieces allowed visitors to feel the different types of wood commonly found on Kaua’i then lift them to see details about each type. Labels describe its typical uses. Rocks and stone artifacts represented geology and human adaptations of it, such as a kukui nut press and adze sharpener on display.
Many of the exhibits, such as a description of local spirits representing different weather phenomena, are illustrated with drawings and paintings from local artists. This is a lovely way to include the community in the exhibit design while also including the cultural and scientific content. Another connection between art and science was in the display of botanical prints by Isabella Sinclair. These 19th century prints were taken from an unbound volume of Indigenous Flowers of the Hawaiian Islands and mounted on room divider screens. This use of the upright screens was smart, simple, and aesthetically pleasing. The screens did not take up as much floor space as a conventional display case, and could be easily moved with minimal risk to the art in the event of an event, reception, or group visit.
The gift shop has a fantastic selection of books, as well as t-shirts, hats, trail guides, locally made art and crafts, toys, jewelry, cards, and other goods. The staff and volunteers who support the Hui O Laka center and museum are clearly very invested in the stewardship of the island’s natural resources, and their passion shows in the range of activities and exhibits. In addition to the museum, there is a lodge, campground, café, large mowed lawn area, and a picnic shelter with a wonderful layout including built-in hearths and sinks. The picnic shelter here is built out of volcanic basalt and offers large cheerful tables with panoramic views of the campground and lawn. Kōkeʻe State Park is adjacent to Waimea Canyon State Park and numerous other Forest and Wildlife Reserves.
For all ages and group sizes, there is something to enjoy here! These natural spaces offer hikes, view points, and picnic areas. Several families were flying kites from the lawn in front of the museum. Pick up some apple banana bread from one of the food trucks and take in some natural beauty of the island! You can find out more information at the Hui O Laka website or at the museum’s Facebook page. Just remember, please don’t feed the Nenes.
Scroll through the gallery below for more photos from this great museum!