While many tourists flock to Hawaii every year for surfing, to experience Hawaiian culture, to hike ancient volcanoes, or enjoy the peace and serenity of the Hawaiian islands—many tourists are surprised to learn that Hawaii is also home to one of the world’s most renowned zoos - the Honolulu Zoo.
Located on Waikiki Beach, in the city of Honolulu, the capital of Oahu, the Honolulu Zoo (otherwise known as the Waikiki Zoo) has built a reputation for itself as one of the premiere locations on the Hawaiian islands. The zoo is an item that must be added on the to-do list of any guests visiting Honolulu.
About the Zoo
The Honolulu Zoo is located in Queen Kapi’olana Park in Honolulu on 42 acres of land, and the only zoo to be established by grants made by a sovereign monarch in the entire United States. Zoo guests enjoy seeing over 1200 animals, and the zoo itself sees over six hundred thousand guests every year. All of the zoo’s program services are provided by the Honolulu Zoo Society.
Honolulu Zoo Parking and Admission
Located in between the slopes of Diamond Head and Waikiki, the Honolulu Zoo is open every day of the year with the exception of Christmas. Prices for admission to the zoo is $14 for adults and $6 for children 12 and under (There is also military discounts). Memberships can be purchased for year long access starting at $40. It also costs $1 per for parking at the zoo and the entrance can be found on Kapahulu Ave.
Most of the zoo’s animals are from the tropics, including a variety of Komodo Dragons, orangutans, elephants, primates, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and a number of African animals.
The zoo has a mission of inspiring the stewardship of the living world and giving guests a meaningful experience. This mission extends to the local community. The Honolulu Zoological Society advocates and supports environmental education, recreation, biological study and conservation activities at the zoo. Part of this mission comes from the zoo’s emphasis on Pacific Tropical ecosystems and traditional Hawaiian values of malama (caring) and ho’okipa (hospitality).
The History of the Zoo
King Kalakaua established the slopes by Le’ahi for public parks for the people of his kingdom in 1876. Over two hundred people subscribed to this project created by King Kalakaua, and they took over the mission of creating the land into public parks. The Kapi’olani Park Association was created to comply with the project. Soon the marshes, ponds, and lagoons were cleaned up in the area, and in 1887 Queen Kapi’olana Park was established in honor of Queen Kapi’olani, the wife of King Kalakaua.
Despite the establishment of the lands as a public park, King Kalakaua used the lands to house his collection of exotic birds and horses, though this was the perfect precursor for what would later become the Honolulu Zoo. Exotic birds and animals were brought to the park in droves, and the Kamehameha Day celebrations that featured a number of carnivals and fairs was held at the park. Queen Kapi’olani Park was given over to the City and County of Honolulu in 1896.
When the city of Honolulu took ownership of of the park, their first park director, Ben Hollinger, started the collection of animals by obtaining a monkey, a bear, and an African elephant. He said these collections were made for "the children of Hawaii."
The park lands began to gain notoriety across the globe for being a haven for bird-of-paradise collections. In 1938 the "Kapiolani Bird Park" expanded with three sizable aviary complexes. A notable ornithologist, E.H. Lewis, who was previously working as a superintendent at the bird park in Santa Catalina Island, California, went to Hawaii to look after the bird park and make sure they were using up-to-date methods to care for the animals.
In 1947 the first ever zoo director was hired at the park, Paul Reese. During this time the park established the exhibit’s layout and staff began to increase. The modern Honolulu Zoo as we know it today wouldn’t be established until 1984, the same time the master plan for the property was created. The zoo’s master plan focused on being a Tropical Zoological Garden with three different exhibits, all based on different tropical ecological zones. These zones included an African Savannah, Asian and American Tropical Forests, and a Pacific Island zone.
Events at the Zoo
Guests who want to plan their trip specifically around the zoo and the city of Honolulu on the island of O’ahu can stay at one of the many hotels that are located on the stretch of land near the zoo. These hotels are located alongside Waikiki beach.
Zoo guests are also allowed to bring in their own drinks and snacks. Coolers are allowed as well, so guests to the islands who have beach picnic gear can use their belongings at the zoo as well.
Night Time Exploration
Due to the wonderful weather on Waikiki, the zoo can also be explored during the night time, even offering a vast array of nighttime activities, like a live concert series during the summer, local keiki coloring and trivia, patio lunches, and many more events. Alcohol isn’t served at these events, but food and snacks are available.
Camp at the Zoo
One of the most unique events the zoo hosts is night of camping that many guests truly love. The guests who choose to stay for the night camp experience storytelling activities, night walking tours, and sing campfire songs with other visitors. Guests can either choose to sleep underneath the stars or set up a tent. This will be one of the rare moments many of these guests have the opportunity sleep underneath the Hawaiian stars.
Guests will see a wide variety of beautiful plants that are native to the Hawaiian islands. Many of these plants have a history of being especially important to the local Polynesian cultures of the Hawaii islands. Some guests even view the zoo as a botanical garden since there is such a wide array of indigenous and endemic plans.
A Popular Attraction for Kids at the Honolulu Zoo
The Honolulu Zoo is one of the preferred attractions for children. Kids are thrilled to see the exotic animals, the scenery, sights and sounds, and many of them enjoy camping outside and underneath the stars. The zoo also has a petting zoo where young kids have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the animals.
One of Hawaii’s Most Popular Attractions
The Honolulu Zoo is not only one of the most popular attractions on the island of Honolulu, but guests from all across the Hawaiian islands travel to see the park. With its assortment of African and reptile creatures, guests are given a sense that they aren’t even on the Hawaiian islands anymore. This serves as a great break from the Hawaiian activities, and provides a whole lot of fun for kids and the entire family.
Guests who are looking for an escape from the surf, sand, or sun will find the perfect option at the Honolulu Zoo. To rally give the best stamp of approval of all, former President Barack Obama included the zoo too on his family’s to-do list when they visited Oahu in 2009. What better stamp of approval could you have?
When you’re setting up your next Hawaiian getaway, in between the hikes of ancient volcanoes, local activities, and surf times, look no further than taking a day out of the schedule to experience the zoo. You’ll be glad that you did.