1,300 Steps Through Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo

Denise Lau
August 16, 2016

Did you know Hilo is home to the only natural tropical rainforest zoo in the United States? It’s also a great place to get a nice walk in nature! Want to play a cool scavenger hunt? See if you can find all these animals with your family. Don’t forget to bring water! Here’s a diary of a walk of the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo that consists of over 1,300 steps, visiting interesting animals along the way: 

Start your walk from the Butterfly house, left of the front entrance and take 85 steps to reach the sign, “Vireya Garden.” 

Hang a left there, until you see a tunnel and the first animal exhibit is a pair of giant anteaters. That takes 63 steps. Here you’ll spot Penny, one of the zoo’s female anteaters, with her thin, prickly 24-inch-long tongue, perfect for slurping up ants! 

As you walk through the tunnel, you’ll see various birds and Hawaii’s state bird, the nene. I took around 71 steps to reach the end of the tunnel. From there, if you head left you’ll see a petting zoo and playground. That took another 70 steps. I lucked out and was able to see the kids having a blast petting a turtle, goats, a horse, and other animals. 

Keep hugging left for 55 steps and you’ll see a big cage with a plant-eating green iguana on your right and a pool with American alligators on your left. Did you know an alligator’s jaw is so strong it can crack a turtle’s shell? Behind the iguana, there’s a house called “Jewels of the Rainforest” that houses all sorts of unique critters in aquariums. There you’ll find an axolotl, or Mexican salamander, ornate horned frogs, and poison dart frogs. Did you know the ornate horned frog earned the name “Pac Man” because it has a row of sharp teeth used to capture prey?

In about another 48 steps, you’ll pass the Swainson’s toucans named Can-Can and Tou-Tou, if you’re lucky you can see them eat by tossing back papayas, bananas and white rice - some of their favorite foods. You’ll next pass a white cockatoo and reach the corpse flower just starting to grow in the owl cage. 

If you keep hugging left, in another 41 steps you’ll reach a feral pig enclosure, meet some friendly African pygmy and Nigerian dwarf goats, and an emu in another 20 steps. Then you’ll reach a dead end and have to head up toward the back of the park. 

In 46 steps, I ended up between the macaw cages and the North American alligator snapping turtle exhibit. If you pass the turtle exhibit and take an immediate left, you’ll be on a path that leads you through the monkeys – colobus, capuchins and in 121 steps you’ll reach the South American spider monkey house. 

After monkeying around, I headed out of that path towards the back of the zoo and saw a two-toed sloth cage (unfortunately they were hiding from me) and a few other cages that ended in a family of lemurs huddled together. Did you know the name lemur means “ghost” and that they are found on the island of Madagascar?  It was 63 steps to get to the lemurs. 

In another 99 steps, I reached the back of the zoo, passing the binturongs and a few birds like the South African crowned crane and golden pheasant, which comes from the mountain forests of western China, before I reached a flaming red burnt-looking pair of molting red tegus. The pair of red tegus, Mr. and Mrs. Pickles, were just relaxing and sunbathing as I walked by. Tegus are native to western Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil and are hunted for their skins and meat. 

I headed right for about 110 steps to get to the highlight of the zoo, the Bengal tiger enclosure. After watching the gorgeous white tiger named Tzatziki frolic with her feisty sister Sriracha, I headed back towards the front entrance. 

In another 172 steps down the central path leading back to the front, you’ll pass macaws, yellow-crowned Amazon parrots and parakeets. I took 49 steps to admire our winged friends. 

In another 90 steps, if you backtrack from the birds and head back to the “Vireya Garden” sign you’ll be back to the path on your way out to the exit. Take a look on the opposite side of the entrance and you’ll spot a beautiful water garden with giant Victoria waterlilies. Maybe you’ll be lucky and “Max” the macaw will also greet you with a cheery “HELLLLLLO.”

I was a hot, sweaty mess at the end of my walk around the zoo. From the Vireya Garden sign to the front entrance zoo map, I counted another 142 steps. It was a pretty fun way to get a total of over 1,300 steps in my day! 

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