What started 50 years ago on a plot of cattle-stripped land has grown into the only tropical cloud forest in the United States with over 100 species of bamboo, gigantic tree ferns, and many rare and endangered species affording visitors an opportunity to learn firsthand about the value of conservation
As I drive up the windy road, high above the white-sand beaches and black lava fields of the Kona coastline into an area covered by ‘Ōhi‘a trees and lush rainforest, I am struck by how ecologically diverse the island of Hawai’i truly is. As the largest inhabited island of the Hawaiian archipelago, the island of Hawai’i has almost every subclimate zone on the planet altogether in one relatively small place.
At the entrance of the 70-acre Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary, a white-haired, eighty-ish-looking man is greeting visitors. Wearing a sweatshirt that reads “May the forest be with you” Norman Bezona’s smile spreads ear to ear, crinkling the deep creases along the corners of his eyes. He can hardly wait to tell us the story behind this unique forest. It is one of 736 known tropical cloud forests in the world and the only one in the United States except for the El Yunque National Forest located in the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico.
Our small group of ten visitors follows Norman inside the entrance, stepping into a magical oasis of peace and tranquility. Statues reminiscent of Bali line the property. Norman informs us that Bali is one of his favorite places on earth, except for of course the island of Hawai’i. We sit on a wooden balcony overlooking the vast depths of the forest while Norman pulls up a chair, readying himself to start our first lesson.
“Does anyone know the difference between a tropical rainforest and a tropical cloud forest?” Norman asks the group.
One blond-haired, pig-tailed girl eagerly raises her hand and replies: “It rains a lot in a rainforest while a cloud forest feels like being in the middle of the clouds“.