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Get back to nature with a visit to Oahu’s botanical gardens

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Reservoir at Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden
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By: Jeanine Barone


Sometimes the crowds seem all pervasive in Oahu if you stick with the tried-and-true sights in Honolulu and Waikiki. But drive from these tourist meccas and you'll plunge into tranquil gardens where it's the fragrance of tropical flowers that will be overpowering.


1. Koko Crater Botanical Garden 


A two-mile path loops through this 60-acre property that's set in the basin floor of a volcanic crater. Pick up a map at the entry so that you can take a self-guided tour through this arid landscape. You'll find all the plants labeled and organized by geographic locations with specimens from as far away as Africa. Among the more curious specimens are the towering Baobab tree with its swollen trunk, and the wiliwili, a tree endemic to Hawaii that bears spike-like flowers.


2. Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden 


The soaring cliffs of the Koolau Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop for this tropical rainforest garden. Be prepared for rain (and mosquitoes) but you still might want to pack a beach towel. If the weather permits you can picnic on an expanse of grass beside the 30-some-acre lake. On weekends, they offer guided nature walks, perfect for the whole family, along one of several trails. And, once a month, a nature program introduces preschoolers to some of the creatures and plants in the garden.


3. Haiku Gardens 


Just a few minutes from Hoomaluhia, this four-acre garden is renowned as a popular wedding venue [possible link: Chichaku wedding page]. Here, you'll find fragrant yellow ginger as well as other species, such as coral and red torch ginger, lehua blossoms from the ohia trees, heliconia plants, and kukui nut trees. A natural spring is a centerpiece of the garden with water overflowing into a pond.


4. Senator Fong's Plantation & Gardens 


Named for the first Asian American in the U.S. Senate, this 700-acre garden can only be visited on a guided walking tour. Over the course of the 1.5-hour tour, you'll be able to taste starfruit, strawberry guava and lychee, smell gardenias and white ginger, and touch the trunk of the paperbark tree. You'll learn about plants originally brought by the Polynesians, including breadfruit, sugar cane, and ginger. In addition to this tour, you may also want to sign up for a lei-making class offered at the visitor's center.


5. Waimea Valley 


The expansive lush landscape of Waimea Valley covers nearly 2,000 acres, though the botanical gardens make up barely 1/10 of that. Reserve the entire afternoon to explore the area. You'll discover native Hawaiian flora, such as loulu palms that predated coconut palms, as well as endangered hibiscus varieties – hibiscus is the state flower – and dozens of types of kalo (taro). After checking out the myriad plant collections, including the tropical fruits, native ferns, and flowers used to produce leis, don't miss visiting the Waimea Waterfalls and the refreshing swimming hole below.



Native New Yorker Jeanine Barone is a travel writer who specializes in under-the-radar venues, whether in her backyard or in far flung parts of the world. Her work appears in myriad publications, including National Geographic Traveler and Conde Nast Traveller (UK). She's also the author of a new travel tips e-book, The Travel Authority: Essential Tips for Hassle-Free Travel.


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