Stroll Kaua‘i’s Prized Botanical GardensKaua‘i
How any living thing—seed, insect, plant, animal or human—found its way to Kaua‘i and survived is a mystery understood only by the gods of nature.
Five million years ago, Kaua‘i was a pile of lifeless lava rock separated from any other landmass by more than 2,000 miles. Nevertheless, during the millions of years prior to the first human habitation, some 6,000 species— plants, insects, birds, bats and monk seals—evolved from about 700 natural introductions.
Many of those native Hawaiian species are now endangered. The National Tropical Botanical Garden, a private, nonprofit organization, operates three botanical gardens on Kaua‘i, all dedicated to the conservation of tropical plant diversity, particularly rare and endangered species. The gardens, two on the south shore and one on the north shore, are open for public tours. All three gardens are different and well worth visiting.
Allerton Garden, once a Hawaiian queen’s retreat and a former private estate, is a masterpiece of landscape design and a natural showcase for tropical plants including its famous “Jurassic trees.” Rippling pools, dramatic fountains and sculpture abound. Guided tours are available daily.
An additional guided tour is the Sunset Estate Tour, which focuses on the estate features of the garden and provides a look into its gracious bayside home, a stop newly available to the public. This unique tour departs at 4 p.m., just as the pink veil of sunset prepares to fall over Lawa‘i Bay, and includes refreshments on the estate’s lanai.
Reservations are required for either tour. All tours depart from the Visitors Center across from Spouting Horn in Po‘ipu. Children must be 10 or older. Call (808) 742-2623 for information and reservations, or on the Web at allerton.ntbg.org or allertonsunset.ntbg.org.
McBryde Garden is known for its biodiversity of native and exotic plants. It is aliving laboratory that is home to the world’s largest collection of native Hawaiian species as well as plants from throughout the Pacific Islands and the rest of the tropical world. Visitors can see firsthand the plants brought to Hawai‘i by ancient Polynesian voyagers in McBryde’s Canoe Garden.
Daily tours are self-guided (no reservations needed). However, a guided Ho‘ike tour is also offered, which explores portions of both McBryde and the adjacent Allerton Garden. This tour visits sections of both gardens not previously available to the public.
Reservations are needed for the Ho‘ike Tour. All tours depart from the Visitors Center across from Spouting Horn in Po‘ipu. For information or reservations, call (808) 742-2623 or visit mcbryde.ntbg.org or hoike-south.ntbg.org.
Limahuli Garden, NTBG’s garden on the north shore, is in a verdant valley overlooking the ocean protected on three sides by craggy, moss-green mountains. Upon entering Limahuli, the first sight a visitor sees is the ancient taro terraces. It was believed that the first Polynesians who landed on the island constructed these lo‘i kalo, which are backdropped by the majestic Mount Makana.
Limahuli has been nationally declared the best natural botanical garden, and is home to a number of native and endangered plant species suited to a wetter environment, with some unique to this valley. A recreated Hawaiian forest gives all who go there the chance to walk through a healthy ecosystem that is no longer is seen by most in Hawai‘i.
No reservations are needed for the self-guided tour, which is available Tuesday through Saturday between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. A guided tour is available and reservations are required. Call (808) 826-1053 for reservations and information, or go online to limahuli.ntbg.org. Limahuli is located on Kuhi‘o Highway about one-quarter mile before Ke‘e Beach.