Stroll Kaua‘i’s Prized Botanical GardensKaua‘i
Kaua‘i is nicknamed “THE GARDEN ISLE,” and for good reason.
Kaua‘i is home to three BOTANICAL GARDENS belonging to the NATIONAL TROPICAL BOTANICAL GARDEN (NTBG), a private, nonprofit organization and the only officially recognized tropical garden in the United States. This institute is dedicated to scientific research, conservation and education, working every day to protect and preserve tropical plant life that is under threat of extinction.
NTBG’s gardens—two on the South Shore and one on the North— are open for public tours, the fees of which go toward helping support the nonprofit’s mission.
Each property is different, but all three represent captivating combinations of topography, ecosystems, cultural influences, island history and, of course, tropical flora.
On the South Shore in the verdant LAWA‘I VALLEY lie the Allerton and McBryde gardens. Access to the gardens is through the Visitors Center across from SPOUTING HORN in PO‘IPU, but the experience for either begins immediately when visitors board NTBG vehicles for a ride along a spectacular coastline and descent into the valley.
MCBRYDE GARDEN is the flagship garden of NTBG and is known for its biodiversity of native and exotic plants; in fact, it 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. Daily self-guided walking tours concentrate on 25 acres, which contain a variety of plants and themes. Towering palms, vibrant ornamental flowers and fascinating plant oddities reside here, as does a “canoe garden,” complete with a traditional structure that tells the story of how ancient Polynesians brought plants to the islands in their voyaging canoes.
The guided DISCOVERY TOUR is offered three days a week and explores areas in both the McBryde and adjacent Allerton Garden that are not on the daily tour, including NTBG’s “plant emergency room.”
ALLERTON GARDEN is a distinct contrast to the neighboring McBryde Garden. Once a private estate designed with discrete rooms walled by plants with fountains and statuary, Allerton is a masterpiece of landscape design and a natural showcase for tropical plants, including its famous “JURASSIC TREES.” Further back in history, the area was a Hawaiian queen’s retreat, and some of her plantings still grace the garden today.
Guided walking tours are offered daily. Another offering is the SUNSET ALLERTON ESTATE TOUR, which departs at a time of day that is truly magical and focuses on the estate’s intriguing history. The tour concludes with refreshments on the patio of Allerton’s gracious bayside home.
Full tour descriptions, times and online bookings for McBryde and Allerton gardens are available at ntbg.org/tours or by phone at (808) 742-2623.
On the North Shore is NTBG’s third Kaua‘i garden, Limahuli Garden, located on Kuhio Highway about one-quarter mile before Ke‘e Beach.
LIMAHULI GARDEN can be found in a lush valley overlooking the ocean, protected on three sides by craggy, moss-green mountains. Upon entering Limahuli, visitors are awe-struck by the sight of ancient taro terraces that date back to the time when the first Polynesians landed on the island. These lo‘i kalo are back-dropped by the majestic MOUNT MAKANA.
Declared by American horticulturists as the BEST NATURAL BOTANICAL GARDEN, Limahuli speaks to Hawaiian culture, both past and present, and is home to a number of native and endangered plant species suited to a wetter environment, with some unique to the valley. A recreated Hawaiian forest gives all who go a chance to walk through a healthy ecosystem no longer seen in most of Hawai‘i.
Limahuli offers both self-guided and guided walking tours and is open five days a week.
No reservations are needed for the self-guided tour; however, reservations are needed for the guided tour. Full tour descriptions, times and online bookings are available at www.ntbg.org/tours or by phone at (808) 826-1053.
Also on Kaua‘i’s North Shore is PRINCEVILLE BOTANICAL GARDENS, an intimate Eden nestled in a lush valley. This 8-acre garden sanctuary is truly a labor of love; once covered with invasive jungle, today the grounds are home to the most diverse private collection of unusual botanical specimens on the island, with native varieties of flowers and plants, including species used for both industrial and medicinal purposes.
Private guided tours are the only way to view the gardens, and every tour includes an added treat—CHOCOLATE! The Robertson family grows and produces its very own chocolate right on the property, and Princeville Botanical Gardens is the only garden on the island where visitors can get a lesson in the chocolate-making process (as well as samples of the decadent end-product, along with fresh honey and fruit!).
Full tour descriptions, times and reservations for Princeville Botanical Gardens are available by phone at (808) 634-5505, or visit www.princevillebotanicalgardens.com.