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 both gardens begin immediately when visitors board NTBG vehicles for a ride along a spectacular coastline and journey 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 50 acres that 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.

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 ALLERTON AT SUNSET GUIDED GARDEN 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, you’ll find NTBG’s third Kaua‘i garden, Limahuli Garden. This garden has reopened following more than a year of flood recovery efforts and is accepting reservations for self-guided and guided tours. The garden closed in April 2018 after historic flooding closed access to the garden and damaged infrastructure, trails, and plant collections. The garden’s hours of operation remain Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. In order to manage traffic and reduce the impact vehicles have on the garden and surrounding community, reservations are now required for self-guided tours at Limahuli Garden. Hawai‘i residents with a valid driver’s license and North Shore Shuttle riders are exempt. Hawai‘i ID or North Shore Shuttle ticket must be presented at check-in for visitors without advanced self-guided tour reservations. For more information about the North Shore Shuttle, please visit their website at kauainsshuttle.com.

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.

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 kauaibotanicalgardens.com.