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Visiting the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Stephanie loves to travel. She has written numerous articles with tips, photographs, and information on places to visit.

Hawaiian Orchids

Hawaiian Orchids

About Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Among the wonderful sights we enjoyed on a recent trip to the big island of Hawaii, our favorite was the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens. We spent an entire afternoon at this spectacular botanical wonderland, located less than 10 miles from Hilo along the Scenic Route at Onomea Bay. It was easy to find, using our Hawaiian guidebook. However, we simply were not prepared for the amazing beauty in this garden by the bay. The lush tropical scenery is a gift from Mother Nature's ample supply of showers on this rainy side of the big island.

Waterfalls, an orchid garden, hushed paths, and even caged parrots were some of the treasures we enjoyed at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. I could hardly keep up with the beauty, taking more than 200 photos in a single afternoon!

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens

Garden Overview

The tropical gardens have a paved, looped path that is easy to navigate for all ages. In a few locations, you may want to use the steps, but fortunately, there are alternative accesses in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Nonetheless, you will need to use one of the provided golf carts to transport you over the boardwalk if you need assistance. Non-electric wheelchairs can also be used throughout the garden.

Just over a mile long, you'll be able to walk and enjoy the sights along the trail in the gardens in about 1.5-2.0 hours.

The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens is a non-profit nature preserve, which hosts more than 2,000 species of plants both native to Hawaii and other tropical regions of the world. The specimens are clearly marked; it's like a self-guided botany tour! In addition to the beautiful tropical plants, the gardens include a living seed bank and plant sanctuary. There's even a study center so that future generations can learn how to care for and preserve the Hawaiian natural environment.

As noted on the official website:

The Garden displays a vast variety of palms, heliconias, gingers, bromeliads, and hundreds of other rare and exotic plants from all parts of the tropical world - presently more than 2,000 species, and the collection is always growing!

Almost every day of the year, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is open from 9-5, but you must arrive before 4:00 p.m. to be admitted. Admission costs are quite reasonable, at $20 for each adult and $5 for children ages 6-16. Younger kids are free.

With the abundant natural beauty, it is not surprising that many couples choose to get married at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. There is a weddings page on the official website that can inspire you in planning your special day.

Water lilies in Hawaii

Water lilies in Hawaii

Foundation of the Gardens

The garden was created by Dan J. Lutkenhouse and his wife, who discovered Onomea Valley in 1977. Soon afterward, they bought the parcel of property--17 acres in size--on which the gardens are situated in a unique location, shielded from severe weather.

For eight years after the Lutkenhouses bought the parcel, they worked on the restoration and development of the gardens. A small contingency worked with hand tools to preserve the habitat and natural plants. It was slow, hard work considering the climate and topography. No tractors were used, and the work was done by hand. Finally, years later in 1984, the Tropical Garden opened to the public.

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The trails throughout the gardens are based on the contours of the land. When you walk through them today, you will be as surprised as Mr. Lutkenhouse in discovering the three-tiered Onomea Waterfall that many claim to be the most beautiful in all of Hawaii. Check out the video below, but keep in mind that there is nothing that can match seeing it in person!

It is no accident that the plants are situated as they are in the garden. Mr. Lutkenhouse, himself selected the location of every plant and tree. However, it is quite surprising to learn that Mr. Lutkenhouse has not had any botanical training:

From the Lily Lake Vista, more species of plants can be seen in one place than anywhere else on earth. Over 110 species have been counted within this vista, most planted by Mr. Lutkenhouse and his staff. This vivid experience of the tropics has been enriched by the plant collecting trips Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse have taken to tropical jungles around the world.

Heliconia

Heliconia

More orchids in Hawaii

More orchids in Hawaii

Bromeliad

Bromeliad

An entire book could be written about the foliage and flowers on display at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens!

I'll highlight some of the most amazing specimens, and encourage you to go see for yourself.

  1. Palms. Almost 200 species of palm trees can be seen in the Garden, which is a delight for enthusiasts. Members of the Royal Palm Society of London have even visited to inspect the variety of palms, including a rare specimen Peruvian palm. Your best views will be from the Palm Vista and in the Palm Jungle.
  2. Heliconia. It is said that this type of plant grows more beautifully in the Garden than in the rainforest jungles in which they are found. More than 80 species are found in the Botanical Garden, with a variety of uniquely shaped flowers (check out the photo to the right).
  3. Orchid Garden. Fans of this special, delicate flower will have to reserve space on their digital camera card for this area of the Garden. Tiger, butterfly, cattleyas and more (but just a fraction of the 25,000 orchid species) are on display.
  4. Bromeliads (relatives of the pineapple). More than 80 species of bromeliads grow in the Garden. They flourish in the rainforest atmosphere, having originated in the South American jungle.
  5. Water lilies. In the center of the Garden is "Lily Lake," which although it looks natural, was actually hand-dug years ago. Varieties of water lilies grow in the lake, and gorgeous koi fish swim around to visitors' delight. While a picture may be worth 1000 words, consider this description from the official website:

Over 110 species of tropical plants can be seen from the Lily Lake Vista. Among them are giant Queen Victoria water lilies from the headwaters of the Victoria River in Africa; an exotic wi apple tree, believed to be the largest wi apple tree in Hawaii; Madagascar travelers trees, a spectacular fan-shaped variety; and betel nut palms, the source of betel nuts, a narcotic. Purple lotus and papyrus reeds fringe the border of the lake. Nowhere else in the world, be it jungle or botanical garden, is this vast variety of plants displayed.

Torch Ginger at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Torch Ginger at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Closing Thoughts

With the many beautiful sights in Hawaii, this excursion tops the list when I look back at our trip. Visiting the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden was the highlight of our week on the big island.

If you enjoy tropical flowers, natural beauty and are interested in botanical preservation, you will not regret a trip to the garden!

© 2009 Stephanie Marshall

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