I visited a few botanical gardens in Hawaii, but Kahanu Garden was by far my favorite. These 464 acres have been the home of native Hawaiians for 800 years, and is now administered and protected as a National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG). NTBG is a privately funded non-profit organization the administers and protects gardens of extraordinary beauty and historical significance. Profits are used for conservation, research, and public education. There are only five such gardens in the United States, four of them in Hawaii. For more information, see theirwebsite. Kahanu Garden is beautiful, nicely maintained, organized well, and located on scenic Honomaele Bay.
There are basically two main components of the garden: the plants and Hale O Pi’ilani Heiau.
Kahanu Garden has a high quality collection of native and introduced plants. The focus of the garden is on the ethnobotanical aspects of the plants. The extensive brochure for the self-guided walk explains in depth the relationship between the Hawaiian people and the plants they used. The first plant display that you will notice before even entering the garden is the Ulu(breadfruit) grove. This is a stand of over 200 trees(123 varieties). The breadfruit was a staple food, and is still eaten today.
Other food-providing plants at the garden are Mai’a(banana), Ko(sugarcane), Kalo(taro), Niu(coconut), Ohi’a ‘Ai(mountain apple), and Uala(sweet potato). Awa(kava) and Noni were primarily medicinal plants, as well as the Ohi’a ‘Ai. The Ipu(bottle gourd) was used as containers. Hala leaves were weaved into mats, baskets, thatching, etc. Wauke(paper mulberry) was used primarily to make kapa, or barkcloth. Kapa-making is an ancient art – more can be learned about it at the Hana Cultural Center, and kapa paper can be purchased there as well. Almost all parts of the Kukui(candlenut) tree were used in various ways: fishing, lighting, eating, construction, dye, and for medicine.
The second significant feature of Kahanu Garden is Hale O Pi’ilani Heiau. "Heiau" is the Hawaiian word for sacred spot, and Pi’ilani Heiau is believed to be the largest remaining ancient structure in Hawaii. Archeologists estimate is to be about 500 years old and think that it took about 128,000 man-days to complete. It is 3.8 acres in size and 50 feet tall! Chief Pi’ilani commissioned the building of the heiau and it is named after him. It is strategically located to spot canoes in the ocean many miles away. Visitors are NOT allowed to climb on the heiau – it is a sacred cultural spot and should be respected as such. It is also designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Make sure to stop at Hale Ho’okipa (the welcoming house), a traditionally-built structure overlooking Honomaele Bay. This is a perfect spot to eat a picnic lunch if you brought one. There is also a display describing the restoration of Hale O Pi’ilani Heiau.
The $10 entrance fee (12 years and under are free) is a bargain. Kahanu Garden and Hana Cultural Center are a great cultural and historical tour combination.
Hours: Mon-Wed-Fri, 10am-2pm.