During the turn of the 20th century, many Japanese immigrants flocked to Hawaii to take part in the growing plantation and fishing industry. They brought with them their history and culture, merging with the many Polynesian immigrants and indigenous folks who likewise found their home among these islands. They also helped to create and influence some pretty fantastic parks reminiscent of their ancestral home, the Liluokalani Gardens is one such park.
Liliuokalani Gardens started as a very small public park. The first land donation was made by 1907 by Queen Liliuokalani, after whom the park was named. Then in 1917, the local Legislative Committee voted to increase the park’s size and restyle it as a tribute to the state’s early Japanese immigrants. This restyled park was completed and reopened to the public in 1919 in tribute to those eastern immigrants who helped to build and shape the Big Island’s agricultural prowess since the mid-1800s. A few more additions were made in later years, and now the Liliuokalani Gardens spans a wonderful twenty-five acres.
Located in Hilo on the island of Hawaii, Liliuokalani Gardens is renowned for being the largest authentic ornamental Japanese garden of the Edo style that can be found outside of the country of Japan. The Edo style of Japanese gardens was a style of gardens that came to prominence during Japan’s Edo Period, 1603 and 1867. During this period, the focus of garden architecture was to create strolling gardens with multiple viewpoints. The result being multi-acred green spaces dotted with ponds with their own islands, artificial hills, circular trails, and traditional architectural accents like tea houses. The Liluokalani Gardens features all of this.
Liluokalani Gardens is a wonderfully maintained park that, being a public park, is free for visitors, offering a wonderful escape just on the edge of Hilo. It’s an ideal place for those looking for park destinations to visit as well as those just needing something to fill a couple of hours. In fact, with Hilo International Airport just kitty-corner to the park, you will often find those getting ready to depart the island making Liluokalani Gardens their one last stop.
Attractions at Liluokalani Gardens include multiple ponds, arching bridges, beautifully landscaped rock gardens, pagodas, and an authentic Japanese tea house. There’s also a small footbridge that leads to a small island called Moku ola or Cococunt Island. This small island is a popular place for picnics and you’ll often see families wading and enjoying some light swimming in Hilo Bay, the body of water surrounding the island.
Parking for Liluokalani Gardens can be found along its western border of Lihiwai Street and, on the east, at Banyan Drive where it curves to meet Alii Ice (an outstanding ice cream shop that’s perfect for a to-go cone to enjoy while meandering through the park).
Note that while this is a public park and children will often enjoy aspects of it, especially those areas with visible fish and wading beaches, there is no dedicated children’s playground. So if you are looking for a place for kids to really work off that energy, this might not be the park for you. But if you are looking for something more peaceful, where morning yoga and afternoon walks are popular, you’ll love Liluokalani Gardens!
-Visiting the island during Christmas? Make sure to visit the Liluokalani Gardens at sunset! You’ll get to enjoy watching both the gorgeous bayfront sunset and the magical transformation of the park into a fairy wonderland with gorgeous Christmas lights.
-If you enjoy fishing and are able to snag a pole, consider spending a couple of hours enjoying the activity at that adjoining island of Moku ola.
-Stamp collectors will appreciate that Liliuokalani Gardens was selected in 2016 as the inspiration for the US Priority Mail stamp to celebrate unique Hawaiian history and cultural milestones.