The Hawaiian Islands are home to some of the most unique and robust plant ecosystems on the planet. It should be no wonder, then, that Kauai is home to many botanical gardens. Each offers unique exhibits, species, and visitor experiences. Differing in size, location, and origin, one thing these botanical gardens have in common is a deep respect for the delicate local ecosystem and a passion for sharing their natural beauty with visitors from all over the world. Here are five of the island’s most impressive and unique botanical gardens:
Na’Aina Kai Botanical Gardens
Na’Aina Kai, or “Lands By the Sea” is a diverse and impressive botanical garden and sculpture park spanning more than 240 sprawling acres. Located in Kilauea, this North Shore destination offers something for the whole family.
Na’Aina Kai, a not-for-profit organization, is comprised of formal and wild gardens. Visitors can admire beautiful tropical plants as they travel through the desert garden, palm garden, and Japanese garden complete with an authentic Japanese tea house. Ka’ula Lagoon features a large waterfall, fountains, and even a small tropical island. Children and adults alike can explore Poinciana Maze, an ornate and winding plant maze. The Children’s Garden is full of climbable, touchable experiences for the keiki, including a mini Navajo village, a gecko maze, a treehouse, and a variety of slides, tunnels, and bridges. Additionally, more than 120 sculptures dot the property, comprising one of the largest collections of bronze sculptures in America.
There are several tour options available, each covering different areas of the property, and ranging in length from 1.5 to 5 hours. While most require walking, there are also some riding tours for those who aren’t able or prefer not to walk.
Limahuli Garden and Preserve
Located in Hanalei, this NTBG botanical garden sits on a site rich with more than 1,500 years of history and is dedicated to preserving the unique flora of the area. The preserve serves as a home to dozens of plants and birds that have become so endangered, they’re no longer found anywhere else on earth. The elevated Whale Trail offers unbeatable panoramic views of the ocean.
The gardens here at the Limahuli Garden and Preserve are focused on species that are unique to northwest Kauai, and the organization has a goal of restoring the ecological and cultural assets of the Limahuli Valley. Visitors will see examples of plants representative of different eras in the area’s history. There are native Hawaiian plant species that have naturally grown here for centuries. There are plants brought over by the earliest Polynesian settlers. And there are culturally important plants introduced in the mid-1800s, at the dawn of the Hawaiian plantation era.
Guests can learn more about the significance of these plants, rare birds, and more by taking a self-guided tour of the property. It’s recommended to allow at least 1.5 hours to complete the tour, though curious visitors can easily spend several hours exploring this lush, serene agricultural marvel.
Princeville Botanical Gardens
Nestled in the lush jungles of Princeville on the Northern tip of Kauai, Princeville Botanical Gardens are gardens with a sweet twist.
Owned and operated by horticultural enthusiasts Bill and Lucinda Robinson, this family-grown garden was established in 2001 as a private endeavor. In 2010, the family opened the garden to the public. Today, visitors can embark on a comprehensive three-hour guided tour on select days each week. The family prioritizes sustainable and organic practices, and evidence of this can be seen throughout the property.
Once inside the gardens, visitors will see a variety of fruit trees, exotic and indigenous flowers, and cacao plants. Tour guides will share interesting information about the different plant varieties as well as the history of the property. Best of all? Guests can taste organic, homegrown chocolate, fresh, seasonal fruits, and honey from the garden’s own beehives.
McBryde & Allerton Gardens
Located in Koloa, on Kauai’s South Shore, these neighboring botanical gardens each offer unique plants and experiences. Both are part of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens (NTBG), a not-for-profit institution with a mission of discovering, saving, and studying tropical plants from around the world, and sharing their knowledge with visitors.
Allerton Garden, steeped in history, is home to many species of rainforest trees, an impressive bamboo grove, several types of tropical fruit trees, and a beautiful flower garden. Attention is paid to the elaborate landscape designs, which are interspersed with sculptures, water features, and art pieces. Savvy visitors may recognize parts of Allerton Garden from a handful of Hollywood films and television shows. Perhaps most notable are the Moreton Bay fig trees, which are prominently featured in the Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean film franchises.
Next door, McBryde Garden is chock full of palm and flowering trees, orchids, and bold tropical flowers like heliconia and Rubiaceae. In fact, the garden boasts one of the largest collections of native Hawaiian plants in existence. Here, the NTBG teaches about sustainable farming, highlighting some of the sustainable actions taken around the property. Guests can visit the Breadfruit Orchard, Hawaiian Life Canoe Plant Garden, and Tree of Life trail, among other attractions.
Joint tours of both gardens are available through the NTBG. Guests are shuttled to the gardens via private buses leaving from the nearby South Shore Visitors Center in Poipu.
Smith’s Tropical Paradise
Located on Kauai’s East Coast, sometimes referred to as “The Coconut Coast,” Smith’s Tropical Paradise offers a full slate of unique experiences. Contained within Wailua Marina State Park, the garden itself consists of 30 carefully curated acres. The Tropical Orchard is home to more than 20 types of fruit, including star fruit, breadfruit, and soursop. Over a mile of paths and trails wind through bamboo and fruit forests, and a dazzling Flowering Tropicals area. Visitors can explore recreations of Polynesian and Filipino huts on their way to a stunning Japanese garden island. While there are currently no formal garden tours offered, guests are welcome to tour the property independently.
Also available here is a Wailua river cruise to a unique fern grotto. During the two-mile cruise, visitors can enjoy songs and stories about ancient Hawaii and even learn some hula moves. Upon arriving at the grotto, situated deep in the rainforest, explorers can admire the grotto. The grotto, formed millions of years ago and located deep within the rainforest, features ferns that grow upside down from the ceiling, creating a stunning, one-of-a-kind cove.
Additionally, Smith’s Tropical Paradise is home to a renowned Luau. Guests are treated to an authentic luau experience. An expansive menu serves up traditional Hawaiian foods, while a lively performance slate showcases music and dancing traditional to Hawaii and other Pacific Island cultures. Guests are encouraged to join in on the fun by learning some hula dancing skills.
Whether visiting Kauai for the first time, or the 100th, its botanical gardens are must-see attractions. We hope you enjoy exploring these beautiful and culturally important plant sanctuaries!