Kaua'i is known as the "Garden Island" due to its abundance of flowers and plants. There are a number of gorgeous botanical gardens on the island, but in all of our years of visiting Kaua'i, we've rarely taken the time to explore them. On our trip to Kaua'i in December, we opted to spend an afternoon exploring Limahuli Garden and Preserve, a beautiful hillside garden featuring plants native to Kaua'i and those introduced by the Polynesians. Limahuli is one of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens located on Kaua'i. It is located at the far, far north end of the island, in Ha'ena, near the end of the road and the beginning of the Napali Coast.
The plants cultivated in this garden are marked with placards noting how they were introduced and their use in Polynesian culture. You'll find everything from food, like the taro used to make poi, to herbal medicines, to trees with bark used to make tapa cloth. It's a fascinating walk through the history and culture of the island, and a glimpse of the lifestyle of ancient Polynesians who settled here.
The self-guided tour starts at the gift shop and visitor center located at the foot of Makana Mountain, most famous for being "Bali Hai" in the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. You walk out past a giant breadfruit ('ulu) tree, a staple of the Polynesian diet, and normally baked in and imu or underground oven.
After walking around the building, you head up a path through a tiered garden of taro. Taro requires a significant amount of water, and the ancient Polynesians devised an irrigation delivery system by digging a series of canals to divert water from the stream to the plants. The path winds up and around, through trees, flowers, and some stone ruins of what was likely an early Polynesian home.
There were not many flowers in bloom while we were there, but the few we did see were unusual varieties of hibiscus, spider flowers and other tropical varieties.
Some of the flowering plants, like the Alula, are native to Kaua'i, but considered endangered. Thanks to the dedication of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens' botanists, this unusual looking mini-tree has been brought back from near-extinction. I loved the chartreuse color of the leaves and the unusual look of the Alula. According to the guidebook, these can now be purchased in nurseries, but have not yet been reintroduced into the wild.
At the summit, you're treated to stunning views of the ocean and Makena. There are park benches all along the way, and it would be easy to spend hours just staring out into the beautiful azure waters of the Pacific. It made me wonder how the ancient Polynesians ever got any work done with a view like this.
We used this as an opportunity to teach (and ourselves) a little something about the importance of plants. We took turns reading the placards (which was a little harder for our older eyes than for Alex).
The self-guided hike along the looping marked path lasted about an hour and a half to two hours, and is less than a mile in length, but has some steep climbs up to the summit. The guided tour lasts about 2 1/2 hours. You receive a very informative guidebook at the entry to the hike, which gives greater explanations and historical context than the placards.
Tips for Touring Limahuli Gardens with kids:
- The cost of admission for the self-guided tour to Limahuli Garden is $15. Kids under 12 get in free. The Guided Tour is $30, $15 for kids 10-12. Kids under 10 are not permitted on the Guided Tour.
- This is a climbing walk that goes up some narrow unpaved paths, so it is not wheelchair/stroller accessible. Bring a backpack to carry infants and toddlers in, if you don't want to carry them the entire way.
- Bring hats, water bottles, sunscreen, and mosquito repellent. We forgot our mosquito repellent and Alex & I ended up with some unintended, itchy souvenir bites. The mosquitoes seemed to be worse near benches, for some reason.
- Reservations are required for the guided tour, but you can just show up for the self-guided tour. We were there late in the afternoon on a Saturday, and there were only 3 or 4 other groups on the path that day.
We enjoyed our walk through Limahuli Garden, and look forward to seeing some of the other National Botanical Gardens on our next trip to Kaua'i.