Visiting the island of Oahu isn’t all about beaches and hula dancers. For garden aficionados, it’s a chance to explore the kind of tropical vegetation that probably doesn’t grow at home. Happily, there are a number of excellent botanical gardens on the island featuring the lush green and eye-popping colors of plants like heliconia, ginger, and giant fern (and one garden that may surprise you!). Better yet? The cost of admission won’t bust your vacation budget, and many are even free. Our top five picks are below.
Foster Botanical Garden – This garden dates back to 1853 and spans roughly 14 acres. With an assortment of plants collected from the world’s tropics over the last 150 years, the Garden is home to an array of rare and endangered specimens. Seek out the Lyon Orchid Garden, where you’ll see Old and New World orchid species. Located on the mauka (mountain) side of Honolulu, the garden is convenient from budget hotels like the Best Western Coconut Waikiki and Waikiki Parc Hotel.
Wahiawa Botanical Garden – Located in central Oahu at a high elevation, this garden is home to flora that prefers a little cool air. Most of the large trees in this garden date back to the 1920s, when the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association initiated an experimental tree planting.
Koko Crater Botanical Garden – A garden, inside a crater? That’s right – inside Koko Crater you’ll find a 60-acre garden still in its infancy. Don’t expect lush tropical gardens though. The hot, dry crater is the perfect setting for a xeriscape garden, showcasing plants that require little water to thrive. Self-guided walking tours are available, though the facility is still in the early stages of development. Bring water and sunscreen, and be aware that there are no restroom facilities.
Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden – With a special emphasis on preserving plants native to Hawaii, Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden was built to provide flood protection to the Kaneohe area. The 400-acre park features walking trails and a lake where visitors can fish (catch-and-release) with borrowed bamboo fishing poles. No swimming is allowed, but it’s a great place for a relaxing family picnic.
Waimea Valley – Culturally rich Waimea Valley gives visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the history of the valley, as well as the lush landscape. Here, the stewards of the valley work to protect rare native plants and study propagation techniques, so that future generations can enjoy them. In addition to the gardens, Waimea Valley offers an assortment of cultural programs.
Photo courtesy of Schodts/Flickr