Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden

Nestled at the foot of the Ko’olau Mountains, the Ho’omaluhia (pronounced “ho oh mah loo HEE ah“) Botanical Garden is a one of the most beautiful spots on the planet and, lucky for me, a short 15-minute drive from home. It is one of five botanical gardens that make up the Honolulu Botanical Gardens system and is located on 400 acres of lush, Hawaiian land in the city of Kaneohe, on the windward coast of Oahu, Hawaii.

The Ko’olau Mountains, viewed from Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden on a cloudy day
(c) Copyright 2011, Patrice Walker, All Rights Reserved

A Peaceful Place to Visit

Ho’omaluhia means “to make a place of peace and tranquility,” and this rain-forest garden is definitely that, with an abundance of flora from tropical regions around the world, including Hawaii (of course), Africa, India and Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Melanesia, Polynesia, the Philipines, and tropical North, Central and South America. One of the main goals of Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is to conserve plant species that are native to the tropics in general and to Hawaii in particular because many are endangered. Examples include heliconias (lobster-claws, wild plantains, or false bird-of-paradise), arecaceae (palm trees), and aroids (peace lilies).

You can either walk or drive on the well-paved road that winds its way through Ho’omaluhia, past kahuas or camping grounds that come equipped with a sheltered bathroom, picnic tables, and ample space for pitching tents. Camping is free, but you do need a permit. Specific types of plants are featured at each of the five kahuas. At Kahua Lehua, for example, you’ll find native Hawaiian plants; African plants can be viewed at Kahua Nui.

The road that snakes through Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
(c) Copyright 2011, Patrice Walker, All Rights Reserved

Thankfully, the speed limit is 15 mph (although some people drive faster), so it’s very safe to walk on the road, as long as you stay on the left side in order to see cars coming toward you. I usually carry a small umbrella with me because you never know when it’s going to rain, being so close to the mountains. Insect repellent is also a good idea, especially during the rainy season when the mosquitoes are more likely to nip at you.

There’s also a Visitor’s Center that has additional information about the Ho’omaluhia and includes meeting rooms for classes and seminars, as well as an art gallery. In fact, the Visitor’s Center is probably the first place you want to check out because you can get a brochure there that contains a nice map that will help you navigate through the park. Ho’omaluhia is opened seven days a week (except Christmas and New Year’s Day) from 9 am to 4 pm.

Kapani Wai – A Dam for Flood Control

This lovely botanical garden was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of a flood control basin after the Keapuka subdivision of Kaneohe was hit by devastating flood waters that came down the Ko’olau Mountains in 1965 and 1969. Not only were homes destroyed, but two people lost their lives. To keep the floodwaters in check, a dam was built across Kamo’oahli’i Stream.

The ‘lake,’ part of the flood control basin at the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
(c) Copyright 2011, Patrice Walker, All Rights Reserved

Construction began in 1976 and was completed in 1980, creating a dam and permanent pool or “lake” that is 10 feet deep, covers 32 acres, and is capable of holding back 10 times as much water at maximum flood (1). As a result, the residents of Keapuka never have to worry about future flood waters threatening their homes and lives.

Invasive Species and Other Hazards to Watch Out For

On one of my first visits to Ho’omaluhia, I walked down the trail to the lake from the Visitor Center to take some pictures, and on my way back up, I came face to face with a feral pig that had wandered out of the brush. We both stopped dead in our tracks, surprised to see each other. Fortunately, the pig nonchalantly turned around and went back into the brush. During the four years since then, I’ve never seen another pig in the park.

And don’t be surprised if you see a mongoose or two scurrying across the road. This species was introduced into the islands to help control the rat population during the era of sugar cane plantations. But whoever had this bright idea didn’t realize that the mongoose is active during the day, whereas rats are nocturnal.

Unfortunately, harmful bacteria, like leptospirosis (from animal urine) that can be passed to humans, contaminate the watershed; therefore, no swimming or wading in the streams or lake is allowed.

Ho’omaluhia – Peaceful, Tranquil, and Breathtaking

Despite these minor inconveniences, Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is one place you want to be sure to visit when you come to windward Oahu. The mountains are breathtaking, incredible scents perfume the air, and you won’t find a more tranquil and peaceful place in which to see a wide variety of tropical plants and flowers that bloom practically year round.

For more information about the Honolulu Botanical Gardens and Ho’omaluhia, click here.

More beautiful sites to be found at Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
(c) Copyright 2011, Patrice Walker, All Rights Reserved

(1) Adapted from the Kapani Wai Dam plaques near the lake at Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden.


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