Oahu’s misty mountains are a sight to behold, and the towering Koolau Mountain Range is the first thing you’ll notice as you drive to the Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden. The mountains look as if some giant had dropped his island-sized accordion centuries ago only to be overrun by the invasive growth of verdant greenery. But those beveled channels that you see etched into the sides of the mountains -- with each crevasse looking like the kink in an accordion -- are actually carved by rainwater.
You’ll see dozens of waterfalls pouring from the tops of the misty mountains if you visit just after heavy rain. Each waterfall etching a new level into the cliffside as the rainwater rushes down to the Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden’s reservoir below.
In fact, the bowl-like landscape here collects so much water that floods were an ever-present problem in the 1960s. The floods were so disastrous that government officials commissioned the dammed up reservoir that now sits at the heart of the garden. The reservoir was dug in the 1970s. The garden was opened in the late 1980s. Now, you can visit this incredible 400-acre park for a pleasant hike amongst flora from around the world.
The Botanical Garden’s Park Access Road is a semi-circle loop that traverses most of the park. The road will take you to the garden’s visitor’s center, the garden’s two campgrounds and the central reservoir at the heart of it all.
The 400-acre park contains two hiking trails that loop around the reservoir. Just follow the tourists down to the water to find a paved path. Go in either direction, and you’ll find one of the two easy trails.
The trails can be muddy. After all, this area is very good at collecting water. But you should be able to rock-hop to solid spots of land as you navigate the trails. Just make sure to wear shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty.
Along the way, you’ll find trees, plants, and flowers from around the world. Each of the new trees will have a plaque to tell you all about them, and the park contains trees and plants from as far away as the Philippines, Malaysia, Tropical America, India, and Sri Lanka, Melanesia, Hawaii, Polynesia, and Africa. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to the fertile tropical soils of Hawaii.
The myriad of worldwide plants inside the botanical garden is bound to wow, but that should make the rest of your Oahu visit even more impressive. That’s because nearly all the plants you see on this verdant island have been imported. Only a few shrubs are endemic. Everything else was brought here, including coconut palm trees by the original Polynesian settlers.
You’re bound to see families down by the reservoir’s shore with poles in hand. Locals love to come to the reservoir for bountiful freshwater fishing which is fun for the whole family. And you can rent a fishing pole and barbless hook from the visitor’s center for free.
You have to bring your own bait -- bits of white bread work really well -- and the fishing here is strictly catch-and-release, but it’s a great way to introduce young children to the sport. After all, barbless hooks make fishing much safer for everyone.
The gardens encourage you to join other artists daily to draw or paint the majesty of the park. You bring your own supplies, and artists tend to gather between 9:30 a.m. and Noon. You can buy some supplies at an art store in Honolulu before you head to the park to make like-minded, nature-loving, artistic friends during your Oahu vacation.
The garden offers up three different campsites. You must provide your own tent, but camping is a great way to save money on accommodation during your Hawaiian vacation. The affordable prices may allow you to extend your Hawaiian vacation and that’s incredibly valuable. After all, time is the most precious thing you have during your Oahu visit.
You can reserve campsites online on the garden’s website. You’ll have to claim your site before the garden’s gates are closed at 4:00 p.m. And the camping experience is supposed to be quiet and relaxing. There is no alcohol or loud music allowed, and make sure to keep your campfires in designated fire pits and rings.
Gates to the gardens remain open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily and admission is free. And you can find the gardens by taking the H-1 Highway West out of Honolulu to the Pali Highway exit. You’ll take the Pali Highway through Oahu’s eastside mountains before you turn left on Kamehameha Highway. You’ll soon turn left again on Luluku Road and you’ll ride until it dead-ends at the botanical gardens which sit in a bowled reservoir crowned by waterfall-covered mountains.