Hawaiian Tropical Garden Tour

December 31, 2016

Earlier this year, my family and I traveled to Hawaii. One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens. This Hawaiian tropical garden was a hidden gem, that we discovered on the Big Island of Hawaii. I had no idea what to expect, nor did my family. My family indulged me a bit as we purchased our tickets. From the outside entrance, it seems as though we would only be exploring for a few moments. Three hours later, we had to pull ourselves from the beauty and awe. In the gardens alone, we took over 200 photos. From the landscape, grounds, orchids, unique tropical plantings and the crashing ocean, we were in awe.  I am so thrilled to be able to share this experience with you.

original_caughey-melissa-hawaii-garden-entry hawaiian tropical garden

They call it “A Garden in the Valley of the Ocean” and it all started in 1977 with a vision by the founder, Dan J. Lutkenhouse. For years, he and his supportive wife toiled to create and preserve the beauty of this land. Seven days a week was dedicated to the garden and in 1984, it officially opened to its first visitor.


It was a steep walk descending into the garden. It was incredibly lush and a bit wet from being located on the rainy side of the island. The rain clouds cleared just in time for our tour.


Then the garden began to share her secrets with us. At first they were a bit subtle, tucked into the nooks are crannies of the garden. Then the deeper we went, the more the garden told her story.


Down we went along the boardwalk. This is the only way in and only way out. I tried to imagine,day in and day out, Mr. Lutkenhouse and a crew of two men, hand clearing and cultivating the land for the gardens. It must have been exhausting and grueling in this tropical paradise.


A Peacock Ginger greeted us.



We passed a forest entirely formed by these Zingerber spectabile. These were a favorite. I must have stood there for 10 minutes just absorbed in their beauty.



Cat’s Whiskers aka Java Tea Orthosiphon aristatis

About twenty minutes later, we made it to the garden floor. We were greeted by the Palm Forest.


But first a 360 degree twirl to take a closer peek at these beauties surrounding me.


When in this Hawaiian tropical garden, you need to look everywhere! Here there are so many species that are unique. Some plantings are even unclassified and unknown to those that manage and tend the gardens. They have done an amazing job of documenting most of the plants here. This itty bitty orchid growing on this tree is simply identified as a Stelis sp. It was no larger than a good size dust bunny that you wound find cleaning your house.


Heliconia psittacorum ‘Lady Di’


Alpine purpurata ‘Tahitian Double’


Heliconia psittacorum x macinata ‘Nickeriensis’


Then we passed by this delicate Peacock Fern Selaginella willdenowii on our way to the waterfall.


The waterfall was just beautiful and full of rushing water. The waters were swelling from the recent rainfall. The water from the waterfall ultimately leads to the ocean below. Next we returned to the garden on the same path that led us to the waterfall. There was so much more to see!


Blue Ginger Dichorisandra thysiflora begins to open.



Chandelier Tree Medinilla cummingii


In the lower section of the Hawaiian tropical garden, there is a lush aviary complete with resident parrots.



This was the perfect spot to sit for a spell and take it all in. We moved on and rounded out the lower portion of the garden.


Deep within this Hawaiian tropical garden is a pool of water lilies that looks as though it has been there forever.  It’s actually called Lily Lake. I can only imagine the splendor when it is all a bloom.


Finally we reached the ocean. This inlet had very rough water and was surrounded by cliffs and rocks. I was surprised to learn that this inlet is known as Onomea Bay. Initially this was the location of a fishing village and then filled with rock terraces to grow taro and sugar cane. There was even once a sugar mill here too. They are all gone now. Only the gardens live at the edge of the bay.


Heading back into the gardens after walking the Ocean Trail loop, we entered a bed of Anthurium.



As we began to exit the garden, I looked down at my feet and saw the most beautiful orchid blooms that had fallen to the ground. The funny thing was that I did not see any orchids in the garden beds surrounding me. Then I looked up! Oh my goodness, they were above me, clinging to the Cannonball Trees Couroupita guianensis.


The orchids clung to this tree as far as my eye could go. There were a few trees around me like this. If the ground had not been so wet from the recent rainfall, I would have loved to lie on my back with my sights in the treetops. It was truly magnificent but we had to move on. There was so much more to see.


Torch Ginger Etlingera elatior


Ae Ae Banana Musax paradisiaca ‘Ae Ae’


Allamanda cathartica


As we began our ascent to exit the garden, I felt as though I was in a garden of Dr. Seuss surrounded by Firecracker Heliconia Heliconia mariae and the Tri-color Money Plant Dracaena maginoratea.


Then before we knew it we had returned to the boardwalk that guided us down in the the garden. I can’t wait to return again some day and be able to spend more time in the garden. I missed so many  gorgeous plantings even though there were right in front of my eyes. Today’s visit was all about the abundant blooms. Perhaps one day you too will be able to travel to this Hawaiian tropical garden in person.


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2 thoughts on “Hawaiian Tropical Garden Tour”

  1. Your photos were beautiful! My husband and I were also in Hawaii in December, so I really enjoyed remembering many of these flowers. We went to Kauai and Oahu. Did you know that on the island of Kauai, chickens are feral? They are! They are everywhere! Apparently a hurricane is the cause, and the island has embraced their notoriety, even putting chickens on their souvenir tees! Your website has inspired me to also start a blog. I’m a fellow chicken keeper/gardener and am excited to join the ranks! 🙂

    • I saw the feral chickens too! We went to an old sugar mill and they were running free. I thought there would be more though on Maui and the Big Island. Guess Kauai will be next on my list! So interesting. Thanks for sharing this chicken tidbit. I can’t wait to learn more about your new blog too. Best of luck!


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Sharing an inspired life from the New England seaside. Chickens, Bees, Gardens, Art and Yummy Goodness.