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Hawaii Tropical Garden Nature Preserve
A Flowering Island in a Tropical Jungle
About six miles north of the city of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii is a beautiful nature preserve known as Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.
Located in a lush valley above Onomea Bay, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is a gift to the people of the world from Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse who originally purchased the little valley in 1977.
At the time of their purchase, the Onomea Valley had been deserted for many years and was covered by dense foliage which obscured all evidence of previous human activity.
Monument to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden's Founder
Map of 6 Mile Route from Hilo to Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden
Visiting the Garden
The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is located about six miles north of Hilo on the east side of the island.
The easiest way to get to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is from Hilo. In Hilo, take State Road 19 which has the names of Mamalohoa Highway and Hawaii Belt Road and runs next to Hilo Bay.
Follow this road north to the 'V' shaped intersection where one part of the highway branches off to the right while the main road continues straight.
Take the right branch which is called Old Mamalohoa Highway. You basically want to follow that branch of the paved highway that is closest to and parallels the ocean on your right..
Getting to and Getting Around Big Island of Hawaii
Despite being the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, the Big Island of Hawaii itself is not that large and one can drive around the perimeter of the island in a few hours - that is if one doesn't stop too often to enjoy the many spectacular ocean views and numerous other attractions.
Two main highways circle the island. State Route 19 begins in Hilo and travels north and west around the island to the city of Kona where it becomes State Route 11. State Route 11 continues south and east along the shore until it reaches downtown Hilo where it becomes State Route 19.
King Kamehameha the Great
While generally known as the Mamalohoa Highway / Hawaii Belt Road, as it passes through various towns and cities it often takes on a different name while continuing to be identified as State Route 19 or State Route 11.
Since the Big Island of Hawaii is an island, the only way to get there is by boat or airplane.
While not large, the two main cities of Hilo and Kona each have an international airports. One can fly directly from major western cities in the U.S. to either of these airports. There are also direct flights from some western cities in Canada as well as from Tokyo, Japan.
Honolulu International airport on the nearby island of Oahu is a major international airport for flights from around the world. From Honolulu International airport there are frequent inter-island flights to Hilo and Kona airports as well as to commercial airports in other islands that make up the State of Hawaii.
There are also charter flights as well as regularly commercial boats one can use to travel to the Big Island of Hawaii.
Welcome to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
Onomea Bay Area Before Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse
Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, a native Hawaiian village by the name of Kahali'i was located by Onomea Bay. Kahali'i was basically a tropical fishing village.
While the village is long gone, legends still remain.
One of these legends concerns the the twin rocks in the at the head of Onomea bay. According to the legend, the village Chief observed a large armada of enemy canoes heading toward the bay.
Two Lovers Guarding Onomea Bay
At a meeting with the village elders the chief and elders decided that the only way to thwart the pending attack was to build a reef which would prevent the invaders from landing on their beech.
However, lacking a way to quickly construct an artificial reef, the Chief and elders called the village together and asked for two young lovers to volunteer to give their lives to preserve the village.
A young man and young woman stepped forward volunteering to make the supreme sacrifice.
What came next is unknown as the Chief ordered everyone in the village of Kahali'i, except the two young lovers, to return to their huts and remain inside from sunset to sunrise.
Under the cover of darkness, the Chief and elders worked their magic on the two lovers.
When the villagers emerged from their huts at sunrise the next morning, the two young lovers were nowhere to be seen but at the entrance to the bay there now stood two huge, rugged rocks.
Not willing to risk the wrath of the two rocky sentinels, the armada turned away and the village remained safe.
To this day the two lovers turned to stone still guard the entrance to the bay.
Arrival of Europeans
While, in the legend, the twin rocks kept the canoes carrying other warriors from other parts of Hawaii from invading, the rocks didn't stop European merchant vessels from entering and anchoring in Onomea Bay.
Whether or not the native residents of Kahali'i still resided in the village is not recorded. However, the new visitors quickly turned the bay into a port that was first used to import the equipment and labor needed to convert the area into a sugar plantation and build a sugar mill.
Once this was completed the land was soon occupied by Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and Filipino laborers who had been brought in to grow and harvest the sugar cane as well as work the sugar mill. The port was then busy with ships coming in to carry the refined sugar from the mill to markets around the Pacific.
In time the newer port in Hilo to the south began to draw shipping traffic away from the port at Kahali'i while rising costs resulted in a decline in the growing of sugar.
By the beginning of the 20th Century the sugar mill and plantation were abandoned and, lacking work, most of the inhabitants drifted away also.
The area then quickly became overgrown by jungle.
Waterfalls Hidden in Jungle
Rose of Siam
The Gardens Today
After purchasing the land and deciding to turn it into a tropical botanical preserve, Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse traveled around the world finding tropical plants for their garden. Much of the work of clearing the 17 acres of jungle and planting the flowers was done by Dan Lutkenhouse himself. He also poured over two million dollars of his own money into building the nature preserve.
In 1984, seven years after purchasing the property, they opened the vast garden to the public.
Before his death in 2007, Dan and Pauline created and endowed a non-profit corporation to own and manage the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Nature Preserve.
Today, visitors to the Big Island of Hawaii can make the short drive from Hilo or other parts of the island to visit and spend a few hours strolling the garden's paths enjoying the beauty of its flowers.
The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except for the holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Entrance fees are $15 for adults 17 and over, $5 for children ages 6 to 17 and free for children under age 6.
The path winding through the garden is a little over a mile in length and an easy stroll for most people.
While one can easily stroll through the garden in an hour or less, most people will want to spend more time than that taking in the beauty of both the flowers and landscape.
Flowers Along the Trail
Bell from Old Church on Property
While the Jungle wiped out most traces of previous human habitation in the area, a few things survived despite being hidden by the jungle.
Among the survivors was an old church which, unfortunately, after having been exposed by clearing the jungle around it, caught fire and burned to the ground in 1988.
The only thing that survived was the bell which now sits on the lawn by the visitor center and parking lot.
Among the Garden's many flowers are orchids.
Orchids are one of the largest plant families in the world and can be found in almost all parts of the world including the Arctic. But are most common in the tropics.
In addition to the almost 20,000 different species found in nature, more than 150,000 hybrid species have been developed by horticulturists in the past century and a half.
Epiphytes - Orchids That Grow Above the Ground
Many tropical species of orchids are epiphytes which grow on trees in their natural environment. Because of the dense clustering of jungle trees with their broad leaves, most sunlight is blocked from reaching the ground thereby depriving plants on the ground of the sunlight needed to survive.
Tree Growing Orchid
Many species of tropical orchids have adapted by being able to grow on trees which places them high enough to catch the life supporting rays of the sun.
These orchids, like other epiphytes, are not parasitic and do not draw any nourishment from the trees they have attached themselves to. Instead, they use their long roots wrap around the tree to anchor themselves rather than for drawing nourishment.
Nourishment, in the form of minute particles of organic matter, are absorbed through the leaves rather than via the roots as is the case with soil base plants.
Orchids in temperate and Arctic climates do not have the problem of being cut off from sunlight and, as a result, grow at ground level with roots both anchoring them to the earth as well as drawing nutrients from the soil.
Epiphyte Orchid in Tree - Note Roots
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
© 2013 Chuck Nugent