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Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden | Best Free Things to see in Oahu, Hawaii
Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden
If you visit Hawaii want to experience extraordinary tropical vegetation and actually learn about the plants and their uses, skip the Dole Plantation and head straight to Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden. It is free, conveniently located, non-commercial, and beautiful - what more could you ask for?
Hoomaluhia a fantastic place to learn about tropical plant species, their origins, and their uses throughout human history. A small museum, gallery of local artists, several well-kept restroom facilitates, picnic tables, special programs, a 32 acre lake, serene trails, and campsites make Hoomaluhia a great destination for an hour or a weekend. Although it is operated by the Honolulu parks, its special nature as a botanical preserve for rare and endangered plants mean Hoomaluhia visitors must comply with specific rules and regulations at all times, so make sure to read up on the park and its requirements before planning a visit.
How to Find Hoomaluhia
To enter Hoomaluhia, you must drive through residential streets. There are clearly marked signs to keep you on track, but it may not feel particularly like you're heading in the right direction. The park's entrance is through a chain link gate, which is open from 9 am until 4 pm every day except Christmas and New Year's, with a stop sign and a small guard house. When I visited, the guard house was empty, but I stopped because some wild chickens were sleeping in the middle of the road!
If you've ever been to Hawaii, you know there is a huge wild chicken population. I've heard them called feral chickens, but 'feral' conjures up images of ferocious, rabid birds chasing you around. They tend to leave you alone, unless you threaten them or their young, but they are everywhere. There are a couple different stories about how chickens came to Hawaii, but one thing is certain: they lack natural predators and are thriving in their new home. If you visit Hoomaluhia, be prepared to brake for chickens!
Hoomaluhia Rules and Regulations
Hoomaluhia means 'to make a place of peace and tranquility,' and the park truly lives up to its name. As a result, the 400 acre preserve is strictly a botanical garden, not a recreational facility. There are no playgrounds or ball fields, and pets are not allowed. Neither swimming nor boating are permitted in the lake, though fishing is allowed at specific times. Visitors are not allowed to play loud music or generally cause a disturbance, and you should never touch the plants. Not only does picking flowers and playing with the plants harm the plants and detract from other visitor's experiences, but many of the exotic plants at Hoomaluhia contain irritating, or even toxic, substances. For sensitive people, even touching an unknown plant can lead to a harmful and painful reaction. For a complete list of rules, please see the Hoomaluhia official website.
There are several places, including right outside the gate, where you may park and continue exploring Hoomaluhia on foot, but if this is your first time visiting, you should proceed to the main parking lot. This allows you to explore the Visitor Center. You may want to enter the Visitor Center's small museum. In my experience, the staff is more than helpful and will make sure you know where to go and what there is to see. The museum is, honestly, kind of a blast from the past. It is small - just a single room - and has a collection of items with explanatory signs that look like they belong in the 1970s. It is still informative, though, and the items are examples of things created by native Hawaiians using various types of plants.
After leaving the museum, you may choose to explore the rest of the Visitor Center complex. There is a classroom, and a schedule of events and classes, so if you're local, or in the area for a while, you might want to check out this schedule. There is also a small art exhibition showing work from local artists. Restrooms are also available, but there are other restrooms on the park grounds.
Walking the Grounds
After leaving the Visitor Center, I highly recommend walking the cement path, instead of immediately taking one of the unpaved paths. These unpaved paths are worth exploring, but the cement path takes you past dozens of tropical plants with fantastic explanatory signs. I discovered plants I didn't even know existed, such as the sealing wax palm. The following list is not exhaustive, but these are a few of the plants and plant types you encounter on this walk:
Bromeliads- While this plant family has over 3000 members, its best-known representative is the pineapple. These plants typically have overlapping leaves, and many bromeliads collect water in the areas created by these overlaps. Other members of the family have structures called trichomes, basically tiny hairs or scales, that allow them to collect water in cloudy forest and reflect sunlight in desert environments. Hoomaluhia grows many types of bromeliads, but the most unique may be the imperial bromeliad. After 20 years of growth, an imperial bromeliad produces a flower spike that can extend 10 feet into the air!
Epiphytes - Epiphytes are commonly called "air plants" because they do not grow in the ground. Instead, they cling to other trees, walls, and other structures. Epiphytes are not their own family of plants. Orchids, mosses, and some bromeliads are epiphytes. They are not parasitic - this is a common myth!
Panama hat plant- The Panama hat plant is from Ecuador, not Panama! The hat style received its name because many of them were shipped workers constructing the Panama canal. Today, a high-quality Panama hat can cost thousands of dollars.
Allspice tree - Holiday cooking frequently calls for allspice berries. At Hoomaluhia you can see an allspice tree, which is actually an evergreen shrub. It is essential in traditional Jamaican cooking and named "allspice" by the English, who thought it tasted a bit like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, all at once.
Cacao tree - This shrub's fruit is used to make cacao powder for chocolate. 'Nuff said!
Some of Hoomaluhia's Fantastic Plants with Informative SignsClick thumbnail to view full-size
After walking this informative trail, you have almost endless possibilities for further exploration. You can branch out and explore other, unpaved paths, visit the lake, decide you want to go camping, have a picnic - almost anything relaxing and 'unplugged.'
Beautiful Sights at Hoomaluhia GardensClick thumbnail to view full-size
The 400 acre preserve offers plenty of opportunities for exploration. If you would prefer more information, visit the park on the weekend. Guided tours are offered at 10 am on Saturdays and 1 pm on Sundays. Just don't plan a visit on Christmas or New Year's Day - these are the only days all year when the park is closed.
Hoomaluhia is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited. It is also blissfully quite - a rare commodity on Oahu! On the most densely-populated Hawaiian island, finding such a quiet, relatively empty spot can be tricky. If you want a break from downtown Honolulu, hop on the interstate, head towards Kaneohe, and pay Hoomaluhia a visit. It is also fairly unique because you may not have to layer on sunscreen before visiting, but do bring your bugspray! And, most of all, enjoy.