The Big Island’s steady, year-round temperatures and rich, volcanic soil make it a particularly fertile ground for all kinds of plants and flowers—some of which you won’t find anywhere else.
Additionally, the eastern side of the island is an exceptionally welcoming environment for growth. As the predominant northeast/east-northeast trade winds blow across the Big Island, they hit the considerable slopes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. This pushes the air upward, causing it to cool, and, ultimately, delivering plenty of precipitation to the windward side of the Big Island.
The result? A wet and humid environment that’s perfect for cultivating plant life, which is why you’ll find so many botanical gardens on the Hilo and Hamakua Coasts.
If strolling through dense, tropical environs and taking in the beauty and diversity of Hawaii’s plants and flowers is your thing, then let this list of botanical gardens on the Hilo side of the Big Island be your bible. We’ll run down all the details so you can spend your time getting lost in the landscape.
Note: Due to COVID-19 restrictions, hours and availability of these gardens may change. Make sure you check the websites listed or call ahead to get up-to-date information before planning your visit.
The University of Hawaii at Hilo Botanical Gardens
What You’ll See: Inspired by a student who’d never seen a pine tree, Professor Emeritus Don Hemmes started these gardens in 1990. The grounds feature species from all over the world, including South America, Africa, and Australia. Particularly impressive are the gardens’ palm tree collection, as well as its 100+ species of cycads. These plants, often mistaken for sago palms, can fetch a pretty price and, in the past, have been a target for plant poachers. If you want to see what all the fuss is about, stop by to see the collection at the university, which is one of the largest in the world.
Admission: Free, although if you plan to park on campus during business hours, you must purchase a parking pass from the parking booth, which you’ll find at the main entrance to campus off Kawili Street.
Website: None specific to the gardens, but you can get directions and campus info on the website for the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden
What You’ll See: Stroll the serene, leafy green trails through this 20-acre park, while taking in its 2,000 species, which represent more than 125 families and 750 genera. The botanical garden, which was originally the site of a Hawaiian fishing village, was purchased by its founder, Dan Lutkenhouse Sr., in the 1970s. He was so impressed with the beauty of the spot that he decided to turn it into a botanical garden in order to preserve the valley and its beauty for future generations. In addition to palms, ferns, flowers, you’ll also enjoy a picturesque three-tiered waterfall on the property. Bring an umbrella or a light shell, just in case of a rain shower.
Admission: $25 for adults, $12 for children, although children under six are free. Kamaaina discounts available.
Website: Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden
Botanical World Gardens
What You’ll See: Located within Botanical World Adventures, a park that also offers ziplining as well as Segway and bike tours, you’ll find the Botanical World Gardens and the four different zones that make up the garden:
- The Rainbow Walk, in which you can wander down paved paths lined with blooming azaleas, bougainvillea, bromeliads, heliconias, and hibiscus, as well as tropical ferns, shrubs, and trees. If you’re a fan of orchids, keep your eyes out for these beauties which are tucked in all the cracks and crevices of this gorgeous scenery.
- The Arboretum, whose shaded picnic benches allow you to enjoy your lunch or a snack while gazing at the surrounding variety of trees, many of which produce fruits and nuts.
- The Hedge Maze, whose five-foot walls are perfect for keiki and parents who want to keep an eye on their little ones.
- The Rainforest Trail, which includes both an accessible paved pathway that follows a serene stream, as well as an unpaved addition for those who want to explore a little farther.
Admission: Self-guided tours are $15 for adults, $7 for teens, and $5 for children aged five to twelve. Children under five are free, and discounts are available if you book online.
Website: Botanical World Gardens & Maze
Panaewa Rainforest Zoo & Botanical Gardens
What You’ll See: This charming little spot holds the distinction of being the only rainforest zoo in the United States. Today, it houses nearly 200 animals. During your visit, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of a lemur, an emu, a peacock, a miniature horse, an anteater, a white Bengal tiger, and an African pygmy goat, among many others. The zoo also holds some local favorites like the pueo (Hawaiian short-eared owl) and io (native Hawaiian hawk). Interestingly enough, the germination for this project started with a zoo temporarily located next to the Onekahakaha Beach Park. It proved wildly popular and, in 1978, a new permanent location was opened in the Panaewa Recreational Complex, where it currently sits. A significant number of donations from local botany groups created the botanical gardens that give the animals the tropical surroundings they enjoy today.
Admission: By donation to the Friends of the Panaewa Zoo, the non-profit which supports the operation of the zoo.
Website: Panaewa Rainforest Zoo & Botanical Gardens
Bonus: If You Just Can’t Get Enough of Hawaii’s Flora
If you’re one of the Big Island’s many visitors and residents who enjoy the opportunity to take in the island’s natural beauty, we’ve included three bonus spots for you to enjoy. While they’re not strictly botanical gardens, each of these attractions allows Mother Nature to take center stage:
Akatsuka Orchid Gardens – Whether you’re in the market for an orchid plant of your own or you just want to enjoy the sight of these graceful tropical flowers, make sure to stop into these gardens, located in Volcano.
Ulu Laau – Also known as the Waimea Nature Park, this 10-acre nature preserve is located in the heart of Waimea town. Drop by to enjoy its nature trails and wide selection of native plants. Your dogs are welcome to join you, too, as long as they’re on a leash.
Liliuokalani Gardens and Japanese Gardens – Stroll through this 30-acre park to enjoy the authentic ornamental Japanese garden or take the footbridge to Moku Ola Island for a picnic with your family.
Enjoy the Orchid Isle’s Verdant Windward Side
Because of the incredible climate diversity of Hawaii’s Big Island, you’ll find a number of different activities awaiting you on any given day. Whether you want to take advantage of the hot, sunny beaches of the Kona Coast, enjoy a cool upcountry hike near Waimea, or tour the thriving rainforest setting on the Hilo side of the island, there are plenty of different landscapes on the island to remind you of its breathtaking natural beauty.
Considering a move to the Orchid Isle? We’ve got teams on the Kona and Hilo sides of the Big Island, and we’d be happy to help you made a simple, easy, and affordable transition! Just get in touch with us for a complimentary quote for your move. (And feel free ask us about our favorite spots on the island. We’d love to share them with you!)
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