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Tip: This snorkeling spot is a former volcanic crater that became a protected marine life conservation.
Hike Through a Garden
If Hawaii’s sweet-smelling flowers and trees have captured your fancy, you’ll be happy to know that Oahu offers plenty of botanical gardens where you can’t help but bliss out.
Foster Botanical Garden (522-7066), a verdant oasis on the edge of downtown Honolulu, is filled with acre upon lush acre of the nation’s largest collection of tropical plants. And it’s home to 43 of Oahu’s designated “exceptional trees,” which are protected by law. The collection includes labeled plantings of palms, heliconia, orchids, and a primitive cycad garden. The gift shop has packaged plants and seeds that are cleared for entry into the Mainland as well as plant-related gifts and crafts.
Just north of Foster Garden, located between North Kuakini and School streets, is Lili’uokalani Botanical Garden (522-7060). This developing garden is devoted to native Hawaiian plants.
Lyon Arboretum (988-0456), a 194-acre tropical rainforest research center in upper Manoa Valley, is an easy drive from Waikiki. Home to more than 5,000 tropical plants, the arboretum contains one of the largest collections of palms of any botanical garden in the world. Open only on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the arboretum is an independent research unit within the University of Hawaii and is the only university arboretum in the country in a tropical rainforest. To get there driving east on King Street, turn left on Punahou, pass Punahou School and take the left fork (Manoa Road), continue up the valley on Manoa until it ends just beyond Paradise Park. The entrance to the arboretum is at the end of Manoa Road. A hiking trail to Manoa Falls can be found nearby.
A few miles northwest of Honolulu is Moanalua Gardens (833-1944), a 26-acre private park that is open to the public. The magnificent spread of aged monkey pod trees shade the vast green lawns that were designed with picnicking in mind. The gardens include two streams, a taro patch, a carp pond, and a group of ancient petroglyphs (stone carvings).
On the windward side of the island there are several more gardens of note including Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens (233-7323), which is often missed by visitors. The name means “peaceful refuge.” The gardens are laid out on 400 acres in the shadow of the Ko’olau mountains and divided into sections devoted to different types of tropical plants. Guided hikes cover various topics, such as local bird life, traditional Hawaiian food, medicinal plants, ethnobotany, and cloud watching. Camping permits and information are available at the Ho’omaluhia Visitor Center.
Another view of the awesome Ko’olaus is offered at Haiku Gardens, a small six-acre garden in Kaneohe that features picturesque lily ponds, short but beautiful paths that wander throughout the property, and a fair share of exotic tropical flowers. Senator Fong’s Plantation and Gardens (239-6775) is a short drive up the coast from Kaneohe. With 725 acres to play with, Fong, the first Chinese-American elected to the U.S. Senate, had plenty of room to grow. You can ride through five gardens named for the American presidents under whom he served. The senator died Aug. 18 at the age of 97.
Wahiawa Botanical Garden (621-7321), between the Waianae and Ko’olau mountain ranges in Wahiawa, dates back to the 1920s when the land was used by sugar planters as an experimental arboretum.