Take a Scenic Drive to a Botanical Garden

By Hawaii.com Team

Just a few minutes outside Hilo, heading north along the four-mile Pepe’ekeo Scenic Drive, you will begin to feel and smell the dark green dampness of a tropical jungle. The verdant green tunnel winds in and out along the coastline cliffs, with brief glimpses of the restless blue sea below. You cross tiny one-lane wooden bridges above picturesque waterfalls and lush river valleys with sunlight peeping through the dense foliage, lighting to brilliant the myriad hues of green.

A Place of Uncommon Beauty and Serenity

Onomea Bay

Onomea Bay. Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden/Amy Evans.

About halfway through the scenic drive you’ll approach the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. Nestled in a valley and edged by the Pacific Ocean, this is a place of uncommon beauty and serenity. The Garden was established in 1978 after Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse purchased the secluded and beautiful property in Onomea (which means ‘good feeling’) without knowing exactly what they wanted to do with it. Lutkenhouse quickly decided to establish a botanical garden, and preserve the valley and its beauty forever. After eight years of backbreaking work, clearing the wild and overgrown jungle by hand so as not to destroy or disturb the natural environment, the Gardens opened to the public in 1984.

A Vast Display of Rare and Exotic Plants

The Garden displays a vast variety of orchids, palms, heliconias, gingers, bromeliads, and other rare and exotic plants; presently more than 2,000 species. The 40-acre valley is a natural greenhouse for tropical species, protected from the tradewinds and blessed with fertile volcanic soil. This non-profit nature preserve is dedicated to preserving the incredible beauty and natural environment of Onomea Bay in perpetuity, and to providing a plant sanctuary, a living seed bank, and a study center for trees and plants of the tropical world.

How to Get to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden at Onomea Bay

Blue Hibiscus

Beautiful Blue Hibiscus. Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.

If you are traveling from Hilo, go north on Hwy. 19, along the Hamakua Coast for approximately seven miles. Watch for a sign that says, ‘Scenic Route 4 Miles Long’, turn right, and drive about two miles to the Garden Headquarters and Registration area. From Kona, follow Hwy. 19 from Waimea and look for the sign about five miles past the towns of Hakalau and Honomu. The Garden is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with final admissions at 4 p.m. All visitors are provided with trail maps for their own self-guided tour. There is an admission fee.

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