Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden – Is It Worth It?

The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is a nature preserve and sanctuary located along the scenic Hamakua Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii. This garden showcases a diverse collection of tropical plants from around the world, beautifully arranged in a lush, natural rainforest setting with ocean views.

Plants and flowers of Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden (now called Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden) is located on the Big Island of Hawaii. It’s about a 15-minute drive north of Hilo – so it’s a perfect first stop if you’re driving on the Hamakua Coastline toward Waimea.

The botanical garden has a large collection of tropical plants, fruit trees, and even a three-tiered waterfall.

We visited Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden to see if it’s all that it’s chalked up to be… and ended up completely mesmerized.

How to get to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

If you’re going to the botanical garden from Hilo, drive north on the Mamalahoa Highway until you get to Papaikou. In Papaikou, you’ll see a large blue sign that says “SCENIC ROUTE 4 MILES LONG”. Follow that sign.

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is at Onomea Bay

You’ll soon drive by a scenic area that overlooks Onomea Bay. The view from the scenic area gives you a good idea of what the terrain is like near Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.

There is even a trail that goes down to the bay if you have time for a hike.

View of Onomea Bay from Onomea Bay Trail
The Onomea Bay Trail provides an elevated view of the bay near the botanical garden.

If you’re planning on paying for a ticket to go to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, you can skip the Onomea Bay Trail since the Botanical Garden encompasses much of the same land.

The hiking trail to Onomea Bay is maintained by the State of Hawaii and actually cuts right through the Botanical Garden. But there is a fence on either side of the trail that prevents you from entering the garden.

Arriving at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

As you continue your drive down the road, Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden will appear suddenly around a sharp turn. The botanical garden parking lot and visitor center are on the left side of the road, and the entrance to the botanical garden is on the right side of the road.

Being a tropical botanical garden, many of the flowers in Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden are perennial – so they’re in bloom all year long. That means that anytime of the year is a good time to visit Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.

We were told that it tends to get crowded in the middle of the day, so the best time to visit the botanical garden is right when it opens at 9 am.

If it’s your first time visiting Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, we recommend spending about 1 ½ hours in the garden, so that you have enough time to fully explore the garden, take pictures, and relax (there are plenty of areas to sit down in the garden).

A yellow orchid at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
There are all sorts of orchids in the botanical garden – almost every color imaginable.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when visiting the garden:

  • We recommend that you wear shoes when visiting the garden – particularly for the boardwalk entrance (we’ll talk more about the boardwalk later).
  • Wear long clothing or use bug spray to keep insects away. The souvenir shop where you buy your tickets also sells bug-repellent wipes – we tried the wipes and they worked really well!
  • There isn’t reliable cell service in the botanical garden – so designate a meetup point in case you get split up from your group (we recommend using the tiki statue as a meetup point since it’s somewhat central).

You can find the latest ticket prices for the botanical garden on the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden Website. The entry ticket price at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden was $25 for visitors and $20 for kama’aina when we went there.

Exploring Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

After getting your tickets, walk across the road to the entrance of the botanical garden. The workers there will check to make sure that you have your tickets and then let you in to freely roam around the garden!

The first thing you’ll encounter is the path down to the main garden area. The path into the garden is on a boardwalk – the boardwalk is quite steep and somewhat slippery – especially when it rains.

Walking down the boardwalk at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

The boardwalk at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is a little steep – but it has beautiful views.

The steep boardwalk is one of the reasons why the garden does not permit the use of wheelchairs or crutches.

As you reach the end of the boardwalk, you’ll start to realize how extensive the garden actually is – and how crazy it is that the garden was once an overgrown jungle.

After reaching the floor of the garden, one of the first things that you’ll come across is its three-tiered waterfall. The waterfall was once hidden by a dense jungle until it was uncovered when the botanical garden was created.

3-tier water fall and trail at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
The 3-tiered waterfall is the crown jewel of Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.

As you wander around, you’ll find all sorts of tropical plants and flowers along the paved path of the botanical garden.

From the majestic waterfall to the large fruit trees, every step through the garden reveals a new plant, flower, or scenic view to capture your attention.

One of the garden’s mainstays is a giant wooden statue of Kū, the Hawaiian god of war. The 12-foot tiki was carved by William “Rocky” Vargas out of the wood from an 80-year-old monkeypod tree that used to be in the garden.

Ku Tiki Information Sign in Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

The area around the giant tiki has a sitting area and is a good place to take a break from walking around the garden.

As you walk around the garden, you’ll eventually come across a gate with a guard – don’t be alarmed. The botanical garden is on private land, so the guard is there to prevent hikers from accessing the botanical garden from the public hiking trail.

You can walk past the guard to the other side of the fence to access the rest of the botanical garden.

The far area of the botanical garden doesn’t have as many flowers as the main area – but it does provide a sweeping view of Onomea Bay. The viewing area has benches where you can take in the views of the coastline.

View of Onomea Bay from Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is nestled around Onomea Bay, providing sweeping views of the coastline.

After exploring Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden in its entirety, we can say that it is absolutely worth visiting if you’re near Hilo.

History of Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is located right at the mouth of Onomea Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Before western contact, Onomea Bay was a small fishing village inhabited by native Hawaiians. The native Hawaiians also raised taro, coconuts, breadfruit, and mangoes as their food crops.

After western colonization, Onomea Bay became a shipping port in the early 1800s. Ships from America imported materials to construct and maintain the new Onomea Sugar Mill. The ships then exported raw sugar back to America.

The Onomea Sugar Mill was the mainstay of the area during Hawaii’s plantation era in the 1800s. During that time, the area around the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden was inhabited by Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino plantation workers.

In the early 1900s, the area was deserted and left to be reclaimed by nature. The valley became so severely overgrown that most signs of its villages were erased.

It wasn’t until Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse arrived in 1977 that the area was cared for again.

During a period of 7 years from 1977 until the garden’s opening in 1984, Dan led a team that worked tirelessly to tame the overgrown jungle and establish the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. 

Trey Lewis is an outdoor enthusiast. Whether its hiking knife-edge ridges or just fishing by the river, Trey isn't afraid to get dirty in search of the next adventure.

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