The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is a place where life overflows and positive energy prevails. It’s a fertile land, cleared by early settlers 150 years ago, yet now so dense and lush it seems to have always existed. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that the jungle, thick with mammoth trees I couldn’t see the tops of, were less than 200 years old.
To me, this place is more than a garden, it’s pure mana – meaning “life force” in Hawaiian culture. Walking through this space you can’t help but feel its power and become uplifted by the energy that flows through every part of it.
At the start of the garden, you are immediately enveloped in towering trees and plants that dwarf any tiny human in their midst. The giants of the forest seem to whisper, “We were here before you and will be here long after you are gone. You may try to tame us, but we will always return.” Their message from above instantly humbles any guest in their presence. As the path slopes down, you become smaller still and soon the palm jungle rises like a monument to nature. Its many pillars form a wall of repeating lines and green as guests bend their necks back to take in their high heights.
Many plants you will recognize, having made their way to faraway shores in the form of tropical indoor houseplants. Here they are enormous, let loose to be as they were intended, not contained in a small decorative pot. Waxy Anthurium shine like large hearts near the forest floor and orchids drape over paths from trees high above. A path of Bromeliads provide a rainbow of texture and color to the garden and Bird of Paradise flowers strut their bright plumage, acting as the peacock of the flower kingdom here.
There are wondrous plants that seem straight out of science fiction with unusual shapes and forms. Trees with tall roots that form walls thick with moss creep across the earth, while others have playful skirts of roots nearby. Some trees even seem to float in the forest canopy with vines trailing downward. It’s a place to let your imagination run and let the island sink into your soul.
The garden is easy to traverse as you drift from one section to another on its just over one mile of trails. A variety of highlights dot the landscape like cascading waterfalls, giant Monkeypod trees, arching Hapu’u (Hawaiian Tree Ferns), Banyans, tropical flowers galore, and a scenic lookout along the rugged coastline where the surf beats upon black rock formations. You are constantly reminded of where you are, Hawaii, a place that is both ancient and young as its surface is still taking shape.
We spent two hours here, stopping many times to take in the beauty, breathe in the fresh air, pause for quiet reflection… and a few photos. This is a place that takes hold of you, a place that calls you back. It’s more than a garden with its wild walls and dense growth. It’s where life begins and ends, rises and falls. It’s a great circle of nature in this story we call life that I hope to return to once again.
The garden is located on the wet side of the island close Hilo and rain is often in the forecast. Don’t let this deter you as this is a place that should not be missed. Helpfully, umbrellas are provided free of charge. Entry is $25 and the garden is open 9-5 every day except for a few major holidays. Last entry is 4PM.
As the initial boardwalk entrance is fairly steep, those with physical limitations or wheelchairs can be assisted by the garden with the use of a golf cart.
Hungry after your visit? A nearby cafe, What’s Shakin’ Big Island, down the road provides refreshing smoothies, shakes, and healthy vegetarian meals on the porch of a charming, yellow plantation-style building. It’s the perfect spot to refuel after your garden visit.