National Tropical Botanical Gardens, Kauai
Near the “End of the Road” on Kaua‘i’s North Shore in the little town of Hâ‘ena, you will find Limahuli Garden. Limahuli is part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden (http://ntbg.org/gardens/, which is a privately funded, non-profit organization that operates five preserves of which four are located in Hawai‘i.
You have the choice of a guided tour (advance reservations required) or touring the grounds on your own. We opted for the self-guided tour. After paying our $15 per person fee, we were handed a guidebook with map.
The garden path meanders through many different marked display areas with each thoroughly explained in the guidebook. The entire time in this valley, you will have Makana mountain looming above, which was made famous in the movie South Pacific as Bali Hai (look at all my pictures).
The most prominent feature of the garden is the 700 year-old kalo (taro) terraces. This whole valley actually sustained an ancient community of Hawai‘ians who actually farmed and lived here. The archaeological sites here will be studied in the future.
During the course of your walking tour, you will traverse a couple hundred feet of elevation. The slope is gradual so most people should be able to physically handle it.
While we enjoyed the garden as a whole, we also felt that some areas of it seemed neglected. The admission also seemed a little steep for what you get. So, unless you really feel the need to learn about ancient Hawai‘i as well as the foods they grew and ate, you may want to question the need to visit here.
The National Tropical Botanical Gardens consists of three gardens on the island of Kauai. We toured the McBryde Garden on the south side of the island since small children are allowed there. Note: small children are not allowed in the Allerton Garden, which is the most popular garden among the three. The Visitor Center is across the road from the Spouting Horn viewing area on the south side of the island. From there, shuttle vans bring the visitors to a nearby valley where two of the gardens are located. The third garden is on the north side of the island near Hanelei. There are many walking trails both in the sun and shade. Native and nonnative species alike can be found in the gardens. I would recommend at least a couple of hours to get a chance to really enjoy the scenery and landscaping. After all, Kauai is the Garden Island.
Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is worth visiting on your way to the Na Pali coast. Most of the refuge is closed to the public, but the area around the lighthouse provides panoramic views in all directions. You also are likely to see frigatebirds, boobies, tropicbirds, albatross, and shearwaters riding the thermals along the nearby cliffs and you might see an endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal basking on a rock or on one of the nearby beaches.
All of Kauai could be designated a botanical garden, but there is an official National Tropical Botanical Garden which is made up of four separate gardens on Kauai. Unfortunately I was only able to visit the Allerton Estate and Lawa'i Gardens. Lawa'i is open to visitors on a self-guided basis, but you must take a guided tour (only four given per day) to view the Allerton Estate. Bring your camera and a BIG memory card -- there are so many beautiful plants here you will be tempted to take hundreds of photos.