A Fabulous Garden and Nature Tour of Hawaii!

079-inI just got back from a wonderful trip: a garden and nature cruise of the Hawaiian Islands. I was the tour leader and co-organizer of this tour offered by Groupe Voyages Québec. Here is what we saw:

March 13, 2015

The big day had finally arrived! After getting up very early (3 am), my wife and I met the first group of travelers at the Quebec City airport for flight number one. In Toronto, we met further travelers from Ottawa this time, and left with them on our second flight. It was only in Vancouver that we met the final members of our tour: the travelers from Montreal, who had come on a different flight. At this point, the group of 37 passengers was finally complete, so it was together that we shared the longest single flight of the journey, from Vancouver to Honolulu: a little more than 6 hours.

By the time we arrived in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, it was already dark, and besides, we had a full day’s travel behind us. So all we did when we got to our hotel in on Waikiki Beach was to get to our rooms and go straight to sleep.

March 14, 2015

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Dole Pineapple Plantation

This morning’s expedition took us to the Dole Pineapple Plantation, at the center of the island of Oahu, site of the first pineapple farm in Hawaii. Although there actually is a large-scale pineapple plantation owned by Dole just across the street, the “Dole Pineapple Plantation” itself is now a tourist attraction.

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Pineapple field

We first toured the pineapple plantation aboard a small train, the Pineapple Express (not nearly as fast as it sounds!). Not only were there pineapple fields, but also plantings of other tropical fruits as well as sugar cane.

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Ornamental Garden

After the train tour, I led the travelers to the ornamental garden which included a nice variety of plants from Hawaii and other tropical countries. There are several trails leading to different sections: hibiscus, native plants, fruit trees, etc. Admittedly, the gardens were a bit basic, but I found it ideal as a teaching tool: there was something to be said about all of the plants found there.

Here is a sample of some of the plants we saw at the Dole Pineapple Plantation:

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Papayier (Carica papaya)
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Banana (Musa sp.)
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Autograph Tree (Clusia rosea): this is an epiphytic tree that will eventually strangle its host.
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Autograph Tree (Clusia rosea): you can write your name on the fleshy leaves of this plant, hence the name Autograph Tree.
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African Tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata): a tropical tree from African with spectacular orange flowers, but in no way related to what temperate climate gardeners would call a tulip tree (Liriodendron).
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Note that feral roosters and hens live throughout the Hawaiian Islands: you can’t go anywhere without seeing – and hearing – them!

After the tour, we had free time for lunch at the Plantation Grille. It offers a wide range of fairly simple food, often with a Hawaiian touch. The specialty is a delicious ice cream treat made from pineapples called the Dole Whip. That’s actually what I had for lunch!

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Lush forest in Wahiawa Botanical Garden.

009-14 mars I next took the group to Wahiawa Botanical Garden. This stop was not included in the original program, but our group wasn’t due on the cruise boat right away and the garden is very near Dole Plantation. It’s a large verdant garden occupying a deep valley and is planted with huge trees, many (Terminalia, Ficus, etc.) with spectacular buttress roots. You had to have eyes around your head, though, as there were as many plants growing as epiphytes (that is, on tree trunks and branches) as on the forest floor.

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Devil’s claw (Mucuna bennettii)

Probably the most spectacular plant seen during our visit was the scarlet jade vine (Mucuna bennettii), a native liana of the Legume family which dripped downward in waves from some of the trees. It was hard to miss, as it was covered with bright red claw-shaped flowers!

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Ficus covered with epiphytic ferns.

There were also may superb epiphytic ferns on the massive branches of the trees above: it’s hard to tell if they were placed there or migrated there on their own, but they certainly were spectacular!

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Pride of America

After the garden visit, our bus took us to the port of Honolulu to board the cruise ship Pride of America. With some 2,500 passengers and 940 employees, is truly a floating village! This is my first ocean cruise (I’d been on a river cruise before) and I was surprised at the size of the rooms: although not spacious, they were bigger than I expected. I was also impressed by all the services offered. Yes, I knew about many of them, but there’s a difference between knowing about something and actually living it! There were many restaurants on board and you could eat almost any time of day, plus swimming pools, entertainment facilities, a library, exercise rooms and much more. There seemed to always be an employee offering a “washee washee” (spray of hand disinfectant): you don’t want traveler’s diarrhea spreading on a cruise ship!

Just before dusk, the cruise ship left Honolulu to head to our next stop, the town of Kahului on the island of Maui. I quickly learned that, on cruises, most traveling is done while passengers are sleeping.

March 15

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Arrival in Maui.

We got to Maui, the second largest of the Hawaiian Islands, early in the morning and stayed there, in the port of Kahului, for two nights.

This is not the typical garden tour I usually lead. I’m used to having a single coach for each visit and all of the passengers travel with me to a garden or other site. That’s not the way it works on a cruise. Instead, in each port, participants are offered a wide range of activities, from shopping (yes, believe it or not, some people come half way around the world just to shop!) to nature tours, snorkeling and scuba diving, helicopter tours, whale watching… or simply soaking up the sun by the ship’s swimming pools. For this reason, “my” travelers and I were often on different tours. Still, many of them did participate in the same expeditions as I did, as we all share a love of nature and gardens, so tended to choose the tours where they were included.

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Indian banyan (Ficus benghalensis)

I wasn’t totally free to visit, though. As part of the deal involved in creating this tour, I was to give different lectures on the ship. This first day, for example, I was scheduled to speak on Hawaiian Plants and Flowers at mid-morning, which didn’t leave me time to take any organized tour that day. Instead, I went to the village of Kahului to an Internet café (WiFi on board the ship had the reputation of being slow and irregular, not to mention very expensive) and then took a long walk on my own. I always find plenty of interesting plants wherever I go, so even a simple walk holds many delights for me. In Kahului I saw many exotic trees, the most exotic probably being the huge banyan tree right in the port.

March 16

This day I had more time and chose to take the excursion to Haleakala Volcano in Haleakala National Park, the highest volcano offered among the many excursions that day. You see, for years I had dreamt of seeing the famous Hawaiian silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense), a very showy plant found only at the top of certain Hawaiian volcanoes. This was my chance to finally see this curious alpine almost impossible to grow outside of its usual environment.

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P?kiawe (Styphelia tameiameiae), a shrub, one of many alpine plants growing near the Visitor Center.

It turned out my dream was easy enough to achieve, because the park had planted some silverswords near the Visitor Center, about halfway up the volcano. They are used to mountain tops and weren’t looking very happy at this moderate height. At this altitude, about 7000 feet (2,100 m), though, there was an abundance of other shrubs and small plants to discover, some of them labeled. No trees though: as with other mountains, the higher you get, the shorter the plants.

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Lunar landscape above the clouds.
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Haleakala Crater

Our next stop was at the edge of the crater, near the top of the volcano itself. The crater is huge, 6 miles (9.5 kilometers) long and 2 miles (3.5 kilometers) wide. We were well above the clouds at this point, which means the site gets intense sun and very little rain, making it a sort of high altitude desert. Also, since we were more than 9,000 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level, I can assure you that ascending the volcano towards the very highest peak quickly takes your breath away: in both senses! Athough Haleakala is not an extinct volcano, it has not been active since the 17th century and is considered dormant.

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Silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense)

It’s up near the crater’s rim that the naturally growing silverswords start to show up. With their shiny silver color, they truly stand out from the nearly lunar landscape of brown volcanic rocks with little other vegetation to hide them.

The silversword is perfectly adapted to its mountaintop environment. It is covered with white hairs that reflect the harsh rays of intense sun on one hand (at high altitudes, the air is thinner and more of the dangerous ultraviolet rays get through) and protect the leaves against the cold, as it is cool even during the day and can be below freezing at night. The tight spiral of leaves is also designed to keep the plant warmer. Studies show that the silversword can maintain a core temperature 36?F (20?C) warmer than the surrounding air! After 20 to 50 years of growth, the plant produces a tall flower stem (from July to October, so I missed that) and hundreds of flowers form. After the seeds ripen, they drop to the ground to start a new generation… and the mother plant dies. It is therefore considered monocarpic.

All too soon, I had to struggle downhill to the bus (yes, you can get winded at these altitudes even going downhill!). We then took the very winding road back to the boat, leaving me a bit car sick. I’ll have to remember to take a motion sickness pill next time I go there.

March 17

We changed islands during the night and were now in the port of Hilo on the “Big Island” (Hawaii) for just one day.

Today I took the half-day expedition to Volcanoes National Park: essentially a visit to Mount Kilauea, the most active volcano in the archipelago. This is a shield volcano: it doesn’t usually produce spectacular explosions, but instead fairly slow-moving lava flows. Actually, several areas in the Park are closed to visitors because of the lava flows.

The tour began with a quick visit of the beautiful Kahului Park just in front of the cruise ship. The driver gave us many interesting details about the city park and seemed to know the names of trees: the Hawaiian names, that is. Still, that’s better than a guide who thinks a tree is a tree, period. Unfortunately, this visit was done entirely from the bus and we never stepped outside, so I have no photos to show you.

We did stop soon after at the Big Island Candies store and factory where there was much less to see, although watching through plate glass as workers dipped cookies in chocolate did have a certain interest and there were free samples of candies and cookies. Still, I would rather have visited the garden we hadn’t stopped in! Since we had 30 minutes to visit what was essentially a stop offering 5 minutes of interest, I had plenty of time to walk around the residential area nearby and sneak a few peaks of some pretty nice gardens. Of course, to me, even the weeds in a tropical climate are of great interest, so I’m easy to please!

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Metrosideros polymorpha

Afterwards we headed up the volcano to the Thomas Jaggar Museum on the outer rim of Halema-uma-u Crater. It is surrounded by specimens of Hawaii’s most “typical” tree, the Ohia (Metrosideros polymorpha). Its leathery foliage and feathery red flowers (sometimes yellow or orange, hence the name “polymorpha” for “many forms”) are easy to recognize and, originally, this tree was found almost all over the Hawaiian islands, from sea level to fairly high altitudes. At this altitude, it’s more a tall shrub than a tree, but at sea level, it can form a large specimen up to 80 feet (25 m) tall. It’s fairly rare at lower elevations, any accessible taller trees having long ago been felled for their wood.

The museum had some fascinating displays telling about the crater just outside and also about volcanism in general. There was also a seismometer showing the numerous small earthquakes that take place each day on Hawaii.

023-17 marsThe crater itself is roughly circular, with a lava lake at the bottom. It seemed to be perfectly solid rock during the day, but there is fresh lava just below the surface and at night the crater gives off a bright orange glow. Halema-uma-u Crater has actually been erupting nonstop since 1983! Halema‘uma‘u is also the legendary home of Pele, the Hawaiian fire goddess.

The day we visited, the air seemed fairly misty, but it wasn’t mist per se, but rather a kind of smog created by the particles released by the volcano, notably sulfur dioxide, called “vog” (volcanic smog). It can apparently make for breathing tough for visitors with lung problems and authorities keep a close watch on the levels of pollutants, closing access to the crater on days when the smog is very intense.

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Nearby, we stop to see the fumaroles which arise from the ground here and there through the vegetation. They are caused by water seeping into the ground, becoming superheated, then rising back up through cracks in the rock. You can actually stand in the vapor of some of these fumaroles.

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Tree ferns (Cibotium glaucum)

The next stop was to see the Thurston lava tube. There is only a short walk from the parking lot to the Thurston lava tube, but it is a most interesting one. In the 500 years since the lava cooled, a lush rainforest has grown up in the area with huge tree ferns (Cibotium glaucum) as an understory. I took pictures of everything that grew with the hope of trying to identify the plants later.

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Entrance to the Thurston lava tube

Obviously, the Thurston lava tube is actually a former lava tube, not an active one. If it were active, we wouldn’t have been able to visit! Instead, you can actually walk through the tube, certainly wide enough or 4 or 5 people across. The part you visit is lit by lamps and takes only about 5 minutes to walk through: it’s like a cave open at both ends. Apparently the entire tube is 23 miles (37 km) long, from the crater to the ocean, but has collapsed here and there, or is filled with debris, making it inaccessible for most of its length. There are beautiful ferns hanging above the entrance of the part we did visit.

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Inside the lava tube.

In the past you used to be able to do a complete circuit along the Chain of Craters road within National Volcanoes Park, but now vehicles have to backtrack: the road was cut off by a lava flow it a few years ago and has yet to be reopened.

After that, another stop for a view of the crater at a lower altitude, then back to the ship.

March 18

During the night, the boat moved yet again, this time to Kona, on the other side of the Big Island, Hawaii. This is a region known for its coffee and several expeditions include the mention “visit a coffee plantation.” Disappointed travelers told me later that there was actually no coffee plantation other than a few neglected coffee plants nor even a coffee processing plant. Instead they were simply dropped off at a coffee oultet where they could sample different coffees… and, of course, buy bags of coffee to take home. It’s sadly true that cruise expeditions tend to be very strong on shopping and somewhat low on information!

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In Kona, the dock is not long enough to handle a cruise ship. Instead, you take a kind of shuttle boat called a tender. The transfer is done quickly (it takes maybe 5 minutes), but there was long wait if you tried to board early in the morning, when most people want to head to shore.

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Mokuaikaua Church

I had commitments on the cruise ship that day, notably a lecture on Great Gardens of the World, so didn’t have time to take part in an expedition. Instead, I simply went on a walking tour of the city of Kona. There were several historic buildings to see, including Mokuaikaua Church, and most were surrounded by beautiful gardens.

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Plumeria (Plumeria cv)

The most popular ornamental tree in Kona has to be the plumeria or frangipani (Plumeria cvs.): they were simply everywhere! They produce clusters of fragrant trumpet flowers in white, yellow, pink, orange or red at the end of thick branches. Curiously, they can be either deciduous or evergreen, blooming while free of leaves or covered with them… or both at once. By that I mean that some trees didn’t seem sure of what they were doing and had blooms on bare branches, yet the same tree also had flowers on branches that were covered in leaves These flowers are commonly used in the manufacture of leis (Hawaiian flower necklaces).

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Market in Kona

There was also a small public market in Kona offering local produce, including fruits, cut flowers, orchids, crafts and more. I was especially surprised by the wide variety of fruits being sold: there were of course the classic bananas, citrus, pineapples, and apples (I’m assuming the latter were imported), but also plenty of lesser-known tropical fruits like lychees, rambutans, and sapotes. None of the exotics or even any typically Hawaiian food was ever featured on menus on the Pride of America, though, which I found disappointing considering it does exclusively Hawaiian tours for many months of the year.

March 19

Transfer overnight to Kauai, the Garden Island, so called because of its lush vegetation, fed by heavy rain throughout the year on a good part of the island. Mount Waialeale, with 460 inches (11,680 mm) of rain per year, is one of the rainiest places on the planet.

We stayed at Kauai for 2 nights.

The weather was quite uncertain the first day of our visit to the island and it rained more than once, sometimes very gently, but very heavily at other times. Often there are sun showers, called “ghost rain” or “liquid sunshine” in Hawaii. Fortunately, the rain seemed to be perfectly coordinated with the expedition I took: it always seemed to start just as we were leaving any site, as if it were following us around. However, when I headed off to an Internet cafe later that afternoon, I got a serious soaking!

This day I took the “Journey to Waimea Canyon,” a half-day tour, rather than the more comprehensive “Best of Kauai”, the full-day tour popular with most other travelers, again because of on-board commitments.

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Spouting Horn

We started the day at Spouting Horn, a kind of maritime geyser called a blowhole. It is caused by waves penetrating a lava tube, forcing a jet of salt water to shoot upwards out of a hole in the rock. It makes a hissing sound we were told the ancient Hawaiians claimed was caused by a giant lizard (interesting, as there were no lizards on the Hawaiian islands at the time; maybe they was a collective memory of lizards from the Polynesian islands from which they came). We had to stay there a few minutes to see the blowhole in action, because it functions only sporadically. Still, everyone managed to get at least one photo.

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Australian pine (Casuarina sp.)

All around the blowhole were trees and plants of great interest, such as the Australian ironwood (Casuarina spp.), so-called by the Hawaiians because the tree comes from Australia and its wood is very hard. It looks very like a pine with its long needles and small cones, but in fact it is not even a conifer, but rather (distantly) related to oaks. It’s so-called needles are not leaves at all, but rather drooping evergreen twigs that carry out photosynthesis in the absence of any effective leaves. Very odd indeed!

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Coffee plantation (Coffea arabica)

Our group did stop at a true coffee plantation this time, although the guide gave no explanation of how coffee is grown or prepared. The rows of coffee plants (Coffea arabica) were full of small green flower buds, but there were no open flowers: in a few weeks, they’ll be covered with fragrant white blooms! As was to be expected, there was coffee to sample and buy in the plantation store and few people even stopped to look at the plants.

037-19 marsThe next stop along the road was to see a first canyon. Curiously, the valley was almost U-shaped, reminding me of the valleys gouged out by glaciers back home in Canada, yet this canyon was entirely the result of water erosion from a volcanic slope. Go figure!

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Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi)

While driving along a beach a bit further along, we saw a Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi), the rarest seal in the world, sleeping on the sand. It is one of only two mammals native to the Hawaiian Islands, the other being a species of bat. Even though I took the picture quickly from a moving bus, you can see it quite clearly.

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Waimea Canyon

Now the bus climbed higher and higher up a series of switchbacks, well into the mountains, finally stopping at Waimea Canyon, called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. This truly is a huge canyon carved into red rock and measuring 10 miles (16 km) long and up to 3,000 feet (900 m) deep. Spectacular!

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Koa (Acacia koa)

Of course, as always, I take advantage of any stop to discover the local vegetation. The dominant tree here is the koa (Acacia koa), a tree endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. Unlike the better-known African acacias, with deeply cut, fernlike pinnate leaves, koa long ago lost its true leaves, replacing them with flattened petioles in the form of a sickle, a special structure called a phyllode. During my visit, the koas were covered with spheres of feathery pale yellow flowers, similar to the blooms of the better known silver wattle or mimosa (Acacia delabata), but without its outstanding fragrance.

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Teppanyaki dinner

Back on the cruise ship that evening, my wife and I enjoyed a teppanyaki dinner where the chef cooks in front of guests on a metal grill with much acrobatic spinning of knives and clever comments. It was both entertaining and delicious!

March 20

Today was the day I was most looking forward to, as I took part of the Jewels of Kauai expedition to a world-famous garden, Allerton Botanical Garden. The garden is located adjacent to the McBryde Botanical Garden and the two share a common Visitor Center. There are actually 4 botanical gardens on the island of Kauai which, with the addition of a 5th garden in Miami, Florida, the Kampong, together make up the National Tropical Botanical Garden, dedicated to the study of tropical plants.

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Visitor Center

Our guide to the Allerton Garden, Bob, picked up our group at the ship with a mini-bus. The tour began with the Visitor Center, where there is already a good collection of interesting plants… and where I was able to buy a few good books on tropical plants.

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Pacific Ocean at Allerton Gardens.

Afterwards, he drove us to the entrance to Allerton Garden and stopped on top of a cliff with an extraordinary view of the gardens below. This garden has been featured in many movies, including South Pacific, Donovan’s Reef, and Jurassic Park and the scene just below us was used in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean 4.

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Bob showing us a breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis).

Afterwards, we descended into the valley and got off the bus. Bob gave us a wonderful tour, stopping in front of all sorts of different plants to see, smell, touch and even taste. For example, he showed us one of the garden’s specialties: the breadfruit tree (Artocarpus altilis), with its huge, shiny, hand-shaped leaves. This plant was brought to Kauai by Polynesians more than 1,500 years before and its fruit has long been a staple of the Hawaiian diet.

044-20 marsThe garden is fed by water from numerous springs, some falling in cascades from the valley walls. Many have been channeled to create beautiful water gardens, most decorated with Art Deco sculptures, a style very popular a century ago when the Allertons created their tropical paradise.

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Philodendron (Philodendron radiatum?) covering a tree.

The trees are planted densely, their tops mingling together as if in a natural forest, and are often covered in vines and epiphytes, especially those of the Araceae family (philodendron family), including species of Philodendron, Monstera and Epipremnum.

046-20 marsAt the end of the valley, the Lawai River meets the Pacific Ocean. This is the most popular place for filming action movies.

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Bougainvillea cv.

The valley walls are covered on both sides by vast expanses of bougainvillea (Bougainvillea cvs), some planted under the orders of Queen Emma when she lived in the area in the mid-1800s. The magenta variety seen in this photo was her favorite color.

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Ficus macrophylla

The enormous buttress roots of the Australian banyan (Ficus macrophylla) always fascinates visitors. If you recall the scene in the movie Jurassic Park where the children found dinosaur eggs among the roots of a giant tree, this was shot at the base of the Allerton banyans.

After our visit to Allerton Botanical Garden, we got back into our mini-bus to travel a short distance the garden next door, McBryde Botanical Garden.

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McBryde Botanical Garden

If Allerton is mostly dedicated to landscaping with tropical plants, McBryde serves essentially as a collection of Hawaiian native plants (including all extant species of Pritchardia palms, the only kind of palm native to the Hawaiian Islands) and of economic plants. There were, for example, more than 40 cultivars of breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis), collections of citrus (Citrus), bananas (Musa), sugar canes (Saccharum), heliconias (Heliconia) and other useful plants. Also, there is an enthobotanical collection of “canoe plants”, those plants originally brought to the Hawaiian islands by the Polynesian people 1500 years ago.

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McBryde Botanical Garden waterfalls

We had a delicious picnic lunch in the McBryde Garden under a large gazebo. Then, at the end of the tour, we took a short hike to a small waterfall deep in the nearby forest.

Honestly, I could have spent days in the two gardens, but we only had a few hours to visit. And all the time we visited, the weather remained fine, with only a bit of ghost rain to cool us off. As we reached the boat, however, the rain finally did start, fortunately too late to spoil our visit!

My thanks to Bob: he did a stellar job showing us around the two gardens!

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Na Pali Coast

Early that evening, the Pride of America made a special tour to the north of the island of Kauai, along the spectacular Na Pali Coast, a majestic coastline of emerald green pinnacles towering above velvet green cliffs and cascading waterfalls plummeting into deep, narrow valleys. If you remember the scene from the movie South Pacific, where you’re shown a glimpse of the mythical island Bali Hai, you already have a picture in your mind of this coast, accessible only by boat or helicopter. I must admit I wasn’t too sold on the advantages of a sea cruise until we reached Na Pali, but that incredible view, the highlight of the entire cruise, really sold me on the idea. I now hope to go back some day!

March 21

During the night, the ship traveled to Oahu, docking in the port of Honolulu early in the morning. This was therefore the end of the cruise, but not of the garden tour! We still had several visits to make.

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Ponchos and palm leaves were needed to protect us from the rain.

Ponchos and palm leaves were needed to protect us from the rain.We went first to Lyon Arboretum in the mountains behind Honolulu… but if the city is on the dry leeward side of the island of Oahu, in a rainshadow, Lyon Arboretum is on the windward side, that is, the rainy side of island. We were soon soaked to the skin! The boldest travelers continued on, now covered with ponchos ($1.50 at the garden store) or even a palm leaf sheath, but the less hardy quickly fled back to the bus!

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Lyon Arboretum

I tried to take the now smaller group on a short tour of the garden, giving explanations between bouts of rain, and we did get to see some of this beautiful garden, which contains one of the largest collections tropical plants in the world, but even I gave up after the 4th soaking in less than an hour!

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Elkhorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum)

Among the few photos I dared take (I didn’t want to damage my camera!) is one of an enormous colony of elkhorn ferns (Platycerium bifurcatum) clinging toa palm trunk: I’ve never seen such a spectacular epiphytic fern!

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Bromeliad garden, Foster Botanical Garden

The next garden, Foster Botanical Garden, was a striking contrast to Lyon Arboretum. It is in the very heart of Honolulu, on the dry side of the island. So though the two gardens are just 15 minutes drive apart, they are in radically different climates. At Foster, the climate in hot, sunny and rather dry and the lawns were pretty much brown. No rain came to disturb us as we visited this garden, even though we could see it was raining just a few streets away!

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Our group at the foot of a baobab tree (Adansonia digitata).

This is the “grandfather” of the State of Hawaii’s botanical gardens, dating back to 1853, and many of the trees are over 150 years old. Of this group, the most spectacular is probably the baobab (Adansonia digitata). It is believed to be the largest outside of its native Africa and bears a plaque identifying it as an “exceptional tree”.

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Coco de mer (Lodoicea maldivica)

I also saw, for the first time in my life, fruits on a coco de mer tree (Lodoicea maldivica), also called the double coconut, a palm native of the Seychelles islands that produces the most massive fruit in the world, weighing up to 93 pounds (42 kg) at full maturity. The fruits take 6-7 years to mature and 2 years to germinate!

There was plenty more to see in this beautiful garden, including orchids, bromeliads, and one of the largest collections of palms in the Pacific region.

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Wailalua Bay

In the afternoon, we traveled to the north of the island of Oahu, driving the famous “North Shore” at Waialua Bay, renowned throughout the world for its curling waves and great surfing. We didn’t stop, but still, the sight of all those breaking waves was quite impressive, even when only seen from a tour bus.

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Waimea Valley

But we hadn’t come to surf, but rather to visit a beautiful park: Waimea Valley. Formerly occupied by a native Hawaiian village, the valley is of historical , cultural and religious importance for the Hawaiians who often come here as a place of pilgrimage.

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Variegated banana (Musa ‘Maa-maoli-koae’)

Today, in addition to the remains of former village, the valley has become a vast botanical garden with 35 different plant collections (including Hibiscus, Heliconia, Begonia, tropical fruits and many others). For example, in the collection of banana plants (Musa spp.), there was the very rare Musa ‘Maa-maoli-koae’, an ancient Hawaiian cultivar with variegated foliage and fruit.

Waimea Valley is also a bird sanctuary known around the world (it was formerly run by the National Audubon Society) and we saw many birds of all sizes and colors.

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Monstera dubia, juvenile form.

In the Araceae collection (the philodendron family or, if you prefer, the jack-the-pulpit familhy), I saw an immature specimen of Monstera dubia which grows as a “shingle plant” in its youth, its heart-shaped leaves clinging tightly to a tree trunk, but it becomes a “monster” when it matures, with huge, deeply cut leaves projecting well out from the trunk. What a radical change of shape!

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Waimea Valley waterfalls

A tour of Waimea Valley takes you gradually up a gently sloping road (you can also take a shuttle vehicle if you’re willing to pay for it) and leads to a waterfall cascading down into a small lake where we were able to take a refreshing swim in the cool water. Fans of the TV show Lost will remember the falls where many scenes were shot.

One day I’d like spend a whole day in this 760-acre park: 2 hours is simply not enough!

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Oceanarium Restaurant

Tonight, I made reservations for those who were interested at the famous Oceanarum restaurant in Waikiki, where the backdrop is a large aquarium where you see not only many fish, but also the divers who come to feed them. It is a seafood buffet (there are however also vegetarian plates as well as meat and chicken dishes for those who don’t like seafood) and what of choice of dishes! I’ve never been to a seafood buffet with such variety. But it’s also very expensive ($48 per person, not including drinks). Still, the experience is so enjoyable I would recommend it to anyone.

March 22

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Entrance at Pearl Harbor

We took a city tour of Honolulu this morning, starting with Pearl Harbor Park, a large memorial park at the tip of Pearl Harbor commemorating the Japanese surprise attack that launched the United States into World War II. In a green park decorated with outstanding trees are several museums and a theater with a movie telling the story of the Pearl Harbor attack, not to mention a shop and a snack bar.

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USS Arizona Memorial

The highlight of the visit, however, is the boat trip to the USS Arizona Memorial, a building that seems to float on the ocean, built above the sunken battleship Arizona, the tomb of 1177 men. You can still see the wreckage underwater.

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Red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle)

Among the horticultural attractions of the park are spectacular royal palms (Roystonea sp.), masses of native shrubs and clumps of bird of paradise (Strelitizia reginae), but I was most fascinated by the small mangroves (trees that grow rooted in salt water, forming a flooded forest along the coast of so many tropical seas). I was surprised to see any mangroves at all in Hawaii, at it is a very remote archipelago and I had read that no mangrove seeds had ever made it that far. However, I learned that the red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) was introduced by humans and is becoming a weed species along the Hawaiian coast. Certainly it is very present at Pearl Harbor!

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National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

Afterwards, we went to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, a memorial to the men and women who served in the US armed forces in the Pacific battlefields. It is located in Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu and hosts the graves of 34,000 soldiers, sailors, and marines.

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Statue of Kamehameha I, in front of the North Kohala Civic Center

Our next destination was the historic center of Honolulu, with many buildings and monuments of interest, including the statue of Kamehameha I, the State of Hawaii Capitol and Iolani Palace.

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Indian banyan (Ficus benghalensis)

Near the Civic Center is a superb specimen of Indian banyan (Ficus benghalensis) whose aerial roots become trunks, so that that is spreads laterally over time. Under the right conditions, a single banyan can cover up to 5 hectares!

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Waikiki Beach

We returned to the hotel early in the afternoon and the whole group went down to the world-famous Waikiki Beach for a swim… except me! Okay, I do go there to take a few photos, but there were so many other interesting things to see in the area that I didn’t have time to even stick my big toe into the ocean!

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Nene (Branta sandvichensis)

Instead, I headed to the Honolulu Zoo, 5 minutes walk from our hotel in Waikiki. I felt I absolutely had to see the state bird of Hawaii, the nene goose (Branta sandvicensis), and I knew it was being bred at the zoo. Like all native Hawaiian birds, the nene is threatened with extinction. In fact, 70 percent of all Hawaiian birds have already gone extinct since the arrival of the first Polynesians.

The story of the nene is fascinating. Some 500,000 years ago, a few stray Canada geese (Branta canadensis) found their way to Hawaii, perhaps blown there by a hurricane, and settled on the islands. Over time, they adapted to a warmer, predator-free climate and became a separate species. The most unusual feature of the nene is that has nearly lost the power of flight, although it will take wing for short distances if it is threatened.

And that is probably why it is still alive while the other 7 species of native Hawaiian geese have all gone extinct. They did loose their ability to fly and were therefore easy pickings for the early Polynesians who hunted them to extinction. Only the nene remains… and even it is almost extinct in the wild.

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Ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta).

Obviously, there was much more than geese to see in the Honolulu Zoo. I saw flamingos, elephants, giraffes, lemurs, Galapagos Island tortoises, storks and much, much more.

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Dracaena reflexa ‘Song of India’.

And the zoo contains an excellent collection of plants, including many native plants, shade trees, cannas, heliconias and all sorts of ornamental trees and shrubs.

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Scene of the Magic of Polynesia show.

That evening, my group went to a fabulous dinner theater show: The Magic of Polynesia. I can show only you a shot of the room before the show started, because it is of course forbidden to photograph or film while the show is going on, but it is truly a stupendous show. It features Hawaiian magician John Hirokawa who does the most amazing tricks (imagine: he made a helicopter magically appear on stage and later a Lamborghini disappeared in front of our eyes!), all accompanied by Hawaiian music and dances, plus an incredible fire dancer from Samoa. It was really a superb show: I would go back anytime!

March 23

This was a free day. We had to leave our rooms by 11 am at the latest, but we could leave our bags in a hospitality suite during the day. Most people went to the beach and visited some of the many exclusive shops in Honolulu. Personally, however, I again went out to visit more of Honolulu’s sites.

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Honolulu Aquarium

I first went to the Honolulu Aquarium, because I am fascinated by tropical fish … and there were many of them to see, in all the colors of the rainbow. Most were native Hawaiian fish, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. In addition to fish, sea anemones and corals, there was also an outdoor display featuring a rather noisy Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi): he (or was it she?) snorted, snored, squealed, and, I suspect, farted, much to the delight of the kids watching.

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Queen Kapiolani Garden

Afterwards I visited , located nearby. This is a public garden in rather small city park, essentially an eastward projection of the much larger Kapiolani Regional Park. It is famous for its collection of hibiscus, but they had been recently pruned and were not very floriferous when I visited at the end of March. Instead, it was the native plants that were in the best shape and there was quite a collection of them to discover, most totally new to me.

March 23-24

After this, I returned to the hotel to meet the group and to get our suitcases down from the hospitality suite, because a bus was coming to picking us up at 7 pm to take us to the airport. That was the being of the return trip that got me home by 11:15 pm the next night, home to a world of cold and snow (yes, nearly a foot had fallen since I left, even though it was officially spring!). Still, who cares about the cold when your heart is full of warm Hawaiian images and thoughts!

What a wonderful trip! And guess what? I get to go again next year, as this first trip sold out and my travel agency wants me to repeat it. I’m certainly not going to say no to that!


Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

3 comments on “A Fabulous Garden and Nature Tour of Hawaii!

  1. Nice Blog. Loved alot

  2. Only one lava tube picture? 🙂
    and needs more Oceanarum pics too.. but perhaps I’m biased?

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