Big Island Visitors Bureau
101 Aupuni Street #238
Hilo, HI, 96720
Back in the day, when visitors arrived in the Hawaiian Islands on luxury ocean liners such as the S.S. Lurline or the Matsonia, they were always greeted on the docks – amidst Hawaiian music and cries of “aloha!” – with fragrant lei. The air on those “Boat Days” was filled with the perfume of carnations and plumeria and it was a memorable arrival and departure experience.
Anyone nostalgic for those days or wanting that sort of powerful sensory experience should definitely visit the island of Hawaii, because of all the Hawaiian Islands that’s the one best known for its lovely tropical flowers.
In fact, one of Hawaii Island’s nicknames is The Orchid Isle. You may see orchid plants blooming radiantly, casually affixed to trees in gardens and yards. The Hilo Orchid Society’s well-attended annual orchid show fills the huge Edith Kanakaole Stadium, where at a different time of year the Merrie Monarch hula festival reigns.
But it’s not only orchids. It’s also huge, brightly colored hibiscus, sweet-smelling puakenikeni, and elegant gardenias. Its birds of paradise and anthuriums and every type of ginger. You see plumeria blooming in many yards, moms and grandmas sending the keiki (kids) out to pick flowers for a lei. You see colorful blossoms bursting forth, wild in beach parks and along the side of many roads, in winter as well as spring.
Hawaii Island’s many varied and interesting botanical gardens house tropical flora that thrive year round. The island, which has the strongest agricultural base of all the islands, has many tropical flower growers where visitors can order cut flowers to be shipped back home. And there are lots of local farmers markets, which, in addition to being fun places to see and sample local produce and other goods, sell inexpensive cut tropical flowers that visitors can enjoy during their stay. Several lavender dendrobium orchid sprays for $5, anyone?
Lani Weigert, executive director of the Hawaii AgriTourism Association, says that each island has its own personality and charisma and that a big part of the Hawaii Island’s charm is definitely its flowers.
“The colors and textures are just so abundant on this island and that’s largely because of our wonderful tropical climate. For instance, some people think that anthuriums only come in red. But particularly on the Big Island (another of this island’s nicknames), we have a plethora of colors in anthuriums alone,” she says.
“And anyone who loves orchids, just going to the botanical gardens they will be so amazed at the different types of exotic orchids that exist on the Big Island. The botanical gardens are just a perfect place to go because although there are walkways and etc., the orchids and flowers are pretty much growing in their natural habitat. It’s a very authentic type of environment in which people can view them.”
Weigert says she loves Hawaii Island because it is such a draw on all of one’s senses.
“This island is beautiful to look at, and the flavors of the place are just great with the type of cuisine and the fruit. And the colors and the textures are really, really beautiful. And then, of course, there’s the fragrance of its flowers."
“From the point of view of a sensory vacation, it’s really right there on the top of the list!” she says.
Located about seven miles north of Hilo, off Highway 19 in the tiny village of Onomea, Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens calls itself a “garden in a valley on an ocean.” Its owner and three helpers spent eight years hand-clearing the 17-acre valley transforming it from its unruly overgrown jungle state into its current pristine condition as a serious scientific and educational non-profit botanical garden that features more than 2000 species.
It has more than 200 types of palms, a giant jackfruit tree where the fruit is sometimes more than two feet long, a heliconia trail, an orchid garden, a banyan canyon, and more than 80 varieties and species of bromeliads. It’s also beautiful—TV’s “Wheel of Fortune” taped scenes here that aired in 2014 and 2015 when the program appeared in Hawaii.
A 500-foot-long landscaped boardwalk leads down into the valley and then alongside Onomea Bay, passing giant bamboo, banana, ginger, orchids, and heliconia. Nature trails meander through the lush tropical rainforest, across streams, and past the three-tiered waterfall known as Onomea Falls.
They also sell and ship cut tropical flowers.
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens
Take Highway 19 to the Scenic Route (between mile markers 7 and 8) and turn; the Visitor Center is off the Scenic Route.
Open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission at 4 p.m.)
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day
Botanical World Adventures is a very extensive botanical garden located 16 miles north of Hilo on Highway 19 at Hakalau. Its thousands of tropical species includes exotic palms, banana, kukui and hala trees, hau, hibiscus, ginger, heliconia, green and red jade vine and bamboo, anthuriums, bromeliads, palms, ti, cinnamon, allspice, the pencil tree and scores of others.
The botanical gardens are situated on a site with the beautiful waterfalls Kamaee Falls and Hanapueo Falls, which guests see while touring the gardens. There are self-guided or guided tours; you can also see the gardens by Segway tour or from a zipline. They also have an extensive guided walking tour conducted by the gardens’ horticultural expert. You can choose to add a prepared lunch; dessert is always fresh fruit picked ripe on the spot from trees in the garden.
The botanical gardens also has a children’s maze, the world’s second largest permanently planted one, which covers an area larger than the size of a football field. Thousands of mock orange bushes, planted in hedge rows, are kept to five feet high so parents can see over the top if necessary, but children get to experience the twists and false turns (there’s only one correct way out).
World Botanical Gardens and Waterfalls
31-240 Old Mamalahoa Hwy, Hakalau
On Highway 19 near mile marker 16
9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
888 947-4753 toll-free
Green Point Nursery is a long-time Hawaii Island flower grower known for its beautiful anthuriums. “We specialize in anthuriums, but we do sell some other tropicals as well,” says President Eric Tanouye. Green Point is always at work creating new anthurium varieties. Their anthuriums are gorgeous, amazing colors and shapes, including the large and always-dramatic obake (“ghost”) anthuriums. They also sell orchids and other cut tropicals.
While the nursery itself is not open to the public, you can see its flowers and order them shipped through its website hawaiiangreenhouse.com. From there, the company ships throughout Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. The flowers should still look great when they arrive: This company is well-known and respected in Hawai‘i for having innovated shipping methods, now standard, which forever changed the local flower industry and how flowers are shipped.
Tanouye said it was his father, Harold Tanouye, who was the innovator that started the company in the 1950s back when anthurium farming was not yet a major industry on the island. “He was the entrepreneur,” he says. Recently Eric’s two sons have joined the company. “It’s nice my father was able to see his grandsons, the next generation, join the business,” he says.
They also ship internationally. To place an international order, email email@example.com or call the toll-free number at the website.
The Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden, part of Bishop Museum, is a 15-acre botanical garden that focuses on Hawaiian ethnobotany (the study of Hawaiian people and their plants). It is located 12 miles south of Kailua-Kona on Highway 11 near mile marker 110.
This botanical garden will appeal to the historian/anthropologist at heart; as it features more than 200 plant species (endemic, indigenous and Polynesian-introduced) that grew in Kona before Captain Cook arrived in Hawaii in the late 1700s. It sits within the different landscapes – coastal, dry forest, agricultural, and upland forest zones – that are typical of a Kona ahupuaa (traditional land division). During certain times of the year, guests can also visit the garden’s native insect house, which features the endemic Kamehameha butterflies.
If you take advantage of the free audio tour, or purchase or borrow a guidebook from the visitor center and go on a self-guided tour, you can imagine what it was like to live there before the arrival of Westerners, using those plants as your food, medicine, and materials to create what you needed. There is also a guided walking tour daily at 1 p.m.
Most of the garden’s gravel paths can be easily walked, although the trail to the upland forest area is steep. Visitors usually spend a half hour to an hour touring the garden. Kona can be very hot; take a hat, sunscreen and also mosquito repellent.
Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden
82-6160 Mamalahoa Highway in Captain Cook Located 12 miles south of Kailua-Kona on Hwy 11 near mile marker 110 Driveway is on the mauka (uphill) side of the highway, across from Manago Hotel
Open Tuesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed holidays
Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, located on Highway 11 between mile markers 22 and 23, is a great stop on the way to see the volcano. The 13,000-square-foot orchid and tropical plant showroom belongs to a family-owned orchid company that has been in business here for more than 40 years, and before that, in Japan.
It’s an extraordinary place for an orchid lover to explore. Did you know? It’s not true that orchids don’t have scents. Some do, and the Akatsuka Orchid Garden is a great place to wander around and occasionally “sniff.” Another interesting fact: One paphiopedilum orchid usually displayed there when in bloom between May and August is valued at $20,000.
On Wednesdays and Fridays at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Akatsuka offers tours of its greenhouse with a grower, who demonstrates how they cultivate and breed its orchids and tropical fruits (visitors can participate).
Cattleya orchids are Akatsuka’s specialty, but they also have dendrobiums, oncidiums, phalaenopsis, miltonia, odontoglossums, and others. In the gift shop, they also sell and ship other cut tropical flowers, such as anthuriums and bromeliads.
Nani Mau Gardens is a 22-acre botanical garden about three miles outside of Hilo along Highway 11 going toward Volcano. The gardens, which first opened in 1972, hold a special place in in the hearts residents because many local weddings and receptions are held there. It also has a garden restaurant that serves lunch.
Nani Mau offers a map so visitors can take a self-guided of its peaceful gardens and learn about Hawaiian history, culture, and traditional Hawaiian uses of tropical flowers and plants.
The botanical garden, which features native and exotic tropical flowers and plants, has an orchid garden with striking “show orchids," a tropical fruit orchard, ginger garden, hibiscus garden, anthurium grove, rare palms and coconut trees, Makalapua lookout (for bird watching or quiet contemplation) and a remarkable bell tower. The bell tower which is made of 20,000 boards without a single nail or screw is elegantly done in the Japanese-style, and one of only three of its type in the world. “Nani mau” translates to forever beautiful.