In a nutshell: National Tropical Botanical Garden and the largest heiau in Hawai’i
Minuses: Hard to squeeze in to a single Road to Hana day.
Sound-bite: “Wow, I didn’t realize how massive the heiau was!”
The Kahanu Garden is part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) and showcases many native and Polynesian introduced (“canoe”) plants. Kahanu Garden is also closely connected with the history of Maui and the Hawaiian people – both from a botanical perspective, and strong historical significance of the land and heiau. Anyone interested in plants or Hawaiian culture will find a visit here a treasure trove of information. Many visitors also report feeling the immense mana of this land and heiau.
Pi’ilanihale Heiau is Hawaii’s (and maybe Polynesia’s) largest heiau. You can’t appreciate how large the structure is in photographs, but the part you see in the photo above is only the corner, and it is made of countless rocks stacked on top of one another. An amazing feat of engineering to have been constructed long ago, with limited tools.
The garden is on sacred ground, in the ahupua'a of Honoma’ele, and is named after the chief who owned the land in the 1800’s. Since then the land has been used as a sugar plantation and for grazing cattle, but in 1974, descendants of Chief Kahanu donated the initial 61 acres to establish the garden.
The garden is now 464 acres and contains many native and canoe plants such as taro, ipu, sweet potato, banana, coconut and more. The garden is also home to the most diverse collection of breadfruit varieties in the world (120 varieties, to be exact.) Beyond the manicured gardens is the largest remaining wild hala forest in Hawaii, and many native coastal plants have been reestablished in their native habitat along the coastline. [Some plants are on the NTBG website.]
The heiau, which was painstakingly restored over decades of hard work, measures 450′ x 320′ at the top platform. It is believed to have been originally built in stages over several centuries – and it is estimated by the NTBG that 120,000 man-days of labor went into constructing the heiau.
This heiau is truly a cultural gift from the ancestors of the Hawaiian people, and it is sacred. Do not ever attempt to climb on the heiau or move or stand on any of the smaller rock structures (some of which are graves.)
The tour and many gardens follow along the base of the heiau, and most plants are labeled with informative plaques. Visitors are also given a well written pamphlet that explains the history, identifies structures and many of the plants and and explains their traditional uses and importance to the Hawaiian culture.
There are guided tours available – call 808-248-8912 to schedule.
Location: 205 ‘Ula’ino Rd – (Road intersects at Mile Marker #31.1 on Hana Hwy)
GPS Coordinates: 20.804964,-156.038153
Hours: 9am-4pm Mon-Fri; Sat 9am-2pm
Cost: $10/adults ($25 for guided tour – call ahead for times) Children are free for both.
View Kahanu Garden & Pi’ilanihale Heiau in a larger map