Kahanu Garden & Pi’ilanihale Heiau

National Tropical Botanical Garden and the largest heiau in Hawai'i

Rating: ★★★★½

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!”

Piilanihale Heiau through Kahanu Garden Coco Grove

Piilanihale Heiau through Kahanu Garden Coco Grove

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.

Piilanihale Heiau at Kahanu Garden

Pi'ilanihale Heiau at Kahanu Garden

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.

Wishard Coconut Collection

Wishard Coconut Collection

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.

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.

Key Info:
Location: 640 ‘Ula’ino Rd – (Road intersects at Mile Marker #31.1 on Hana Hwy)
GPS Coordinates: 20.804964,-156.038153
Hours: 9am-3pm Mon-Sat
Phone: 808-240-1301
Cost: $18- General Admission; $10- Kama’aina (Must show Hawai’i ID); FREE- Hana Residents.
Facilities: None.
Get directions

View Kahanu Garden & Pi’ilanihale Heiau in a larger map

  1. Susan – the blue pins on the map are the correct place. Look for the sign that says Kahanu Garden – there are some private gardens just before these on the same road that visitors sometimes confuse with Kahanu. Have fun!

  2. Susan, you’re correct, the hours have changed. Unfortunately they still close at 2pm. I’ve updated the article.

  3. Is it still true that the garden is not open for self-guided tours on Saturdays? Their website suggests otherwise.
    I am a huge fan of botanical gardens and have been looking forward to visiting this one, however I am only in Hana for two full days (Saturday and Sunday).
    Also, is this the same as the “Hana Maui Botanical Gardens” that is visible on the embedded map above? I just want to make sure I don’t miss it.

    Thank you!

    • Peter says:

      Susan, Kahanu Garden is open on Saturdays from 10a-2p, but if get in by 2p, you can stay until 3p. And you are right, you don’t want to miss this Garden.

  4. Brook says:

    Let me restate that I would love to hear your tops stops in one trip. When you make a trip the ones you have to stop at and the roadside stands you patronage.

  5. Brook says:

    Wow thank you for your prompt reply. Yes it is true we plan to do the entire circle in one day and are planning on our big stops being a garden and Pipiwai trail. Everything else is up in the air as long as we make it is the airport by 9 pm. We are also thinking about a tour of Ono farms. I have found some great information on your site, thank you. I would love to hear you top stops along the hwy.

  6. Mark says:

    Oh, and I forgot to say which I favor. Well, I do like both. Though Kahanu offers more in terms of cultural and educational value. Garden of Eden is a great place it its own right. Wish I could make it a simpler for you!

  7. Mark says:

    Aloha Brook, I’m assuming you’re doing this in a single day.

    If doing the Road to Hana in one day, unless you have a timeline scheduled out, you may wind up feeling rushed through other sights on the way to Hana since Kahanu closes at 2pm. That said, it is entirely dependent on how much time you take on the sights prior to Hana.

    You will pass the Garden of Eden more toward the start of your day, so, logistically it may be a better choice, especially if you don’t want to operate on a schedule.

    My suggestion is to treat the whole day as an in-the-moment adventure – great to prepare knowing what is there ahead of time – but when the day comes, let it unfold for you- I suggest using the knowledge you gain ahead of time more as a loose guide than a plan, if that makes sense.

    Have a great time!


  8. brook says:

    On the road to Hana we were thinking about doing the Garden of Eden until I read this. We only have time for one which would your recommend?

    • Peter says:

      I highly recommend a visit to Kahanu Garden. Kahanu offers a more Hawaiian cultural tour. The Garden of Eden has many beautiful exotic plantings and a waterfall. You will see most of these driving the road to Hana. The location and feeling you get at Kahanu Garden is like stepping back in time, and visiting old Hawaii. It’s truly one of a kind.

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