Botanical Wonderland

I cannot possibly end my ramblings about visiting Kaua’i without taking you to the North Shore and delving into horticulture. For Ron and me, experiencing all this alongside my sister, Deborah, gave us wonderful insights and up-close, local experiences one can only get from someone who has lived there for more than two decades.

There were so many more wonders to see beyond the Hawaii state flower, which is the Yellow Hibiscus. Side Note: Since 1923, while Hawaii was still a U.S. territory, the official flower was the Red Hibiscus, which it carried forth into statehood in 1959. However, in 1988 Hawaiians voted to change the official flower to the Yellow Hibiscus, after it was discovered that the red one wasn’t native to Hawaii.



Hibiscus blooms in many delightful shades. The flowers, trees, and other plants form a colorful palette for Hawai’i’s splendor.


There is nothing quite like starting a day off at dazzlingly dramatic overlooks of such classic places as Hanalei Bay.

Of course, we also wove our way down to the water’s edge, where we stood in awe of the magnificent mountains of lava that now grow lush with tropical vegetation. Over millions of years, the steep edges have eroded away, creating large swaths of gorgeous beaches.


Then Deborah, Ron, and I walked out on the famed Hanalei Pier, built in 1892 and restored in 2013. Here I felt as if I was standing in the middle of Paradise. OMG!





Also in our travels, we saw flourishing crops of taro, coffee, papaya, and much more.



We walked around the various towns, like Hanalei and Kilauea’s historic Kong Lung Market Center.


We lunched like the locals… Sir Ronald relished a caprese panini and a bowl of cabbage & pork soup. I went vegetarian (for one meal) with Deborah and dined on Creamy Spinach Maharaja soup.


I got to take part in one of Deborah’s weekly International Folk Dance Classes. (Sorry, but there are no photos because I was very busy dancing!)



A dramatic spot to visit was the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, which revealed more dramatic lava cliffs named Crater Hill, just across the cove from the lighthouse.

This area is gleefully graced by hundreds of birds from the 6- to 7-foot wing-spanned Laysan Albatross and red- and white-tailed Tropicbirds or koa’e to the red-footed boobies and the Great Frigatebirds that soared overhead, literally looking to pirate some other bird’s catch for lunch.


And, as everywhere else in Hawai’i, we saw the Nene Geese. These are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands; thus, they are found nowhere else. Fittingly, they became the official state bird of Hawai’i in 1957. (Side note: This is while Hawai’i was a U.S. territory, as Hawai’i did not become a state until 1959.)


We also learned about and saw the wedge-tailed shearwaters or ua’u kani, with their 3-foot wingspans. Their chicks hatch from a single egg in July & August. I did spy one chick in its burrow, likely preparing to fly. By November, after 103 – 115 days of being fed by their parents, they take their first flight out to sea. And they do not return to land for at least 3 years. In November, islanders turn off their outside lighting as the wedge-tailed shearwater birds are drawn to light.

And this area, marking the northernmost point in the Hawaiian Islands, also serves as a sanctuary for humpback whales and other wildlife.

One of the most famous North Shore residents is a 70-year-old albatross named Wisdom, who hatched yet another chick this year, fathered by her partner, Akeakamai, with whom she has been since 2012. The Albatross mates for life, but Wisdom has outlived her mates. The Laysan albatross typically lives for between 12 and 40 years.



Because of its proximity to the lighthouse and wildlife refuge, Albatross and friends often also live and nest at the nearby Na’Aina Kai Botanical Gardens.  Many other birds call the gardens home, such as the Gallinule duck.





A lovely lagoon there also serves as home to a great many koi.




As you can imagine, the garden island of Kaua’i boasts several such large botanical gardens. However, this one also has wildly imaginative theme gardens, fascinating forests, and the largest bronze sculpture collection in the United States.




For my sister, Deborah, Ron, and I, this proved to be a most educational day with exposure to art, beautiful flowers, and amazing trees. (I will focus on nature and its flowers and trees today, so if you are not into horticulture, stop reading here.)



Na’Aina Kai all started when Joyce and Ed Doty retired to Kaua’i in 1982 and built their retirement home here. A front yard landscaping project on their 12-acre lot quickly grew into a 240-acre botanical garden collection of various themed gardens.





Their residence was named Na’Aina Kai, which translates into “land by the sea.”




And as we stood on one of several lookouts, we knew the property was perfectly named.

By 1999, the property had grown from 12 to 240 acres… all filled with exotic plants, sculptures, fountains, and a lagoon.


The Dotys donated the entire 19-million-dollar property to their private foundation and built a new home into which they moved. They then opened the gardens for the public to forever enjoy.


Even their former residence with its stunning custom pool, waterslide, and waterfalls, is now used for private group gatherings.


One of the lookouts perched high above the ocean’s surface, delivers a sneak peek at the gardens’ very popular setting for weddings.


Others simply made us gaze out at the splendor of it all… even local folks, like my sister, never seem to be able to take it for granted.


Macaw Flower aka Shining Bird of Paradise aka Lobster Claws



Naturally, the highly exotic, tropical flowers fascinate all visitors… For instance, consider the Macaw flower, also known as the Shining Bird of Paradise and as Lobster Claws.





Shell Ginger and Pink Quill

There’s the delicate Shell Ginger in several shades of pink. The same is true for the Pink Quill. I saw more Breadfruit growing in the gardens and the stunning Cattleya orchid.

Breadfruit and Cattleya Orchid

We also saw the Cabbage Palm and the Elkhorn Fern.

Cabbage Palm and Elkhorn Fern

Peacock Flower aka Red Bird of Paradise

For stunning color, check out the tropical native Peacock Flower, also known as the Red Bird of Paradise.

Then, of course, there’s the Green Bat Flower, which is bafflingly delicate. And other delights, such as the African native Roselle Hibiscus, also known as Luo shen hua.

Green Bat Flower and Roselle Hibiscus aka Luo Shen Hua

Brunfelsia Pauciflora


I particularly liked seeing a beautiful flowering tree that I have loved for decades, called the Brunfelsia Pauciflora, or better known in southwest Florida as Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. The flowers bloom as a deep purple, before softening, first to lavender and then to white, before fluttering to the grass below.


Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow


Teak leaves & Teak


We were all amazed at the great care the Dotys took in every different garden and forest area. They planted the Hawaiian Islands’ first teak trees.

Though told that teak couldn’t grow in Hawai’i, they did it anyway. Now the site hosts a flourishing teak forest.


Na;Aina Kai Teak Forest

Candelabra Cactus aka Dragon Bones


They were also told that cacti could not possibly grow in a rainforest, but they figured out how to create drainage. Large and small cacti thrive, like the Candelabra Cactus, also known as Dragon Bones.





An abundance of other fascinating trees thrives here. On tours with all volunteer guides, visitors experience such splendors as Ironwood, a flowering pine tree and the multi-colored bark of the Rainbow Eucalyptus.



Rainbow Eucalyptus

Then there is this odd tree with black and white bark that makes one wonder if the tree is sick. But no, it’s simply the look of the lemon-scented Gum tree, an Australian native. We also saw common bamboo, also known as Golden Bamboo. Plus, we caught sight of the Great Morinda or Nona, which is also known as Cheese Fruit for the peculiar lumpy fruit it bears.

Lemon-Scented Gum Tree, Golden Bamboo, and Great Marinda aka Nona aka Cheese Fruit

Indian Banyan Tree



Then there are the Indian Banyan trees along with the Rubber plant, which is a member of the Fig tree family.





Rubber Plant



Like the Banyan, the Rubber plant grows “top-down” by dropping roots from its branches.





Bald Cypress Tree


We also saw the Bald Cypress, usually found in southeastern areas of North America… the one tree that suffered no damage during 1992’s Hurricane Iniki.



Date Palm



There was also the Date Palm, an evergreen with an abundance of edible, orange fruit.






Because this is also a sculpture park, I should make note of the Cheese Tree… a creative bronze sculpture bearing all sorts of cheese. (wink wink)

Whimsical bronze sculpture of a “Cheese Tree”

The Na’Aina Kai Botanical Gardens and Sculpture Park is a not-to-be-missed adventure for any plant fans visiting Kaua’i. But if delightful bronze statues are more to your delight, hang on for tomorrow’s article.

About Cathy Burnham Martin

Author of 20+ books, and counting! A professional voice-over artist, dedicated foodie, and lifelong corporate communications geek, Cathy Burnham Martin has enjoyed a highly eclectic career, ranging from the arts and journalism to finance, telecommunications, and publishing. Along with her husband, Ron Martin, she has passions for entertaining, gardening, volunteering, active and visual arts, GREAT food, and traveling. Cathy often says, "I believe that we all should live with as much contagious enthusiasm as possible... Whether we're with friends or family, taking people along for the ride is more than half the fun."
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