The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden sits at the edge of Onomea Bay.

Visit the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Christa Hester
September 14, 2015

There are those special moments in life where your expectations far exceed your imagination and you’re left with your mouth gaping open, awestruck. That’s how I felt when I visited the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden on the Big Island.

If you’re coming from Hilo, drive up Old Mamalahoa Highway until you find it in a valley situated beside Onomea Bay. Park across the street, pay a $15 entrance fee, and walk down a boardwalk to see more than 1,800 species of tropical plants.

You’ll see orchids of all colors and patterns, trees that look like they came straight out of a post-apocalyptic Miyazaki movie, and palms and fronds so big you could use them as a two-person umbrella during a rainstorm. There are several gorgeous waterfalls, ferns of all shapes and sizes, and a path that runs along the ocean where you can see the waves crashing against high cliffs and into caves carved out by the rough water. There are also six unidentified graves, which the owners uncovered when they were cleaning up the land.

When Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse bought the 17-acre property in 1977, it was overgrown with invasive trees, vines, thorn thickets and trash. Over the course of eight years, they cleaned up the land by hand to avoid destroying valuable plants and tree roots. Dan chose the location of every plant and tree introduced into the garden and followed the land’s contours when building the garden’s paths. His hard work has created a botanical garden that feels like home – like you’re walking arm-in-arm through the owner’s backyard while he points out his favorite spots.

I’ve never been extremely interested in botany and I’ve never had a green thumb, but this place captured my heart. It made want to drop everything, move into that very valley, and become an eccentric, reclusive horticulturist. Although I haven’t called the moving van yet, my visit did spark a new interest in plant life that hasn’t gone away.

Have my ramblings convinced you to go to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden? If not, check out some pictures of its insanely cool plant life below.

To learn more about the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, go to

The garden entrance sports an old wrought-iron gate.There were hundreds of varieties of orchid in the garden.It looks like something out of a post-apocalyptic scifi movie!Seriously, when I first saw this I did a double-take like an idiot.This large, red plant came up to my knee!This plant comes in a variety of colors.You have to explore a bit before you find it, but it's worth it.

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