Famous Maui road leads to enchanting, rarely visited Kahanu Garden

Ocean views from Kahanu Garden along Maui's Hana Highway.


By DANIELLE L. KIRACOFE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 28, 2017

At nearly noon, my husband and I were relieved to take a turn off the twisting Hana Highway. The famous drive along the rugged Maui, Hawaii, coastline had been a tough one.

But were we in the right place? We’d seen a sign directing us to turn off for one of our must-see destinations, Kahanu Garden. Along the bumpy road, we passed small homes with tiny fruit stands in front of them, close enough that we could drive up and buy. And then the spaces between the houses lengthened, filled with blindingly green fields. But as we really started to worry that we’d missed it, we turned right into the entrance for the gardens.

Kahanu Garden was to be one of our two stops along the Hana Highway. The site would be the best of all worlds for us — native plants and flowers for me, and history for him.

The garden describes itself as an ethnobotanical garden. The site is more than just plants — it puts them in context of the culture and history of those settled in this area.

The guidebook to the garden has a map of the site, and pictures and explanations of the plants there. The Canoe Garden features bananas, sugar cane, taro, sweet potatoes and hau. The plants in this part of the garden are important to the Hawaiian people, and some were brought to Hawaii by voyagers about 2,000 years ago. These were plants that provided food, but also shelter, clothes, medicine and more.

The plants in this impressive collection are well-marked with clear explanations.

The garden is also home to 300 breadfruit, or ’ulu trees — the largest collection in the world. The fruit from these trees is so named because it resembles bread when cooked.

Within view of the garden is a hale, a reproduction canoe house, built where the original canoe house is believed to have been. This building would have housed vessels.

No offense to the plants, but the showstopper here is Pi’ilanihale Heiau. The ancient place of worship and National Historic Site is the largest heiau in Hawaii. It’s a step terrace, made of black lava rock, and towers above the land. It is named for Pi’ilani, a 16th-century chief of Maui. According to the brochure, it’s estimated that it took more than 128,000 man-days to finish and that some of the stones came from seven miles away at Hana Bay. We stood in the sun and stared up at it in awe.

You are reminded not to climb on the site, but I can’t imagine it would be easy to get to it to do that, as it’s surrounded by a dense ring of bushes.

Coming around a corner, we were left breathless by an overlook featuring the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing into the coastline.

This is one of my three favorite sites we visited during our two-week honeymoon in Maui. (Haleakala Crater and Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach should also be on your must-see list.) This site and the beach beyond make us glad we took the Hana Highway drive.

And now the details: It was $10 a person to enter, and we received an exceptional brochure of the garden that was worth keeping. Parking is ample, and the bathrooms are fantastic.

There are tours available if you reserve one in advance, but the signage and the guide will likely be enough. Like us, you might enjoy the quiet and remoteness of the site. While we were there on a partly sunny and humid Monday in October, we spent most of our time at the garden on our own. We were there more than two hours.

The Kahanu Garden is at 650 Ulaino Road., Hana, Hawaii. It’s open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday and until 2 p.m. Saturday. Entry costs $10 for ages 13 and older. For more information, see www.ntbg.org/gardens/kahanu.