There is a wonderful botanical garden at the windward base of the Koolau Mountain Range called Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden. Ho’omaluhia means, "to make a place of peace and tranquility." This describes this four hundred-acre garden perfectly.
To experience the wonders of this park take the newly finished H-3 highway to Kaneohe. Get off the H-3 at the Kaneohe exit and go left on Kamehameha Highway, (exit 11) then stay in the left-hand lane and turn left on to Luluku Road. Follow Luluku Road until it ends at the entrance of Ho’olmaluhia botanical garden. From the H-3 freeway you get a magnificent overhead view of the park and lake after you exit the second tunnel on H-3.
Drive into the park and just follow the road to the visitor center. It is free to enter the park. Gates open at 9:00 a.m. every day except Christmas day and New Years day. The gates close again at 4:00 p.m. At the visitor center you will find knowledgeable assistants who are happy to explain the trails and different picnic areas on the maps provided. There is also a tiny museum that exhibits local artists' handiwork. Once you have your map in hand you are set to explore this lush park. There are a variety of things to do; there are guided hikes every Saturday at 10:00am and every Sunday at 1:00 p.m. each guided hike costs one dollar.
You can picnic in one of many covered pavilions equipped with built in barbecue stands, picnic tables and running water. There is parking near by all of these sites but since the park speed limit is 15 mph you don’t have to worry about cars whizzing by and since there are so many you don’t have to worry about crowds. Camping and horseback riding are also available. You must make reservations in advance for these activities and you have to bring your own horses. There is a nominal fee for camping. There are well-maintained corals to keep the horses in and a safe place for your trailer to park while you are out riding. You may ride a bike anywhere that is paved through out the park. There are fifteen miles of paved trails for the cyclists. There is a thirty two-acre man made lake to add to the beauty of the park. Unfortunately, no swimming or water activities are permitted due to leptospirosis, a disease man can get from animal droppings in the water. There are many mongose in the park. If you are not familiar with mongoose, they are rodent type animals with brown thick fur and long furry tails. They eat fruit and are harmless to man. They are also very shy and fast so you may only get a glimpse of one while in the park.
Hoomaluhia was designed and built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers to provide flood protection for Kaneohe. The botanical garden was opened to the public in 1982. Once outside the visitor center you are instantly amazed at the quiet. There are no noises other than trees rustling in the breeze and birds chirping away. You are surrounded by trees at the base of the magnificent Koolau Range you can see a panoramic view of Kaneohe Bay all the way to Waimanalo from certain locations within the park Ho’omaluhia is a botanical wonder. Most of the trees near the visitor center have name placards at their base. There are species of trees and shrubs from the Philippines, Africa, Sri Lanka, India Polynesia, Malaysia and Tropical America as well as rare and endangered Hawaiian plants. Many are pleasantly fragrant, just inhale deeply to enjoy the lush greenery, it is so refreshing. There are often light showers in the park because you are so close to the base of the mountains. You can smell the rain coming. There are many trails throughout the park. They range from stroller accessible too strenuous. Wear your most comfortable walking shoes pack your backpack with your favorite picnic lunch, sunscreen, mosquito repellant and your water bottle. Lightweight rain gear is also recommended for each visit to the park. There are no food concessions within the park. The guides know all the facts about all the different species of plants around you. You can also hike on your own. You do not have to be accompanied by a guide. There are clean bathrooms, campsites and picnic pavilions in different areas that are on your trusty map. Most of these have parking close by so hauling the cooler isn't a downside to these spectacular sites.
My favorite trail is the one that starts just outside the visitor center. It is a gentle slope that is easily covered with a stroller or wagon full of little ones and a cooler for the picnic. At the bottom of the trail is the lake. The catfish and ducks are always ravenous. Bring some extra bread to feed them. The trail around the lake is a pleasant walk. Children as young as two can manage this with little assistance. I did this pleasant walk every sunny Thursday morning for four years with a playgroup for my sons. Every week we discovered something new.
Hoomaluhia is the place to go to relax and recharge your soul.