Updated: May 21, 2015
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden ReviewReview from a recent tourist visit to the big island in 2009 (and again 2013)... If you are planning a vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii, an interesting place to add to your sightseeing list is the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. Located on the eastern side of the island near Hilo, it's a little off the beaten track for many vacationers, but if you are making an island loop or find yourself near Hilo, plan to make an hour stop here and enjoy the bounty of nature found on this "wet" side of the island. The private garden was established in 1978 and opened to the public in 1984 -- those 6 years in between were spent on clearing jungle and building paths. Today, 37 acres make up this preserve set along Onomea Bay. In this guide, we will review our 2009 visit to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden (official site HTBG.com). If you are staying on the dry, desert-like Kona side of the island, we definitely recommending taking a trip out to east side of Hawaii to see the rivers, tropical forests, and lush green environment -- it is a world of difference.
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden - Getting ThereThe Google map below shows the exact location of the Garden. It's just off Hwy 19, about 8 miles north of Hilo (it's also about a 3 hour drive from the Kona area if you are on that side of the island). You'll need to turn off the highway onto the "scenic route" that follows the coast -- look for the blue sign (Old Mamalahoa Hwy). There is ample free parking here. They even give you a loaner umbrella if you happen to show up on one of those rainy days that Hilo is known for -- don't let a little moisture keep you away from the garden!
View Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden in a larger map
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden - Ticket InformationIf you are approaching from Hilo, you'll find the parking lot and ticket booth to your left. Park the car, go inside and buy your tickets. The basic facts first.. The gardens are open daily from 9-5, except for Thanksgiving, Xmas, and New Year's Day. Ticket prices are $15 for adults, kids $5 (I know, not super cheap...). The trail itself is about a 1 mile loop, first down the slope to the ocean, then back up. This means some sweat! You can do it in less than an hour, but you're there to enjoy the sights and sounds -- plan on closer to 90 minutes for a more relaxed trip.
Once you buy your ticket, cross the street and enter through the gate there. An elevated boardwalk (see photo at right) takes you through the first area (look for bamboo, bananas orchids..), then you are off on walking trails. You'll find more than 200 types of palm as you explore -- some of the best views were standing beneath the towering palms and looking up into the light filtering through, very pretty. I also enjoyed the waterfall area (also beneath towering palms..). So what else do you see as you walk around? You'll find a river and waterfall, lily pond, dangling vines and creepers, tropical flowers, ferns, a bird house with parrots, towering tropical trees, a tiki statue of Ku, the ocean. You'll get a guided trail map that will keep you on the right path -- there are a few loops, but you pretty much just wander your way down towards the ocean, stopping to enjoy whatever catches your fancy. Check out the Heliconia Trail and the Banyan Canyon, colorful orchids, get a photo with the huge wooden (monkeypod) tiki statue of the Hawaiian war god.
Overall, I think the garden visit works for either adults or families -- even kids will enjoy the "jungle" atmosphere, and the walk is pretty mild. If I wasn't on the Hilo side of the island, I don't think I would travel the whole distance JUST for a visit to the garden, but if you are out driving around the area, definitely stop by. We had a great visit, a little on the hot side during July, but let's face it, Hawaii comes with a little sweat! One note - they kind of push mosquito repellant stuff in the store where you buy tickets. We saw people slapping it on, but never had a problem with a single insect -- decide for yourself if you are mosquito bait. As to other reviews: out of 23 consumer reviews on TripAdvisor, the garden rates 4.5 out of 5, with many people raving it was the highlight of their trip.