A Guide to Oahu’s Insta-Famous Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden

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Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens Oahu Hawaii

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The Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is a tranquil oasis in the heart of Oahu. Here’s what to know before you go.

Welcome to the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, Oahu’s sprawling 400-acre paradise.

Nestled against the stunning Ko’olau Mountain Range, Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden is perhaps Oahu’s most serene escape from busy Honolulu. Ho’omaluhia means to “make a place of peace and tranquility,” and that’s the perfect description for this lush landscape that’s a feast for the senses.

From nature walks to scenic picnic spots, the garden offers activities that connect visitors with nature. It’s also one of Oahu’s best free things to do.

Read More: 25 Awesome Things to Do on Oahu That Won’t Cost You a Dime🌺

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you choose to book through these links, I receive a small commission, which I will likely blow on mai tais, poke, and shave ice.  All of this internet voodoo takes place at no additional cost to you. 

History of Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden

In 1982, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers laid the foundation of what would become the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden.

Crafted with intention, this sanctuary serves dual purposes – a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu and a flood protection safeguard for the town of Kaneohe.

Is Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden worth visiting?

Yes, Ho’omaluhia is worth visiting! We always bring friends and family here when they come to visit us. But, honestly, it depends on how much time you have on Oahu.

If you only have 2 or 3 days on the island, I would focus on other must-dos, like the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and Hanauma Bay (to name a few).  

But, if you have more time on your visit to Oahu, it’s an easy stop and a great place to visit if you’re already out exploring Oahu’s lovely Windward (eastern) coast.

For example, if you have a tour booked at Kualoa Ranch, you can stop by Ho’omaluhia on your way back to Waikiki. Or combine it with a visit to the nearby Byodo-In Temple.

How much time do you need for Ho’omaluhia?

If you’re short on time, you can easily visit in less than an hour with a stop at the visitor center and a scenic stroll down to the lake to see the fish (more on that in a moment).

But true nature lovers could spend hours here exploring the many trails, walking paths, and various flora and fauna. 

Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden Visitors Feeding the Fish Oahu
Beautiful views from the lake

Need to Know Info

The drive from the Waikiki area takes about 40 minutes. Once you get off the Likelike Highway, the road to the security gate goes through a residential neighborhood. 

You’ll definitely want a car to visit Ho’omaluhia. The bus does come here (No. 60 or 65 to Kaneohe), but the bus stop is a 2-mile walk from the Visitor Center. Having your own wheels is much easier.

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Location: 45-680 Luluku Road, Kaneohe, HI 96744

Information: (808) 233-7323

Admission: Entry and parking are both free (like I said, it’s one of the best free things to do on Oahu!).

Hours: Open 9:00am – 4:00pm daily. Closed Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Official Website: Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden 

Quick Tips for Visiting the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden:

  • Wear comfortable shoes for walking.
  • Pack some bug spray.
  • Bring rain gear just in case, this part of the island gets more rain than Waikiki.
  • If you have enough time, pack a picnic. There are several pretty spots with picnic tables to relax and enjoy a meal surrounded by nature.

Parking

Parking is free but the small lot often fills up (especially on weekends). Don’t leave anything visible in your car in the Visitor’s Center Parking Lot (even a phone charger).

Unfortunately, car break-ins are a thing on Oahu, especially at popular attractions, especially those with free parking. 

Instagram Fame

Majestic mountains and a tranquil lake set the perfect backdrop for photography and local families frequently come here for family photo shoots.

Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden Main Road
The main road made famous by Instagrammers

However, in recent years, social media “influencers” have launched Ho’omaluhia into Instagram fame with their dreamy photos in flowy dresses walking along the main road leading into the garden (just past the guard shack).

Sadly, this Insta-fame has led to rules against parking on the main road to stop for photos. 

This is why we can’t have nice things.

You’ll see the signs as soon as you pass the guard shack. Don’t worry, you can still get pretty great photos of the scenery just from the car (it helps if there’s not a car in front of you like in the photo above I took from our car).

Don’t ignore these signs. There are plenty of other gorgeous places to take photos within the gardens.

Top Things to See

The garden showcases plant collections from the Philippines, Malaysia, Tropical America, India, Sri Lanka, Africa, and Polynesia. It’s a global collection of tropical flora sectioned into different theme areas to mirror the world’s tropical regions.

Here are a few things you shouldn’t miss:

The Visitor Center

Start your visit at the helpful Visitor Center. Here, you can grab maps and get advice to plan your visit. They also have a variety of educational exhibitions and art showcases featuring the work of local artists. The Visitor Center also has the only decent restrooms in the garden.

From the Visitor Center, look for the sign directing you to the walking path that leads to the lake (it’s more of a big pond, actually).

Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden Path to the Lake Oahu Hawaii
The path to the lake

Walk Down to the Lake

The gentle stroll down to the lake takes about 10 minutes and is my favorite thing to do here. If you only have time for one thing, visit the lake to see the fish. 

The lake is teeming with bright orange fish that I originally thought were koi. However, further research revealed that they are a mix of midas cichlid and tilapia. The striking orange color of the fish is a beautiful contrast to the surrounding mountains and gardens.  

Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden Midas Chichlid Fish Oahu
Midas Chichlid fish in the lake

Can You Feed the Fish at Ho’omaluhia?

When you visit, you’ll likely see other visitors feeding the fish in the lake with white bread. Ho’omaluhia doesn’t seem to discourage this and feeding the fish is not one of the “Prohibited Activities” on the sign at the Visitor Center. 

However, this is what Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources has to say on the subject in general (not specifically relating to this lake):

Don’t feed the fish.
Fish feeding is prohibited in some MLCD’s (Marine Life Conservation Districts). In those where it is not, consider that peas, bread, and other “people foods” which are often used to bring fish around are not part of a fish’s natural diet, and their nutritional value to a fish is questionable. Commercially available fish foods may be better, but it’s best to avoid feeding fish entirely. The natural environment provides everything fish need to eat, and you don’t need to feed fish in order to see them.

To put this in perspective, Hanauma Bay is an example of an MLCD where it is strictly forbidden to feed the fish.

Another nearby example is the Byodo-In Temple which is surrounded by ponds full of koi fish. There, the gift shop sells specific food that you are allowed to feed to the koi and birds, it’s a fun activity for kids. 

Here, it’s up to visitors to use their judgment.

Personally, I don’t feed the fish. But I have to admit I enjoy watching the frenzy that ensues in the lake when other people do it. So, yes, I’m probably a hypocrite.

Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden Feeding the Fish Oahu
Feeding the fish with bread

You can make your own decision on that one. If you do feed them, just try to make sure the ducks don’t get any (and they’ll try their best!), human food is worse for the ducks.  

Fishing in the Lake

At one time, the gardens offered weekend catch-and-release fishing in the lake using bamboo fishing rods that could be borrowed from the Visitor Center. It required a printed permit (also available in the Visitor Center) and was a popular weekend activity for local families. 

Currently, fishing is not allowed in the lake (I’m not sure why but it is specifically stated on their website) so you’ll have to skip the fun bamboo poles for now and settle for just watching the fish.

The latest updates on fishing availability can be found on the Ho’omaluhia website.

Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden Lake
Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden Lake

What to see by car

Driving through the 400-acre garden is a unique opportunity to witness its beauty comfortably from your car (this is also a good rainy day activity!). The main road curves through the lush greenery, revealing scenic drives and vistas of the majestic Ko’olau Mountains.

The Speed Limit on the main road is 15pmh and you won’t have a choice but to stick to it thanks to frequent speed bumps. 

Other Hikes in the Garden

There are a variety of other trails and walking paths throughout the garden area. The layout of the trails can be a little confusing.

If you’re interested in spending more time exploring the trails and various gardens, it’s best to get some guidance and a map from the Visitor Center.

When you’re done, there are more great things to see nearby

If you’re headed to Ho’omaluhia straight from Waikiki, I highly recommend taking the scenic H3 highway on your way there. It’s Oahu’s most gorgeous highway through the stunning Ko’olau Range.

On the way back, take the scenic route along Kalaniana’ole Highway to see the sights. You’ll pass lovely Waimanalo Beach, the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail, the Halona Blowhole, and the Koko Head Crater

There’s a lot to see on this side of the island! 

Oahu Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden Things to See
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Whether you’re seeking a peaceful refuge, a bit of exercise on the walking trails, or simply a spot to enjoy the wonderful plant life, Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is the perfect spot.

It’s a wonderful place to visit that perfectly encapsulates the beauty, tranquility, and unique cultural heritage of Oahu. 

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