Limahuli Gardens, a National Tropical Botanical Garden, offers a rare glimpse into an authentic Hawaiian cultural site and inspires an awareness of the natural wealth and abundance of traditional Hawaiian society in a lush tropical setting amidst beautiful rare plants and flowers.
An Ahupua’a was the traditional Hawaiian division of land which extended from high in the mountains, along the waterways as they descended through valleys, onto the coastal plains, as they flowed into the sea, and even extending out to the protective reefs which provided valuable fishing resources. The boundaries were marked by Ahu (stone cairns) upon which a Pua’a (pig or other form of tribute) would be placed for the local Chief or Konohiki (administrators) by the Maka’ainana (people living on the land, as a system for shared use of the land and natural resources, including fishing rights, and the necessary Kapu (restrictions) for conservation to ensure sustainability.
Haena is the Westernmost of 7 Ahupua’a on Kauai’s Northsore in the Moku of Halele’a. A Moku is a traditional Hawaiian larger land division similar to a county, whose name was usually a reference to its geographic location on the island, Ko’olau (Windward), Kona (Southwestern), Puna(Eastern),etc. While other Moku names may be found on other Hawaiian islands, Halele’a is unique to Kauai and means Hale (House) of Le’a (Joy) for its plentiful sources of fresh water, natural resources, protected reefs, and of course fantastic surf.
Haena translates as the intense breath of the sun, as it makes it last exhalation as it sets at the Northwestern point of Kauai with spectacular splendour. Ke’e Beach is known to be the birthplace of Hula, and many Hawaiian cultural tales, where Gods intervene with human cultural and historical figures, to create both the folklore and even particular places upon the Hawaiian cultural landscape.
Limahuli Valley is the most prominent in Haena, the watershed flows from the Alakai Swamp, the wettest spot on the planet, down through 2000′ ridges, an 800′ waterfall, through rainforest of waht is now a nature preserve, and into the Kalo Loi (Taro Patches) at Limahuli Gardens, where Hawaiians have been cultivating Taro for hundreds of years, before it flows out to sea.
Limahuli means turning hands which describes the process which ancient Hawaiians used to carefully fit lava stones together to create agricultural terraces for the cultivation of Taro, called Kalo Loi (Ka-lo Lo-ee). Taro was brought to the islands by the first Polynesians because it its seaworthiness and nutritional value. It is a staple in the traditional and contemporary Hawaiian diet. Tubers were cooked in an Imu (earthen oven) for a few hours and then eaten directly, dried as ‘Ao (Taro Chips) for longer seas voyages, or pounded into a pudding called Poi.
1000 acres of upper Limahuli Valley above Limahuli Gardens is now a nature preserve which is a part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, but is not open to the public. The Gardens, which are open to the public are the lower portion of the valley on the Ma’uka (mountain side) of the road, only a 20 minute drive from the St. Regis Princeville. Photo Safari Hawaii offers private tours and camera rentals for the ultimate experience of Kauai’s Northshore, including visits to Limahuli Gardens.
Visitors can enjoy an easy walk through this verdant ancient Hawaiian cultural site, amongst Kalo Loi fed by Limahuli stream, and many beautiful tropical plants and blossoming flowers, including some rare native Hawaiian plants and even a few endemic species (originating in Kauai), such as the ‘Akoko( a relative of the Kukui), the sticky Papala Kepau (Catch Bird Tree), a yellow blossoming Ohia ‘a Lehua (most common in red blossoms known as Pele’s Hair), and the rare Lobelia Nihauensis (a purple blossoming Lobelia originally from Ni’ihau, which is now found in the wild only in Oahu and Kauai).