About a half mile past Mile Marker 31 along The Road To Hana, near Hana Town, on ‘Ula’ino Road rests the exquisite land that makes up Kahanu Garden & Preserve. Named after Chief Kahanu, who owned the land in the 1800’s, this is one of the largest native forests on all of the Hawaiian Islands. A registered National Historic Landmark, the property and its staff are dedicated to discovering, saving and studying the world’s tropical plants. Part of a network of 5 botanical gardens in Hawaii and Florida called the National Tropical Botanical Garden, the nonprofit spans a total of 2,000 acres across all locations.
As the NTBG works to restore the natural plant life of the tropics working with many threatened and endangered varieties, being open to the public allows for a further connection to be established between people and plant. Offering both self-guided and staff guided tours, Kahanu Gardens & Preserve displays the unparallel collections of breadfruit, canoe plants, conservation species and native Hawaiian plants.
Early voyagers to the islands of Hawaii chose to settle in areas with abundant rainfall and fertile soil, where they would eventually form full communities and kingdoms. By the 16th century, all of Maui was united together under one ruler with Hana Bay being a royal center of the kingdom. This remained so until 1794, and in the 1860’s the land was transformed into a sugar cane plantation, as was much of the Maui land.
When sugar cane began to dwindle down for some companies, a cattle farm pasture was established on the land in 1946. Later on, in 1974, 61 acres of the land was deeded to the Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden to establish Kahanu Garden & Preserve, with the promise that the property would be restored to its original glory including the Pi’ilanihale Heiau (place of worship in Polynesian culture) on site.
Over the years more and more land was given to the organization to expand, and after two decades, in 1999, the stabilization and restoration of the Pi’ilanihale Heiau was finally completed. It is said that the original build of the relic took over 300 years to build, and was created over 500 years ago. Made of basalt rocks, the building was created for worship ceremonies.
Commoners worshipped individual family Gods at personal and private family shrines, and worshipped the four Major Gods under guide and direction of high priests. The four Major Gods worshipped at this sacred ground were Lono (peace, agriculture, fertility), Kane (the creator, ancestrial dieties), Kanaloa (ocean, healing, general wellbeing) and Ku (war). Scattered around the stone walls still rest the family members of local voyagers, topped with stone markers, laid to rest around the largest man made structure of Polynesia.
On this far Eastern shore, along the rugged Hana coast, visitors can view and appreciate the abundant plant life representing the cultures of Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia and Hawaii. Kahanu Garden & Preserve features native coastal species along the coast of the property, the Mary Wishard Coconut grove housing 21 varieties ethnobotanical plants such as taro, sweet potato, sugar cane and banana, as well as the world’s largest collection of breadfruit cultivars, with over 150 varieties. A breadfruit is a tropical tree that yields an abundance of fruit for decades, surviving only in the tropics at temperatures above 50 degrees. There are hundreds of known types of these plants, which originated in New Guinea and the Indo-Malay region. Breadfruit are grown in over 90 countries worldwide and produce the first fruit about three to five years after initial planting.
The Breadfruit Institute at Kahanu Garden & Preserve has spent over 30 years in research working to promote the plant as a tool of economic opportunity, a method of fighting world hunger and a means to improve environmental stability. Worldwide there is nearly one billion hungry people of which 80% live in tropic regions, making the breadfruit an ideal option for use. Traditional uses for the plant include food, construction material, medicine, glue, insect repellant, animal feed, shelter for people and other plants, cloth, fans, cooking tools and even chewing gum.
Breadfruit plants produce a fruit that is rich in energy, proteins, complex carbohydrates, fiber, minerals and vitamins. As past voyagers transported plants around the Pacific in ancient canoes, the Breadfruit Institute works to collect, curate, grow and outplant to various parts of the world, building a stronger relationship between plant and people and honor the past culture of island life and practices.
From the first planted collection of the vanilla orchard to the massive landscape of nature that is the Kahanu Garden & Preserve today, progress has never ceased by the staff and community dedicated to the livelihood and education of native tropical plants. Visiting this property brings a true sense of connection to nature and also the Hawaiian ancestors and their culture. Though there is an option for a self-guided tour, the best way to experience the grounds is through the guided tour.
Visitors are accompanied by a staff member whom is native to the area, making them experts in practices and traditions of the Hawaiian people. The tour guide will show guests the archaeological features of the land, tell intriguing stories of history and ancient life and also give endless facts on the plants and their uses. The property hosts many events and offers labs and classrooms for scientists, researchers, students and visitors alike, with public workshops available as well as K-12 programs and college courses.
Guests may visit for the weekly Aloha Market or visit the online store to purchase toys, clothing, accessories, bottles and décor. Be aware of the pandanus plant, which looks like a pineapple and is often called “the tourists’ pineapple” as it is easily mistaken! Visit the canoe house for a. glimpse at the past life, and take in the sights of the most beautiful landscape on Maui.
The islands of Hawaii are known for the breathtaking beaches and coastlines as well as the lush, green environment of the forests and plant life. Kahanu Garden & Preserve is a picture-perfect representation of just how truly beautiful the islands are and always have been! Go Rent A Car Maui has trucks, vans, suv’s and sedans ready for the trek to the stunning property!