Visiting Kahanu Garden off the road to Hana

Kahanu Gardens
You’ll find spectacular views of the East Maui coast from Kahanu Garden.

A short diversion off the road to Hana (Hwy 360) leads to one of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, Kahanu Garden. Two of the most distinguishing features of this garden are:

  • Kahanu is an ethnobotanical garden – a garden that tells the relationship between people and the plants the use in their culture. Kahanu focuses on essential plants to Polynesian cultures, including plants that are native to Hawaii and more specifically, East Maui.
  • Kahanu is the home of Pi’ilanihale Heiau, which is the largest heiau (ancient Polynesian worship center) in Hawaii.

As you read the word garden, you may have pictured colorful blooms which you probably will not see much. Ginger is the only colorful plant I recall seeing. Instead, you’ll find the plants that were essential to living along this East Maui coast centuries ago.

Kahanu Gardens entrance lined with breadfruit trees
Grove of ‘ulu (breadfruit trees) line the garden entrance.

Plaques indicate the names of plants along with their function to survival. According to Kahanu Garden’s history, these grounds were an important agricultural area to the thriving communities that were part of the Hana royal kingdom.

Endemic plants to Hawaii are being preserved at Kahanu Gardens

Perhaps the single most impressive aspect of Kahanu Garden is Pi’ilanihale Heiau, which is believed to be the largest heiau of all the Polynesian Islands. Archaeologists believe construction began around 1200 A.D. and estimate that it took more that 128,000 man-days to complete. Even the construction material – lava stones – were transported from Hana Bay which is seven miles away.

Pi'ilanihale Heiau at Kahanu Gardens
Pi’ilanihale Heiau at Kahanu Garden

In 1964, Pi’ilanihale was designated as a National Historic Landmark. To help maintain this historic site, visitors should not try to access or climb upon the structure.

Pi'ilanihale Heiau at Kahanu Gardens
Pi’ilanihale Heiau

If you are driving the road to Hana in just one day, you have to be careful to use your time wisely. I estimate you can see the main scenic sights – the heiau and the shoreline in less than 45 minutes. So, is a stop at Kahanu Garden worth your time? That’s a good question. The answer depends on your interests. I must say that the heiau is quite impressive and if you’ve never seen one before, it’s a great heiau to see.

If you are staying in Hana and have more time to spare, like we did on our last visit, a visit to Kahanu Garden is a nice addition to your East Maui stay.

What to know when you go:

– Kahanu Garden are located off Ulaino Road which would be a makai turn (turn towards the ocean) just past mile maker 31 on the Hana Highway. By the way, Ka’eleku Caves are also off Ulaino Road.

– Kahanu Garden are open Monday – Saturday from 9am to 2pm. (Recently expanded from 10am to 2pm)

– Self-guided tours are $10 per adult and free for children 12 and under.

– Guided tours are available on Saturdays only at 10am for a cost of $25 per adult.

– Wear comfortable walking shoes, mosquito repellant, sunscreen and a hat.

– Bring bottled water.

– Check the garden’s website for the most up-to-date visiting details.

– See more of our photos from Kahanu Gardens.

Have you been to Kahanu Garden? How was your visit?

  1. Wow, Pi’ilanihale Heiau looks really impressive!

  2. Woah! This place is so beautiful! Definitely adding it to my bucket list.

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