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The Park, The Rain and Other Things: Exploring Oahu's Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden

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As we begin our hike, our guide, Barbara Black, points to craggy vertical folds descending more than 3,000 feet from the peaks of the Koolau. On especially rainy days, she says, multiple waterfall ribbons suddenly appear within the folds, plunging over the eroding fragments of a once 10,000-foot shield volcano.

Leading us to a courtyard filled with plants tied to early Hawaiians’ everyday life, Black quotes an age-old saying, Ue ka lani, ola ka honua, or “The heavens weep, the earth lives.” Among the thriving flora we find here are snow-white hibiscus blooms, sweet-scented maile vines and mamaki shrubs, the leaves of which may be plucked for a refreshing tea. We also see loulu, the only palm tree native to the Islands, and kalo (taro). Inside the nearby visitor center, ethnobotanical exhibits explain how long-ago settlers used greenery to craft everything from clothing to medicine.

Kalo (taro) in a courtyard garden of plants tied to early Hawaiians' daily life.

Before moving on to Hoomaluhia’s Hawaii and internationally procured tropical plant collection, Black unfolds a worn map and talks a bit about our Islands’ volcanic past. Awed by her explanations of mid-Pacific geological evolution and the fact that Maui’s Haleakala and the Big Island’s Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes would eclipse Mount Everest in height if elevation measurement of the world’s mountains began at sea floor rather than sea level, no one in our group minds that Black’s all-but-shredded map is long overdue for at least a Scotch-tape patching. 

Our fact-filled Hoomaluhia Garden two-hour nature hike is a freebie, courtesy of the City and County of Honolulu, which operates five Oahu botanical gardens. The hike is offered only on Saturdays, but the park is otherwise open daily, allowing runners, hikers and cyclists access to the breadth of its acreage. In addition to hikes and other programs aimed at elevating environmental awareness, camping and catch-and-release shoreline fishing (with bamboo poles and barbless hooks) in the reservoir lake are popular park activities.

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