There’s More to Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden Than Its Instagrammable Entrance

Just a mile into the 400-acre garden in Windward Oʻahu are more—and better—photo ops.

Everyone wants the same shot: the tree-lined road from the entrance of Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden toward the Koʻolau Mountains.

For reference, this is what it looks like (without filters or special camera tricks):

Photo: Catherine Toth Fox

Since 2017, the city-run garden has seen a spike in visitors who come solely to snap this photo, pulling over to the side of the road and standing in the middle of it to capture the perfect shot.

It’s gotten so bad—and dangerous—that park officials put up signs that read, “No camera or mobile phone photography on or near the road.” Bright orange cones now line the road in an attempt to discourage drivers from pulling over. And there’s a security guard who instructs people to keep driving; you’re not allowed to stop here.

These measures haven’t helped.

“It’s nonstop,” says Olive Vanselow, Ho‘omaluhia’s recreation specialist, who’s been at the park since 1985.

Social media posts—primarily Instagram—likely have contributed to the increase in visitors to the botanical garden. Attendance reached 323,194 in 2019, up from 249,259 the year before.

“People want to create that specific shot,” says Joshlyn Sand, director of O‘ahu’s five county-run botanical gardens. “This has become the Yosemite of the Windward Side.”

Photo: Catherine Toth Fox

But why stop at the beginning of the park when there are so many more reasons to venture into this lush 400-acre garden in Windward Oʻahu? More photo ops await, beyond the park’s entrance.

A short drive past the visitor center is the Lehua campsite, with native Hawaiian plants including hala and loʻulu palms. Here, right from the parking lot, is a sweeping view of the Koʻolau Mountains—and without any electrical wires in the way. The stone picnic tables are fun, too.

Sona and Shekhar Pundjabi were visiting from Hamburg, Germany and came to the garden
specifically to take photos. They learned about Hoʻomaluhia from Instagram.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox

For the best view from the garden, make the trek to the top of Kilonani Mauka, marked by a sign on the side of the road. It’s really a steep access road that takes you to a flat overlook—the highest point in the garden—with a nearly 360-degree view of the mountains and, on a clear day, Kāneʻohe Bay. The walk takes about five minutes.

At another campsite, Kūʻou, you can walk along a path to a spot overlooking Loko Waimaluhia, the 32-acre lake built in 1982 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide flood protection for Kāneʻohe. It’s as stunning as it is peaceful. (On Saturdays and Sundays, you can fish for tilapia and other fish in this lake. It’s catch-and-release and the garden provides bamboo poles with barbless hooks.)

The view from the lake at Hoʻomaluhia.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox

Another great stop for photos is at Nui Mauka, another campsite within the garden. This area was recently cleared, revealing panoramic views of the Koʻolau among vitex and swamp mahogany trees.

Another spot for Instagrammers at the Nui Mauka campsite.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox

So don’t stop at the beginning of the garden. Drive a mile in and find new and equally stunning vistas for your Instagram feed.

“Hoʻomaluhia isn’t hidden, but it’s truly a gem,” says Nathan Serota, public information officer for the city Department of Parks and Recreation. “There are so many beautiful and scenic places within the park. You can experience something truly unique, something that will last a lot longer than a picture.”

Free admission, 45-680 Luluku Road, Kāneʻohe, (808) 233-7323