Hawaii always conjures up images of sandy beaches, turquoise waves and tropical sunsets. What many overlook is the abundance of botanical gardens that thrive with lush, indigenous flora, as well as unique trees and plants gathered from around the world.
Among these is Moanalua Gardens, a 24-acre privately owned park managed by the non-profit Moanalua Gardens Foundation. Located in Honolulu’s Moanalua District near Tripler Army Medical Center, this tranquil park is the perfect place for flying a kite or sharing a picnic with Mother Nature’s wonders creating a gorgeous backdrop.
Here are four reasons Moanalua Gardens is an Oahu “Must Do.”
1) Historic Past
In 1884, Hawaiian Kingdom banker and businessman Samuel Mills Damon, was bequeathed 6,000 acres of land under the will of Ke Ali’i Bernice Pauahi Bishop, his beloved friend who was the grand daughter of Kamehameha The Great and the last living member of the House of Kamehameha.
At the time, this ahupua’a (a land division that runs from the mountain top to the sea) of Moanalua included fish ponds, fishing rights and the summer cottage of Prince Lot Kapuaiwa, who reigned as Kamehameha V. Revering the history of the king’s cottage (c.1850), Damon restored and resided in the structure that is now known as the Kamehameha V Cottage. Relocated to three different sites within the park, it has stood in its current spot since 1960.
To represent Pacific Rim countries, Damon brought in artisans from Japan and China. The former created a Japanese Garden and Japanese Tea Houses, while the latter built the Chinese Hall. By financing the Oahu Railroad through his bank, Damon made certain that the first stop on the railway route was at Moanalua so that his guests could arrive by train or horse drawn carriage for parties hosted in the Chinese Hall.
Those into Hawaiian history can view more about the gardens’ regal beginnings at MoanaluaGardens.com.
2) Cultural Preservation
Today, J.P. Damon continues to uphold his great grandfather’s vision by maintaining the grounds, as well as, preserving and restoring the architectural structures representing cultures from across the globe.
Among these is a Japanese Tea House (c.1900) that now serves as the garden’s Gift Shop; King Kamehameha V’s Summer Cottage (c.1850) and its Hawaiian Lo’i (taro patches); and the Chinese Hall (c.1903), with its bridge and fish pond.
Those planning events and weddings can select from venues that include the Chinese Hall, koi ponds, Hitachi Tree, taro lo’i area, Kamehameha V Summer Cottage (currently under restoration), Hula Pa, and grassy fields.
3) Beautiful Landscaping
Following his inspirational visit to Britain for Queen Victoria’s jubilee, the senior Damon established Moanalua Gardens in 1898 from a track of land consisting of 40 acres of rice paddies and lo’i.
He tasked his Scottish horticultural landscaper, Donald Macintyre, with transforming the area into expansive lawns with mango trees, palms, monkey pods, plus tropical plants and flowers imported from around the world. Adding to Macintyre’s fame is his introduction of orchids and the first anthurium plant to the Hawaiian Islands. Expansive glass atriums were built for displaying and housing these and other exotic flowers.
4) The Hitachi Tree
Shading a grassy area in the middle of the garden is the Hitachi Tree, a Japanese name given to this particular monkey pod tree flaunting a huge, distinctive, and almost perfectly umbrella-shaped canopy. Since 1973, Japanese manufacturer, Hitachi Ltd., has utilized the tree in its corporate symbol. For those exclusive rights, the company pays an annual fee to incorporate the tree's image for promotional purposes.
The City and County of Honolulu has registered Moanalua Garden’s Hitachi Tree as an “exceptional tree”. That process prohibits it from being removed or destroyed without council approval.
This incredible tree stands about 75 feet tall and its branches span about 120 feet across with a massive trunk with a girth of about 21 feet. It's not even the largest tree of its type in the park. It is however the most perfectly shaped with a canopy that looks like an umbrella. The pictures don't do it justice. Standing under the tree is truly awe inspiring.