For nature’s smaller wonders, sightseeing at the End of the Road area on Kaua‘i’s northern shore can’t be beaten. Spend your time exploring beautiful gardens, impressive and mysterious caves, and the legendary birthplace of hula.
Limahuli Botanical Garden
At the Limahuli Botanical Garden (5-8291 Kuhio Hwy., 808/826-1053, 9:30am-4pm Tues.-Sat.) you’ll take a trip back in time to see the native plants that decorated Hawaii before invasive species moved into the islands. Visitors have a choice of self-guided tours ($15 adult, children 12 and under free) and tours with a guide ($30 adult, children 10-12 $15). Guided tours are 2-2.5 hours, and self-guided ones last 1-1.5 hours. Reservations are required for the guided tour only.
Part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, the gardens lie in front of Mount Makana (makana means “gift”) on 1,016 acres that help both ancient and modern plants flourish. The original 14 acres were donated by Juliet Rice Wichman in 1976, then expanded to 17, and the final 985-acre parcel in the above valley was donated by Wichman’s grandson, Chipper Wichman, in 1994. It’s a good idea to wear good shoes, and umbrellas are provided. The visitors center is where the tours begin, and this is where books, crafts, gifts, and other things are on sale. Taro lo‘i (patches) here are believed to be around 900 years old. The brochure and the tour guide share legends of the valley.
The majority of the preserve lies in the valley and is only available to biologists and botanists for research. To get to the gardens, take a left inland at the HVB warrior sign about a half mile after mile marker 9. The marker points to the gardens, which are in the last valley before Ke‘e Beach. Just past this is the Limahuli Stream, which locals use as a rinse-off spot after swimming. There’s only one good spot to pull off the road here. On your way to the Limahuli Botanical Garden, stop at the Lumahai Overlook for a view of the Lumahai Beach and a great photo op. After the fifth mile marker you’ll notice a small pull off area where a Hawaii Visitors Bureau sign points to the ocean.
Maniniholo Dry Cave
Directly across from Ha‘ena Beach Park is the wide, low, and deep Maniniholo Dry Cave. Take a short stroll inside the cave. There’s no water in here, just a dusty dirt bottom, but it can be fun to take photos, especially from the inside facing out. Sometimes walking around in here you may look at all of the footprints on the ground and wonder how long they go undisturbed. Although the cave seems to stay dry there is no archaeological evidence that it was used for permanent habitation.
Waikapala‘e Wet Cave
The earth opens up here to crystal-clear water after you’ve walked up a short hill to look down into the Waikapala‘e Wet Cave. Also known as the “Blue Room” because of another hidden cave here that’s accessible only through an underwater tunnel that turns a vibrant blue, the cave is a contradiction. It’s beautiful and spacious, but since the trees have grown up and block the light, it exudes a slightly eerie feeling. Visitors will find a tranquil place to spend time, and many people swim in the cold water. It’s said that the Blue Room is no longer blue due to a change in the water table height and other environmental changes, and I’m not recommending searching for it because it is dangerous! To get here, drive about three minutes past Ha‘ena. It’s on the left, just past the big parking lot on your right, and is only identifiable by the obviously worn path up the rocky hill, and the pull-off spot across the street. It’s about a 1.5-minute walk up, where you can peer into the cave from above or take a short but steep and slippery trek down into it.
Waikanaloa Wet Cave
The Waikanaloa Wet Cave is clearly seen from the road a little before Ke‘e Beach. The cave is a nice sight and another good photo opportunity. There is no swimming allowed, as the sign indicates. Look at the floor of the pond itself to see some interesting patterns.
Kaulu Paoa Heiau and Kaulu O Laka Heiau
To the right of Ke‘e are Kaulu Paoa Heiau and Kaulu O Laka Heiau, where it’s said that the art of hula was born. Legend says the goddess Laka bestowed hula to the Hawaiians here. Heiau are the religious sites for Hawaiians, do pay them the proper respect. Do not disturb or touch anything. The views up here are wonderful, especially during sunrise or sunset, when the sky changes to all shades of color. For over 1,000 years the area was used as a valued hula school. It’s said that the pupils were asked to swim from here down to Ke‘e Beach for a final induction sort of thing. At Ke‘e Beach look for the trail weaving inland through the jungle up to the heiau.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.