Day 15: Hilo to Tropical Botanic Garden (and back): Paradise Found - Grampies Go Hawaiian - CycleBlaze

December 1, 2014

Day 15: Hilo to Tropical Botanic Garden (and back): Paradise Found

The Hamakua Coast is the name given to the north east section of the Island, on the windward side of Mauna Kea. Because of the winds and the mountain behind, this is the part of the Island with the most moisture. That makes it the jungly bit.

Today we headed up the coast, just enough to reach the Hawaiian Tropical Botanic Garden, which is on the scenic route, the Old Mamalahoa Highway. By far, this produced the most satisfying and amazing day so far. The way took us into the true, idyllic, Hawaiian paradise. Here were bright flowers and vines and lush, broad leaves of all shapes, from ground level to way overhead. Then way, way overhead could be towering, huge trees, carrying bromeliads on their arms. The variety of plants is astounding, their colour and complexity is astounding, and the scenes both near and far, into the jungle, and toward the sea, are all straight out of your most pleasant dreams. (To be fair, those would be your dreams about landscapes. We can not comment on dreams about women, men, beer, bagels, or other such potent topics).

Where we are in relation to the Island circle.
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What I am saying about the flowers and plants and streams and ocean views applies even to the highway journey. But in the Tropical Botanic Garden, things get intensified. The garden is the creation of Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse, who came to Hawaii in 1977 looking to buy a vacation house. One property they were show was 17 acres in the Onomea Valley. It was a steeply angled wreck, covered in rampant growth. In the past it had grown sugar cane, and passion fruit, but was then abandoned, and filled with various bits of junk. The Lutkenhouse's took this on, and miraculously turned the place into paradise. The story is much like that of the Butchart Garden, in Victoria, which is a converted quarry.

The garden begins with a 500 foot drop, for which a very safe and effective rampway has been installed. There is a stream rushing down part of the gorge, a small pond has been created in the lower flats, and then there is a section by the ocean overlooking a bay where the sea breaks in a bay with a rocky shore. Although the garden includes many non-native tropical varieties which clearly have been brought there and placed, it almost never gives the impression of a regimented or planted garden. Rather, it is a natural feeling place, one for which really the word "paradise" totally fits the bill.

Here following are scenes from the ride to the garden, and then a ton of photos from paradise itself. As I write this, I have not yet looked at them, But I hope they will adequately convey just how super this was.

One of the weaknesses of the garden setup was a lack of any real snacks to be had at the admissions building. So by the time we cycled away - two hours after arriving - we were really hungry. Fortunately, 2 km further down the road is "What's Shakin'". This is a smoothie bar with an international reputation. The thing is, it is part of a 23 acre tropical fruit farm, producing rambutan, tangerines and oranges, banana, dragon fruit, guava, etc. We went for their roast beef, and turkey sandwiches. At $10.95 these seemed really costly, but they came with nice salads and fruits and overall were of such high quality that we decided they were well worth it. Our plates had not only fresh veggies but fruits - banana, rambutan, and tangerine that were at the perfect peak of ripeness and flavour. They were so worth it!

As it happens, the property is for sale, There is a main house and a two bedroom vacation rental included. We checked it out. They are asking $6.650 million. The property has been on the market 135 days. I bet the first $6 million could walk off with it!

We were lucky today, with clear weather until some showers as we were almost back to Hilo. Now sitting under our shed, we are looking out at a downpour. We see it as normal now. However we are still hoping for the best as we head up the coast in earnest tomorrow.

Heading north
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The old Mamalahoa Highway (scenic alternative to 19, for 6 km)
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From the highway
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From the highway
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The road runs by the sea
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The Tropical Botanical Garden, along the scenic route
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This rampway descends 500 feet in the Onomea Valley
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The founder of the gardens
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The next many photos are what we saw in the gardens. The experience is a combination of large beautiful scenes and close beautiful scenes.
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This statue or "tiki" of a Hawaiian god was carved from a fallen 80 year old monkey pod tree at the garden.
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The garden extends all the way to the sea.
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Here is an example of regrowth, right out of the centre of some sliced off stems.
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As we headed home we continued to see these flowers along the road. When we look up we do not see which plants they are coming from. Can someone enlighten us?
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Here are some fruits we came home with. The jumbo orange was from a bunch under a tree by the roadside. The tangerines and rambutan are from What's Shakin
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Today's ride: 27 km (17 miles)
Total: 443 km (275 miles)

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