Camping on Oahu has its challenges. Unlike the other islands in Hawaii, many of Oahu’s campgrounds have litter and/or roudiness issues. However, you can find a few very nice, clean, quiet, safe and scenic places to camp on Oahu. The Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens in Kaneohe is one of them.
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens lives up to its name, which translated to English means, “to make a place of peace and tranquility.” This is a very peaceful environment. And rules are very strict about noise; for example, even in the middle of the day, radios and CD players must be kept low enough to not disturb camping neighbors.
The gardens meander through 400 acres and are back dropped by the green, castle like peaks of the majestic Ko’olau Mountains. Plants from tropical regions around the world are grouped here geographically, and special emphasis is placed on conserving plants native to Hawaii. The Hawaiian garden here like many of the others here has some very nice tent sites, along with clean indoor restrooms and showers.
You can camp here free of charge from 9 a.m. Friday to 4 p.m. Sunday, except for Christmas and New Year’s Day. There is no camping on the other days of the week, but this is a nice place to stay for the weekend. While it doesn’t have 24-hour security, everyone I spoke with said it is very quiet.
The gate to the gardens closes at 4 p.m. and those camping there will be given car passes so they can use the later gate that is open from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Considering all this, and that it is a mile hike from the gate to the first campground, this takes it off the list for “party spots.” Since it doesn’t have beach access, it’s not a place where big extended families gather with good Hawaiian music and food either. People come to the gardens to enjoy the flora and fauna and the peacefulness.
While there’s no beach here, there’s a trail that will take you to a wonderful spot for watching the sun rise over the ocean.
Tent sites are on the lawns and include fire pits and picnic tables. You must bring your own firewood and grills.
The staff members we spoke to in the garden’s Visitor Center were warm, generous with their time and very knowledgeable. The center features an art gallery with cultural exhibits and a botanical library. You’ll also find a network of trails and a lake (catch and release fishing; no swimming).
Ho’omaluhia Botancial Gardens is located near several wonderful sightseeing, water play and other destinations including the Byoda Temple tucked away in the Valley of the Temples and featuring a larger than life Buddha statue, meditation garden and pond with 10,000 koi; Kaneohe Bay with its white sandbars appearing as tiny islands in azure waters at low tide; the cities of Kaneohe and Kailua with several shopping and dining opportunities; the country and very Hawaiian town of Waimanalo where horses still roam free and the beach is one of the best on the island; and Kailua Bay, the quintessential water playground of the Windward side that offers a long stretch of white sand and protected waters popular with beginning boogie boards, kayak paddlers and windsurfers.
A variety of programs are offered at the gardens throughout the week such as orchid growing, weather making, and botanical drawing to name a few. Some of these have fees, while others are free of charge. For a current schedule, use the contact information above and request one.
Hawaiian ecology is emphasized in these programs. Day use and camping programs can include ethnic, craft, botanical, horticultural and environmental activities. Free guided nature hikes, covering topics such as local birds, cloud watching and medicinal plants, are offered at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and 1 p.m. on Sundays.
The catch to this free and peaceful campground in a garden? It’s in a rainforest. So remember to bring a waterproof tent and gear. It will still be warm though, so something light-weight, like the poncho that fits in your pocket or a light-weight jacket will work best. You may also want some mosquito repellant, although I wasn’t bothered by them. You will find picnic tables here and campfire rings. If you want to use a tarp, bring poles because they don’t allow tying anything to the trees. A small camp stove or hibachi might also be useful.
You can get a detailed map with hiking trails in the Visitor Center or at Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens. However the Website’s map doesn’t include a legend, so if you use it just know that the hiking trails are shown by dashes, and the H-3 Freeway is shown by bold printed dashes. Distances aren’t shown on the map, but the Visitors’ Center can answer you questions.