Keahua Arboretum

Kauai features an endless array of beauty and adventure. At every turn, another breathtaking natural vista presents itself.  Kauai’s East Side, often referred to as the “Coconut Coast,” is home to Keahua Arboretum, one of the island’s most lush and serene treasures. Located about 6 ½ miles mauka  (towards the mountains) of the small coastal town of Wailua, this tranquil natural refuge encompasses 30 acres of open meadows surrounded by vibrant green mountains and lush tropical forests. The arboretum is home to towering mango, monkeypod trees, colorful cascading shower trees and the extraordinary rainbow eucalyptus painted by nature. Over 20 species of native and introduced trees and plants can be found in the preserve, including the bright yellow flowers of the hau bush, or yellow hibiscus.

Both romantic and kid-friendly, Keahua Arboretum is a magical and rarely crowded spot to enjoy a few hours or an entire day. It is the perfect place to relax and soak up the world-renowned beauty and quiet majesty of the Garden Island. Pavilions and picnic areas are sprinkled throughout the property, providing a serene setting for a quiet picnic lunch beneath the loving shade of tropical trees, accompanied by the trickle of the nearby stream and tropical bird serenades. Keahua Stream runs cool and shallow through the middle of the park on its way to the Wailua River. Along the way, it widens into two picture-perfect swimming holes, one of which features a high-flying rope swing. The stream is an inviting place for both kids and adults to cool off, take a swim, or observe the various freshwater creatures that call it home. Beware of the risks of leptospirosis bacterial infection from swimming in freshwater.

A lovely, mile-long path meanders through the preserve. This easy stroll is suitable for everyone. More adventurous hikers will be thrilled by the two trails originating from the park. The Kuilau Ridge Trailhead is located about 50 yards before the arboretum’s parking area. This picturesque, 4-mile roundtrip hike sets out over open expanses of meadows, surrounded by mountain, ridge, and gulch views, saturated with vibrant vegetation. Just past the picnic area situated at the lookout point, the trail narrows to squiggly switchbacks that hug the ridge. Each twist and turn reveals a new delight, including footbridges, cascading waterfalls, and, on clear days, stunning views of Mount Wai‘ale‘ale. This towering mountain is actually the extinct volcano that formed the island of Kaua‘i millions of years ago. Hawaiian for “rippling water,” Mount Waialeale is recognized as one of the wettest place on earth, with an average annual rainfall of over 400 inches.

When the Kuilau Trail ends at the 2-mile mark you can either return the way you came or hop on the intersecting Moalepe Trail. This moderately difficult trail features lush tropical forests, majestic mountain vistas, and distant ocean views. The Kuilau and Moalepe Trails are well-kept secrets. It is quite common to have the trail to yourself, although you might encounter a pig hunter or horseback riders along the way.

The Powerline Trail begins from the southern end of the arboretum. This hike is a 13-mile, one-way trek along an unmaintained utility road. The trail ends near the resort community of Princeville on the North Shore. The path is steep, eroded, and often slippery. The Powerline Trail is an all-day interior trek that should only be attempted by very experienced hikers on a dry day.

The Keahua Arboretum is an excellent spot for exploring Kaua‘i’s gentler side. The views of the island’s interior mountains and tropical highlands are exceptional, and the local trees and plant life are proudly on display. The cool mountain air is full of the scent of eucalyptus and the joyous songs of tropical birds. Whether you are looking for a peaceful spot to enjoy a picnic, a swim in an invigorating mountain stream, a hike through open pastures and tropical forests, or a quiet moment to soak up the island’s unparalleled beauty, Keahua Arboretum delivers a heaping dose of the serenity and natural splendor that makes Kauai famous.

Get here: 

From the town of Wailua on Highway 56 take Kuamo‘o Road (Highway 580) at the Wailua River. Follow Kuamo‘o Road about 6.5 miles until you reach the arboretum. Park before the spillway.

As featured in the Sep-Dec 2011 issue of Kauai Traveler magazine

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