Twenty minutes. That’s all the time that is takes to be transported from the white sand beaches of Waikiki, up to the waterfall-laden wilds at the back of Manoa Valley. Here, where cliffs rise vertically over 2,000 feet and it rains nearly every day, visitors will find one of Hawaii’s foremost tropical botanical gardens. Managed by nearby University of Hawaii, the Lyon Arboretum spans 193 acres and has over 5,000 species of plants. Given the cool, wet conditions—it rains over 165 inches per year here—the forested amphitheater is the perfect setting for researching tropical plants.
Take an hour to stroll from the parking lot back to Inspiration Point, and reap the rewards of the casual walk with a view looking out at the valley. Along the journey you might encounter up to 25 species of birds, including the endangered amakihi which calls the arboretum home. There are over 200 species of indigenous plants found growing in the arboretum, and rather than being just pretty to look at, this garden is used to educate landscapers about recognizing species of plant species. While ecologists and botanists will be in plant heaven, other visitors will enjoy the hike back to ‘Aihualama Falls. The trail to this waterfall is just over a mile, and the feeling of sitting by the 40 foot falls, the sound of birdsong raining from the trees, in a garden that’s home to thousands of plant species, really lets you know that you’ve left the city are fully immersed in the forest.