Na ‘Āina Kai: Secret Garden of Kaua’i
A family visit to Kaua’i isn’t complete without learning about the beautiful plants covering the land, so I contacted Na ‘Āina Kai (or “Lands by the Sea”) Botanical Gardens, Sculpture Park and Hardwood Plantation about touring as a family while in Kaua’i. The nonprofit Lands By the Sea started as the personal garden of Joyce and Ed Doty — the two loved to create vast, themed gardens connected to culture, and wanted to open their sort of “secret garden” to the public for everyone to enjoy, and to educate the public about tropical nature.
My family and I were signed up for The Family Tour ($35/adult, $20/child), which included an educational walk through the beautiful formal gardens then ended in the “Under the Rainbow” Children’s Garden and play area. When the tour started each child was given their own small paper bag with their name on it to use for items they collect while on the tour. Our guide would stop at a plant and explain the benefits, where it originated from, and why it’s here. Then she would ask the tree or plant for permission before taking something from it, and share the remarkable scents of the variety of Plumeria, or the potent aroma of rosemary.
Throughout the gardens, there’s a marriage between nature’s beauty, and the man-made beauty of the sculptures created by local artists. Every section of the garden tells its’ own story, yet fits within the larger landscape and overall theme of the entire grounds. Each Family Tour of the gardens is different as guides cater to the interests of guest. If families want to learn more about everything in the garden then the guide will share very interesting information with them, but if visitors just want to look at all the pretty gardens then guides won’t focus on the tips and info as much. My tour group was a mix of both so our guide touched on some neat info — like how orchids are parasitic plants that can grow onto the branch of a tree in the right conditions, and that Naupaka helps with jelly fish and mosquito stings.
While passing some exotic flowers, we picked a few to smell and collect for the kids’ treasure bags. The kids also had a chance to feed the Koi fish in Ka’ula Lagoon (which both the kids and fish loved). This fun little feeding time broke up the tour a little — great for kids who easily lose interest in listening to others, or looking at plants. We continued to the full-size hedge-maze then made our way to the “Under the Rainbow” Children’s Garden, which is when the kids really got excited — OK, I did too, it’s amazing!
After walking under the rainbow and through the gates, a large water sculpture of Jack and the Beanstalk sits in the middle of a splash pad. The sculpture shows Jack cutting the beanstalk as the giant chases after him. But it also shows the entire story of Jack using mosaic tiles at the base of the sculpture. Next to the fun water play area, is a gecko-shaped maze, a kid-size train, a country cabin with rocking horse, and Rubertree treehouse.
Also just past the water area, you’ll find an impressive Navajo Compound, complete with sculptures by Susan Kliewer forming scenes, like baby wolves playing together, or goats looking up at their owner.
Kids can walk through the realistic scenes in this themed area, and check out the “caves.” There’s also a jungle environment within the children’s garden — complete with monkey bars, a monkey, a tunnel, a tree house, slides, and plants and trees to fit the kiddo theme — peanut butter, jelly, chocolate, and vanilla. My favorite thing in the play area is the wine barrel airplane — but there are a lot of great things to see in the Children’s Garden and play area. It’s nice that Na ‘Āina Kai offers a Keiki Day every so often so that local kids can play in this fun-filled area all day at an affordable rate.
After visiting “Under the Rainbow,” I was given the opportunity to see another part of the gardens where school kids may go on tour before they visit the children’s play area. It’s an edible garden and sculpture park with a mealtime theme. Kids aren’t allowed to try the fruits in any of the gardens due to potential allergic reactions, but the tour begins with breakfast foods, and plants named after them — like sausage.
After breakfast, we drove through lunch, appetizers, dinner, dessert, and circus. Like the formal gardens, there are sculptures throughout, and a lagoon (complete with fisherman). I tried saw a a sort of spicy fruit — a Surinam Cherry — for the first time, learned that just one of those cherries have enough Vitamin C for an adult’s daily intake. I also got the chance to taste a passion fruit and “ice cream” plant.
Na ‘Āina Kai is about a 45-minute or so drive from Poipu, where we were staying, but it’s definitely worth the drive, because there’s so much to see (like Waimea Canyon) on the ride back. I highly recommend adding Na ‘Āina Kai to your Kauai vacation plans — it’s beautiful, educational, and has so much to see! The only thing I would like Na ‘Āina Kai to work on is adding more markers around major plants for visitors to see what the plant is called and some tid bits about it.