Your dreams of a vacation in paradise have always included lush tropical gardens and gorgeous views. Now that you’ve arrived in Kauai, it’s time to see all that island beauty in person. Lucky for you, the Allerton and McBryde gardens on the south shore of Kauai provide a great introduction to the flora and fauna of the island.
The National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kauai
Allerton Garden and McBryde Garden are part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, a network of five gardens run by a not-for-profit foundation. Four of them are found in the Hawaiian islands and one in Florida. The other Hawaiian gardens run by this nonprofit include Kahanu Garden and Limahuli Garden, respectively located on Maui and the north shore of Kauai.
Allerton and McBryde gardens are located adjacent to each other in an expansive valley on Kauai’s south shore, making it easy to combine a visit to both in one day. National Geographic Traveler magazine called this “one of the 50 places to see in a lifetime,” and the region sports a rich history. In addition to extensive plantings of native Hawaiian flora, these two gardens also showcase plants from other tropical regions of the globe.
The history of Allerton Garden, also known as Lāwaʻi-kai, stretches back to precolonial-era Hawaii. Queen Emma, the Hawaiian queen from 1856 to 1863, once resided in a cottage in the valley where the Allerton and McBryde gardens are now. The McBryde family purchased the land from her for use as a sugar cane plantation, and garden designer Robert Allerton later purchased the portion that would become Allerton Garden from the sugar plantation magnate.
Allerton Garden now hosts a gorgeous array of exotic plants and tropical fruit trees, and the landscape design of the site is impressive. Outdoor garden rooms, formed by oversized plants and trees, house pretty statues and water features. Impressive Jurassic Park trees, which feature tall curving roots, are a major attraction at Allerton Garden. Moreton Bay fig trees were a prominent feature in the movies “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Jurassic Park,” which were both filmed on-site. You can also find a cut flower garden, swaying golden bamboo, and towering rainforest trees throughout the site. A guided garden tour is the best way to see most of the features in Allerton Garden, including the garden rooms and associated water features.
The McBryde Garden stretches 50 acres and is home to the largest collection of native Hawaiian plants in a curated setting. The collection of tropical plant life includes flowering trees, rubiaceae, heliconias, palms, and orchids, all of which can be spotted during a self-guided tour of the site. There’s also a Regenerative Organic Breadfruit Orchard where guests can learn about sustainable farming and a Tree of Life Trail.
The Hawaiian Life Canoe Plant Garden features “canoe plants,” a group of species that were introduced to the island by the first native Hawaiians, and provides interpretive details to help visitors understand the importance of these amazing plants. Taro, sweet potato, and breadfruit were just a few of the crops introduced to Hawaii by travelers who arrived via canoe from other Pacific islands.
McBryde Garden is considered a research garden, so there’s a focus on conservation and studying the native Hawaiian flora. This living laboratory also includes tropical plants from around the world. Self-guided tours exploring all the different sections of McBryde Garden take about 2.5 hours to complete.
Visiting the National Tropical Botanical Gardens
Located near Poipu Beach on Kauai’s south shore, the Allerton and McBryde gardens are easy to access from anywhere on the island. There’s a visitor center with information on both gardens, and trams regularly leave from the center to bring guests to each garden. The shuttle ride travels along the coast to reach the gardens, so you might spot whales or other marine life in the Pacific Ocean during the drive.
You can opt for separate tours of each garden or take a 2.5-hour guided tour that brings you to both sites. Twilight tours of both McBryde Garden and Allerton Garden give you another way to see both botanical gardens in a single tour. The twilight tour takes you behind the scenes after dark and includes trips down otherwise inaccessible trails. Another option is to book a private Allerton Garden tour for up to four people and get an intimate look at the exotic flora and a personalized lesson in garden history.
The Allerton Garden sunset tour begins just before dusk and goes well into the evening, so you get a firsthand look at night-blooming flowers, their pollinators and the wide variety of creatures that come out after the sun goes down. This tour also takes visitors into the house owned by the Allertons and includes a dinner out on the stunning lanai that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. As an alternative, the Allerton by Fire tour combines a garden tour with a dinner and show at the Allerton house, including fire knife performances and live music.
When visiting either of these two Kauai botanical gardens, make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and clothing that lets you move freely as you hike down paths throughout the garden. Bug spray is also a good idea since many of the garden paths are home to mosquitos and other insects.
From visiting dramatic garden rooms at Allerton Garden to exploring the world’s tropical plants at the McBryde Garden, there’s plenty to see at this pair of Kauai gardens. Start your Kauai adventure by booking a private villa at Koloa Landing Resort and get ready to enjoy the exotic flowers and landscape architecture of these historical gardens.