Camping on Oahu has its challenges. Unlike the other Hawaiian islands, many of the campgrounds on Oahu have litter and / or noise problems. However, you can find some very nice, clean, quiet, safe, and scenic places to camp on Oahu. The Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden in Kaneohe is one of them.
The Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden lives up to its name, which translated into English means “to make a place of peace and tranquility.” This is a very peaceful environment. And the rules are very strict about noise; for example, even in the middle of the day, radios and CD players should be kept low enough so as not to disturb the neighbors in the camp.
The gardens wind their way across 400 acres and are abandoned by the castle-like green 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 native Hawaiian plants. The Hawaiian garden here, like many of the others here, has some very nice tent sites, along with clean indoor bathrooms and showers.
You can camp here for free from 9 a.m. M. From Friday until 4 p.m. Sunday, except Christmas and New Years. The rest of the days of the week you cannot camp, but this is a good place to spend the weekend. While it does not have 24 hour security, everyone I spoke to said that it is very quiet.
The gate to the gardens closes at 4 pm and those who camp will be issued car passes so they can use the rear gate which is open from 5:30 to 6:30 pm All in all, and which is located one mile from hike from the gate of the first campground, this removes it from the list of “party places”. Since it does not have access to the beach, it is also not a place where large families gather with good music and Hawaiian food. People come to the gardens to enjoy the flora and fauna and the tranquility.
While there is no beach here, there is a trail that will take you to a wonderful place to watch 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 at the Garden Visitor Center were warm, generous of their time, and very knowledgeable. The center has an art gallery with cultural exhibits and a botanical library. You’ll also find a network of trails and a lake (fish and drop; no swimming).
The Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens are located near several wonderful places for sightseeing, water games and other destinations, including the Byoda Temple hidden in the Valley of the Temples and featuring a larger-than-life Buddha statue, a meditation garden and a pond with 10,000 koi; Kaneohe Bay with its white sand banks that appear as small islands in blue waters at low tide; the cities of Kaneohe and Kailua with various shops and restaurants; the very Hawaiian country town of Waimanalo, where the horses still roam freely and the beach is one of the best on the island; and Kailua Bay, the quintessential water park on the Windward side that offers a long stretch of white sand and sheltered waters popular with surfboard, kayak and windsurf novices.
A variety of programs are offered in the gardens during the week, such as orchid growing, weather crafting, and botanical drawing, to name a few. Some of these have fees, while others are free. For a current schedule, use the contact information above and request one.
Hawaiian ecology is emphasized in these programs. Day use and camping programs may include ethnic, craft, botanical, horticultural, and environmental activities. Free guided nature walks, covering topics such as local birds, cloud watching, and medicinal plants, are offered at 10 a.m.
The trick to this quiet and free camping in a garden? It is in a tropical jungle. So remember to bring a waterproof tent and gear. It will still be warm though, so something lightweight, like a pocket-sized poncho or a lightweight jacket, will work best. You may also want a mosquito repellent, although they didn’t bother me. Here you will find picnic tables and fire pits. If you want to use a tarp, bring poles because they don’t allow you to tie anything to the trees. A small camping stove or hibachi can also be helpful.
A detailed map with hiking trails can be obtained from the Visitor Center or the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens. However, the website map does not include a legend, so if you use it, be aware that the hiking trails are shown in dashes and the H-3 freeway in bold printed dashes. Distances are not shown on the map, but the Visitor Center can answer your questions.