Maui Time

Day tripping to Hana – Kahanu Gardens, Pi’ilanihale Heiau and Hana Burger Hana Ranch Food Truck

You don’t hear too much about Hawaiian history before Kamehameha I, but of course Hawaiian royalty and culture started centuries before his birth. One of the best places to get a feel for the mana of ancient Hawaii is at the Kahanu Gardens in Hana, home of Pi`ilanihale heiau. But to get to it, you must adventure to Hana.

If camping is an option or desire on your trip to East Maui, contact Camp Maui. They have camping kits to loan you. It starts at about $60 for a two-person set-up for three nights. They can also set you up with air mattresses, sleeping pads, family-size kits, kama`aina specials and firewood. These guys are serious about camping, and can give you the inside scoop on where to camp and how to get permits. They have a kiosk in Kihei, but they also have mobile delivery and pick up.

Of course, spending the night in Hana is highly recommended if you can swing it, but I decided to stop making excuses and just drive out for the day. The Kahanu Gardens National Botanical Garden is on Ulaino Road in Hana, located right before the Wainapanapa State Park turn-off and the Hana Airport, and I wanted to stop at Hana Ranch for a tour and to see their new food truck, Hana Burger. 

Just out of Hana Town on the slopes above Koki Beach, I had the Hana Ranch burger at their food truck, which comes with salad, green iced tea and a papaya smoothie. Of course, this is as farm-to-food truck as it gets–the ingredients practically tumble down from the mountain behind the truck. My driver/husband had the mahi sandwich and was seriously impressed, saying it was the best fish sandwich ever. They have a restroom, farm-stand and picnic tables.

For the full farm-to-sandwich experience, book a tour at the ranch. Depending on who’s available, someone comes down to meet you by the food truck and you take off for the fields just up the road. They’re growing such a wide variety of crops there, employing new techniques, crop rotations, experimenting with new edible plants and planting the tried and true canoe crops, too. A new field of 200 Ulu trees (breadfruit), from Kahanu Gardens, is coming along, but won’t fruit for eight years. In the papaya field we picked one of their non-GMO papayas that go into their papaya ginger smoothie and cracked it open for a taste. Growing food isn’t revolutionary, but seeing the vision that Grant McCargo, CEO of Bio-Logical Capital and Brian McGinness, Operations Director of Hana Ranch, have makes it feel very cutting edge there.

We headed to Kahanu Gardens after a quick dip in the fresh water caves of Wainapanapa. This National Botanical Garden was established in the 1970s when the descendants of Chief Kahanu and Hana Ranch deeded the land to the Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden (as it was known then) to create the Kahanu Garden. In exchange, the organization promised to restore the Pi`ilanihale Heiau and provide unfailing protection for the sacred site and open it to the public.

Subsequent purchases have grown the garden to 464 acres from its original 61. Kahanu Garden is open from 9am until 4pm every Monday through Friday, and it costs $10 per person entry or $5 for kama`aina to get in and do a self-guided tour (Saturdays are 9am to 2pm). Children under 12 are free. The garden is home to the largest collection of Ulu trees in the state with more than 150 varieties.

All around the Pi`ilanihale heiau are plaques explaining the plants, history and region. The heiau is breathtaking. It’s immense–the largest heiau in the state, in fact. Built in several phases, beginning in the 13th century and ending in the 16th century.

Hana was an important place then with plenty of commerce. It was a big player in ancient Hawaii and you feel it here. And by the way, No Climbing!

Surrounding the backside is one of the last untouched Hala forests, and to the front and shoreline there’s a thatched canoe hale replicated in recent times that you can walk to and sit under. Although this was my first visit to Pi`ilanihale and Kahanu Gardens, I know this will be one of my Hana destinations for years to come.

Address and Info:

Kahanu Garden – Give yourself plenty of time to take in the Pi‘ilanihale heiau, the thatched canoe hale, Hala forest and large collection of breadfruit trees. $10 ages 13 and up. 650 Ulaino Rd., Hana; 808-248-8912;

For more information on other botanical gardens across the US visit this post