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Places On Oahu: Moanalua Gardens

Basic Information

  • Name: Moanalua Gardens
  • Where: Honolulu
  • Cost: $3 visitors, $1 locals
  • Hours: 7:30 AM to sunset
  • More Information: Moanalua Gardens website

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

Narrative

The Moanalua Gardens is a location I have long driven passed while driving on the H201 freeway and I kept telling myself I need to visit it some day:

That day eventually came when I recently took my two kids aged 4 and 7 to check out the Moanalua Gardens.  Entry into the gardens is $3 though I am not sure how they check who has paid since anyone can just walk in.  Payment is made inside a small visitor center located near the entrance with no one given stickers or anything else to indicate they have paid, it is basically an honor system so hopefully not too many people take advantage of this.  Here is a picture of the visitor center:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

After checking into the visitor center I found that for locals like myself my entry fee was only $1 which was nice discount.  Plus the staff at the visitor center were super friendly and sold us some cheap food to feed the fish in the park with as well.  The Moanalua Gardens claim to fame is that it is home to trees that over 100 years old to include the Hitachi Tree which is famous in Japan.

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

Here is a brief history of the Hitachi Tree from the company’s website:

The Hitachi Tree first originated through a TV commercial that aired in Japan in 1973. It symbolized the “comprehensive drive” and the “wide business range” of the Hitachi Group. It continues today as an image of the Hitachi Group’s working for communities through leveraging of its collective capacities and technologies, and the dedication of the individuals that the Group comprises.
The tree is widely recognized, especially in Japan, and has become an important symbol of the Hitachi Group’s reliability, and earth-friendliness. It also enhances Hitachi’s brand value as a visual representation of its corporate slogan: “Inspire the Next.”
Over the past 35 years, the Hitachi Tree has become a valuable Hitachi Group asset as a familiar and respected image in Hitachi’s expanding messages globally.  [Hitachi.com]

The vast majority of visitors I saw at the Moanalua Gardens were Japanese taking pictures with the Hitachi Tree:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

The Hitachi tree is estimated to be 130 years old and up until 2016 Hitachi had been paying the park $400,000 a year to use the tree as its corporate symbol:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

Due to the agreement with Hitachi running out in 2016 the private owner of Moanalua Gardens, a descendant of the Damon family, had to implement the admission fee.  Considering how small the entry fee is I wonder if Damon makes enough to cover the overhead to operate the park?  Also of interest is that the Damon family is the one the movie, “The Descendants” is loosely based off of and the remains of one of their homes and a carriage trail can be seen in the nearby Kamananui Valley.

Samuel Damon, the patriarch of the Damon family who amassed a fortune in banking and real estate in Hawaii.

Unfortunately I was not lucky enough to be born an heir to a billion dollar fortune, but I don’t mind paying the entrance fee to help keep the gardens open.  After checking out the Hitachi Tree my kids and I decided to walk completely around the park.  We started by following the creek that flows between the Moanalua Gardens and the H201 freeway:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

We were surprised to see that in the murky water there was actually a lot of fish:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

The stream eventually flows away from the gardens and underneath an H201 overpass:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

I actually saw a few homeless tents underneath the overpass which just goes to show the homeless problem on Oahu can be found in just about every neighborhood on the island.  From the overpass bridge we crossed over a small pedestrian bridge that crossed another creek that flowed through the garden:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

A prominent landmark we saw from the bridge was the pink colored Tripler Army Medical Center that sits prominently on a high hill overlooking the city:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

On the other side of the bridge we saw this old fountain that is apparently no longer operational:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

After checking out the fountain we then followed the creek up and around the park.  The path along the way had a lot of nice plants and flowers to check out:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

I think this colorful red plant is called a red powder puff:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

This next flower we saw with red flowers was quite beautiful as well, but I am not sure of its name:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

The next plant we saw I was sure of its name because of the big noni fruit I saw growing on it:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

Here is a closer look at the noni which is now a popular health supplement in Asia:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

As we continued to walk down the path I next spotted a mango tree:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

Here is another colorful flower I saw that I wasn’t sure what it was called, but was quite beautiful:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

We next saw one of my favorite trees called an African Tulip Tree, I actually have one of these in my backyard:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

After the African Tulip Tree the path next curved and crossed over the creek again:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

On the other side of the creek we next came to a Chinese temple:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

The temple was built her by the Damon family.  Here is a brief history of the temple from the Moanalua Gardens Foundation:

Moanalua Gardens is the property of the Damon Estate. The Damon family used Chinese Hall in Moanalua Gardens to entertain commissioners, military officers, and scientific and literary people from all over the world.

Facts About Chinese Hall

  • It was not built in Hawaii. The original tile roof, upturned eaves, entranceway and intricately carved, three-dimensional wood panels were all imported from China and assembled here from 1904–1906.
  • Chinese Hall was moved to its present location in 1960 from ma kai (towards the sea) of the freeway where Servco now stands. A Japanese garden and teahouse was located in the area currently occupied by Chinese Hall.
  • Chinese Hall was used for gatherings such as private dinners and gala balls for up to 300 guests. Guests from Honolulu arrived here via the OR&L passenger train, which operated from 1896–1947.
  • Four or five musicians were stationed in a hidden, second level chamber behind a carved panel (located above the rear door). The kitchen and service entry is at the rear extension of the building.
  • The building is a blending of Oriental and Victorian design. The decorative elements are entirely Chinese but the layout and interior spaces are Victorian.
  • Look closely at the carved panels and notice the dragon, crane, peach, phoenix, pine, lotus and pomegranate. Each object is important symbolically in Chinese culture.

Adjacent to the Japanese temple is a large pond that is filled with koi fish:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

There was a lot of families who bought fish food from the visitor center and let their kids have fun feeding the various koi fish:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

Besides the fish the various ducks liked to eat the fish food as well:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

While my kids were feeding the fish I spotted this bird scoping out the fish and he did eventually snag a small fish out of the pond:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

Another thing that happened while my kids were feeding the fish was that this aggressive and ugly looking goose began to snap at us:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

I guess the goose was just being territorial, but my kids had fun being chased around by this goose.  We next walked over to a summer cottage that was built by King Kamehameha V in the 1850s:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

After King Kamehameha V’s death the Moanalua Gardens land ended up being willed to Bernice Pauahi Bishop who was the last of the Kamehameha bloodline.  Because she was the last of the bloodline Bernice’s husband Charles Bishop found the Bishop Museum to display the various Hawaiian artifacts she inherited after her death in 1884.  The Bishop Museum continues to this day to be the most prestigious museum in Hawaii.  Interestingly for whatever reason Bernice did not will the Moanalua Gardens land to her husband and instead to her business partner Samuel Damon.  Damon actually at one time used the cottage as his own residence.  Today the old cottage is currently being renovated and I assume will be used to be rented out for events:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

Hopefully the Moanalua Gardens staff put up some markers to explain the different sites in the gardens because its history really is quite interesting.  After checking out the cottage we next walked back to the entrance to complete our circuit around the gardens:

Picture from Moanalua Gardens

Conclusion

The Moanalua Gardens is a must see location on Oahu for Japanese visitors, but for everyone else with limited time on Oahu this is not a place I recommend taking the time to visit. This is basically a really nice local park that just so happens to have a tree that is really famous in Japan in it.  However, if you are someone that is into visiting off beat sights Moanalua Gardens definitely fits the bill with its famous tree and interesting history.

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