Hana, Hawaii, Maui, North America, United States
Kahanu Gardens,  Hana, East Maui.

©Greg Elms/Lonely Planet

Piʻilanihale Heiau & Kahanu Garden

Top choice in The Road to Hana

Probably the most significant stop on the entire Road to Hana, this site combines a 294-acre ethnobotanical garden with the magnificent Piʻilanihale Heiau, the largest temple in all of Polynesia. A must-do tour provides fascinating details of the extraordinary relationship between the ancient Hawaiians and their environment. This is perhaps the best opportunity in Hawaii to really understand what traditional Hawaiian culture was like prior to contact with the West. Amazingly, very few people visit.

Piʻilanihale Heiau is an immense lava-stone platform with a length of 450ft. The history of this astounding temple is shrouded in mystery, but there’s no doubt that it was an important religious site. Archaeologists believe construction began as early as AD 1200 and continued in phases. The grand finale was the work of Piʻilani (Piʻilanihale means House of Piʻilani), the 14th-century Maui chief who is also credited with the construction of many of the coastal fishponds in the Hana area.

The temple occupies one corner of Kahanu Garden, near the sea. An outpost of the National Tropical Botanical Garden (which also runs the Allerton and McBryde gardens on Kauaʻi), Kahanu Garden contains the largest collection of breadfruit species in the world, with over 120 varieties. Breadfruit is significant because, as its name suggests, its nutritional value makes it a dietary pillar, and hence a weapon to combat global hunger. The garden also contains a living catalog of so-called canoe plants, those essentials of traditional life brought to Hawaii in the canoes of Polynesian voyagers, along with a hand-crafted canoe house that is another step back in time.

The very best way to unlock the relationship between the heiau (ancient temple), the plants, and their beautiful park-like surroundings, where palms sway in the breeze, is to take a guided tour, something the entire family will enjoy. These are given Monday through Friday at 11am and last two hours. Reserve online via https://ntbg.org/gardens/kahanu. The only other option is a self-guided tour by brochure. The site is located 1.5 miles down ʻUlaʻino Rd from the Hana Hwy.

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