Located on the bay of the Waiakea Peninsula, the Liliuokalani Gardens are just off of Banyan Drive in the town of Hilo. The park's name derives from the last of Hawaii's reigning monarchs, Queen Liliuokalani, who gave up her throne in 1898 when the islands were annexed by the United States. She donated the land upon which the gardens were created.
The primary feature of these 30 landscaped acres is an authentic Japanese garden, the largest true ornamental Japanese park outside of Japan. It was created in the early 1900s to memorialize Japanese immigrants who came to work on the local sugar plantations.
Among the many features of the Liliuokalani Gardens are oriental plantings, curving walkways, pagodas, ponds and bridges. There are sprawling manicured lawns where children can play, and the clear waters beside the sea wall along Hilo Bay are popular for fishing by both pole and net, a relaxing pastime enjoyed by young and old alike.
The park is an excellent venue for picnic lunches while relaxing beneath tropical trees. Many locals enjoy walking or jogging the trail that circles its perimeter, especially early in the day. Because the park faces east across Hilo Bay, it offers excellent views of the sun rising over the Pacific Ocean as well as the cooling breezes of the morning trade winds.
Those who come with their swimsuits can enjoy a refreshing dip in the calm waters off Coconut Island, which is connected to the gardens by a slender foot bridge. In Hawaiian, the island is called Moku'ola, which means "healing island.'' According to folklore, diseases and afflictions were once cured here.
The Japanese gardens were designed in the traditional Yedo style. At their center is tranquil Waihonu Pond, where footbridges and gazebos have been constructed, complemented by weeping willows, azaleas, and aesthetically placed groves of bamboo. Quite recently, a Japanese rock garden was added to the park and the various paths, walkways, and drive around the park have been resurfaced.
Also on the grounds is a traditional Japanese Tea House named Shoroan, which was rebuilt after being destroyed by fire in 1994. Its chashitsu (tea room) was donated by the Fifteenth Grand Tea Master of Urasenke. The facility is used for tea ceremonies and may be booked for events.
Flanking the gardens is Banyan Tree Drive with its canopy of Banyan trees. Most of these were planted by the city of Hilo in 1935, but several were added thereafter by famous individuals whose names are displayed along with the year of planting. Among them are trees bearing the names of baseball great Babe Ruth and then-Senator Richard Nixon.
To get to the Liliuokalani Gardens, take State Highway 11 (Kanoelehua) until it turns into Banyan Drive. Follow this road past the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, and then turn to the right. The entrance to the gardens is on the left, and the Coconut Island parking lot is on the right. The address is 93 Banyan Drive, Hilo, Hawaii 96720-4632.
Entrance to the garden is free. It has no fence and is therefore open year round, 24 hours a day. Restrooms and drinking water are available on site.