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Paradise found.

Kauai's National Tropical Botanical Garden has a new look and a new visitor center

We've barely started bumping down a dirt road high on Kauai's leeward coast when the panorama from a curve in the road--across the verdant Lawai Valley and down into the National Tropical Botanical Garden--brings us to a halt. Green palms and tree canopies and a cobalt blue sea spread out before us, making us feel more like birds swooping in on a coastal breeze than landlocked tourists.

Our guide points to the vivid scarlet bougainvilleas that spill down the steep slopes. Two of these plants, we are told, were planted by Queen Emma, wife of Hawaii's King Kamehameha IV during the late 1800s.

Back in our open-air tram, we head farther down the former sugar cane train railbed into the valley, the garden unfurling around us like an exotic flower.

The nation's only congressionally chartered tropical botanical garden is seductive. Tropical plants from all over the world grow here, including More-ton Bay fig trees from Australia, whose gigantic, trunk-buttressing roots provided a backdrop for the movie Jurassic Park. The garden also has the world's largest collection of native Hawaiian flora--268 species, many of them rare and endangered.

This lush growth has been only a few years in the making: When Hurricane Iniki roared through in September '92, trees snapped like toothpicks and hundreds of native plants were wiped out. Fortunately, heroic efforts on the part of the staff to propagate, collect, and replace plants have brought back much of the garden's former beauty. There are new attractions as well-a visitor center and extensive display gardens.

Plantation house and garden tours

Tours of the garden start and end at the new Bill and Jean Lane Visitor center and Gift Shop (named after Sunset's former owners, who funded the project), housed in a historic sugar plantation cottage restored down to its original floors. The clapboard house and its adjacent kitchen garden--planted with pineapple, sweet potato, sugar cane, and other crops grown by early plantation farmers--showcase the islands' agricultural history.

The botanical garden offers two tours (specify your choice when you make reservations). The Lawai Tour (at 9 and 1 on Mondays) includes a walk from Lawai Beach to the fig tree grove and palms, and a drive up the valley's west side to view the native Hawaii collection. The Allerton Garden Tour (at 9, 10, 1, and 2 on Tuesdays through Saturdays) includes a walking tour of the fountains, sculptures, and meditation pools of the classic 1930s estate of Robert and John Gregg Allerton near the ocean. In 1964, Robert Allerton helped create the garden, and the estate has been a part of the national botanical garden since 1986.

Botanical garden travel planner

WHERE: The National Tropical Botanical Garden is about 12 miles southwest of Lihue in Poipu; parking is just across Lawai Road from Spouting Horn,

TOURS: Visitor center (free) is open 8:30 to 5 daily. Garden tours (21/2 hours; by reservation only) cost $25, $15 ages 13-18, $10 ages 5-12.

CONTACT: (808) 742-2623 for tours, 742-2433 for visitor center.
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Title Annotation:Kauai's National Tropical Botanical Garden
Author:BRENZEL, KATHLEEN N.
Publication:Sunset
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U9HI
Date:Feb 1, 2000
Words:515
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