Happiness, Kau'ai with Kids, Lifestyle Design, Travel

What to do with Toddlers in Kau’ai – Limahuli Garden and Preserve on the North Shore

With a 4 year old, 2.5 year old and a 5 month old, our first few weeks living on the beautiful island of Kau’ai have been about getting our sleeping hours sorted out and getting into a rhythm with micro-trips and explorations.   As any parent of toddlers and babies knows, the daily activity rhythm circulates around who is still napping.  Windows of opportunity to explore surround the naptime!

For us, morning is an ideal time to get out and about, with a return to the rental house at lunchtime to eat and get our youngest toddler and baby down for sleeps, so most of my posts will be about our morning adventures!

We are staying on the North Shore of Kau’ai, based out of Princeville which is a lovely planned community that is incredibly kid-friendly with a fantastic playground and library nearby.

About a 25 minute drive West, beyond picturesque (and famous) Hanalei Bay, is the end of the highway and the beginning of the spectacular, mountainous Na Pali coast.

Shortly before reaching the end of the line, there is a garden / reserve called Limahuli.

A not-for-profit National Tropical Botanical Garden, Limahuli Garden and Reserve exists to restore and preserve native Kau’aiian species, which exist as a living collection in this spectacular valley.  Its researchers, volunteer and staff are working to preserve a number of plants on the Plant Extinction Program list.

We were surprised to learn that many of the lovely plants in this preserve are the only ones left of their kind, nurtured in the rich landscape of Limahuli where researchers and staff work to prevent invasive species from taking over.


There are only a handful of these plants left in the world; all of them are located within this preserve.  They are extinct in the wild.


I wasn’t sure how a botanical garden would go over with two rambunctious toddlers, but I cannot rave enough about how fantastic this place was for them.

At the gift shop, walking sticks are available to take along the 1.5 mile or 2 km path which is filled with features and treasures for the little ones – small bridges, streams, waterfalls, forest, foot paths, secluded benches, steps and even archaeological sites.

The path progresses through three zones, starting with an ancient 700 year old terrace system that is in stunning condition.  This archaeological site makes up the “canoe zone” – a living collection of the plants that the earliest Polynesian settlers in Hawaii bought with them on their canoes as early as 200 A.D.  The earliest arrivals bought 4 animals (jugle fowl, pigs, rats and dogs) and 27 of their most important and useful plants.

Next is a forest walk featuring the invasive species that have crowded out the natural flora and fauna of the island, and then finally a native (endemic) species walk.  I was suprised to learn that most of the flora and fauna that ou will find on the island is not native to the island, and Limahuli preserve is the only place in the Hawaiian islands where it is possible to walk amongst entirely native species of trees and plants.

Many of the plants introduced during the plantation era (following Captain Cook’s arrival in the late 18th century) quickly overtook most native species.  In fact, the mango tree is one of the most invasive.

This area instantly captured our toddlers’ imagination, especially the recently constructed (2013) traditional Hawaiian hale (house) which was a community project led by elders.




The 700 year-old terraces of the canoe garden, featuring an ancient irrigation system.


There are many spots to stop and take breaks with secluded benches in the forest, though picnics are not permitted.  The children were enraptured with the moss on giant stones, looking for dinosaurs and tigers, and clambering over the stone paths.


Children love the path with its steps, streams and stairs.


Because the path is a mix of gravel track and stepping stones / small stairs, it is not possible to take a stroller, so if you are traveling with a baby you will need a carrier.

The path gently ascends to a spectacular view of the Na Pali coast.  During the winter months (Dec-Mar) it is possible to see humpback whales in the deeper waters.  For the toddlers in your family who have seen the movie Moana, it will feel reminiscent of the scene where Moana climbs the mountain to place her rock!


Looking for whales at the highest vantage point in Limahuli



Once you have enjoyed the spectacular views afforded by the top of the preserve, the path slowly descends downward in a loop back to the terraces, though you’ll find yourself turning backward to gawk at the mountain behind you.  There are several ancient tales about the mountains that surround the preserve, and in the free guidebook you will be able to read about them.  Our toddlers enjoyed looking for the stone figure of Pohaku-o-Kane, sitting wakeful on top of his mountain.


Descending toward the gift shop



There are several steps descending back to the gift shop, and in places there is not a handrail – so holding your toddlers’ hand in spots is recommended.

Our little guy was getting ready for a nap, so the clumsiness stepped up a level with a few trips on the steps going down!





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