If you go to the Waimea Valley only to see the waterfall, you will probably be disappointed, depending on when you go. Right now (November 2012) they've had very little rain, so the waterfall is a trickle. To me, this didn't matter. I love going to visit botanical gardens, and this is a good one!
Everything is well marked and labeled, so you can learn what kinds of plants you're looking at and driving by.
There are some highly maintained areas and some areas that need to be weeded (the hibiscus garden comes to mind), but there are lots of beautiful foliage areas and blooming plants to see. I really liked the begonia and fern hill, which I think many people probably miss. It is fun to see a lot of plants that grow as houseplants growing"wild."
The gardens are organized by plant type and geographic area. If you actually read some of the signs instead of sprinting for the waterfall, you'll learn some things.
You will see weeds, but can you imagine tending a park this big and keeping it totally weed-free? I think they do a decent job, and they probably work area by area. By the time they get back to the beginning, there are a lot of weeds to deal with!
Some tips if you're going:
1) Take a bottle of water or buy one. it is hot and humid
2) Wear shoes with a good grip on the bottom--tennis shoes or Keen-types. The path to the right is slippery, but that's where you see the most stuff.
3) Rain showers pop up frequently, so be ok with getting a little wet or take a raincoat or umbrella
4) The bugs were not bad while we were there, but I think they can be.
5) If you can't walk very well you can take the little shuttle. It costs $6 round trip. There are hills to walk. I think it would be worth the drive just to see some of the gardens, albeit quickly!
6) The gift shop actually has a nice collection of books about Hawaii--the only books I've seen since I got here! I bought several.
7) Stop at the snack bar and get one of the locally made popsicles on your way out. SO tasty. I got the pineapple vanilla.
Kids might be bored here. Or they might not. Depends on if they like plants.
When we were there you couldn't swim because of the lack of water. After learning about the bacterial disease that is in the water, I don't think I would have wanted to swim anyway. There is a life guard there. You can also rent or borrow life jackets. (I don't know if you rent or borrow--because we couldn't swim, I didn't investigate.)
It's a really pretty park and a way to actually stroll through the "rainforest" conditions of the north shore.
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