We are located on the historic Onomea Bay. Geographically, the valley was carved by the waters of Onomea and Alakahi streams, which originate all the way up in Mauna Kea, and by the wind and waves which cut into the lava cliffs of the coast line. Earthquakes, tsunamis and tropical storms have also caused radical changes to the landscape.
Onomea Arch used to stand on the north side of Onomea Bay. Carved into the lava rocks by the waves, legend has it that King Kamehameha threw his spear into the rock which created a huge tunnel and arch. This famous landmark attracted visitors to Onomea Bay long before the Garden was established. Onomea Arch fell during an earthquake in 1956, and today appears as a wide crevice in the cliff on the north side of Onomea Bay which can be viewed from Ocean Vista in the Garden.
Long ago, Onomea Bay was settled as a Hawaiian fishing village. Settlers cleared much of the vegetation to plant food producing crops such as taro, coconuts, breadfruit and mangos.
Onomea Bay also served as one of the Big Island Hawai’i’s first natural landing areas for sailing ships. In the early 1800s, the fishing village known as Kahali’i, became a shipping port, first importing materials to construct the Onomea Sugar Mill and then exporting raw sugar. The settlers during this time were a mixture of Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos who came to Hawai’i to work in the sugar cane fields and build the Onomea Sugar Mill.
Several relics from this time still exist: remnants of the Onomea Sugar Mill are in the hills above the Garden; within the Garden on Cook Pine Trail you will find a Portuguese bake oven that was discovered when the jungle was being cleared for the Garden. The oven is made of heat-resistant rocks and was used to bake bread on a flat stove.
Plants that came from this history and remain in the Garden include a row of stately palm trees that line the scenic route, and the towering wild banana, mango, coconut and guava and monkey trees you see on the ocean side of the Garden.
After the Onomea Sugar Mill ceased operations, many of the earlier settlers moved away. For a time parts of the valley were used to farm lilikoi (passionfruit) and graze cattle, but by the early 1900s Onomea Valley was deserted and the vegetation so dense that few signs of the former habitation could be seen.
By the 1960s and 70s, Onomea Valley was an overgrown and virtually impenetrable jungle, choked with wild invasive trees, weed and thorn thickets, and strangling vines. This is the state of the land when Founders Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse discovered it in 1977.