The Beautiful Gardens Of Honolulu Airport

During my layover in Honolulu, I went to the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport Cultural Gardens…a beautiful centerpiece of one of my favorite airports in the world.

Honolulu Airport Gardens, a zone of tranquility

Most airports, especially in the US, are so sterile. Overall, the experience just keeps getting better, and yet, with a few exceptions (and there are exceptions), the airports aren’t exactly pretty.

But then there’s the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. On the one hand, the airport is a strange concrete giant that is arguably both ugly and old. Yet there are such endearing qualities to this ‘retro’ airport, and one of my favorite aspects is the cultural gardens at its center.

Where else can you step outside on a beautiful afternoon and enjoy the shade of the garden and the pleasant sound of running water between planes taking off and landing?

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The gardens were designed by Richard C. Tongg and first introduced in 1962. Today, the gardens reflect the Hawaiian, Chinese, and Japanese heritage of the island of Ohau and the state of Hawaii.

Paths, bridges and stepping stones connect the three gardens. Waterways flow between these garden ponds and lakes to symbolize the mingling of cultures in Hawaii.

In case you’re curious, here’s how each garden is described by the airport:

Chinese Garden at HNL

The Chinese Garden has a bright red resting pavilion with a curved roof of yellow glazed tiles crafted by Hong Kong masons and artists and assembled in Honolulu. A statue of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the founder of the Republic of China, was donated to the garden by the Chinese community. There is an arched bridge symbolic of the hope of spanning the seas to achieve world peace. Koi fish swim peacefully in the man-made pond. Pine and bamboo trees, as well as other native Chinese flowering trees, are strategically placed among rugged rock formations.

Hawaiian Garden at HNL

At the Hawaiian Gardens there are tranquil lagoons teeming with koi fish, gurgling springs and waterfalls cascading down walls of lava. In a tropical setting, banana, coconut, hala (pandanus), and kukui (candlenut) trees shade Ti plants, exotic ferns like lawai and monstera, as well as showy flowers, white ginger, red torch ginger, and birds of paradise. At night, luau torches light up the garden. You’ll also find plaques commemorating the 25th anniversary of the John Rodgers Terminal on October 15, 1987 and a beautiful kukui nut tree planted to commemorate the occasion.

Japanese Garden at HNL

Serenity can be found in the Japanese Garden. Across a zigzag bridge (which keeps evil away) is a clapboard shelter with stone benches. Colorful carp fish form patterns in the ponds surrounded by carved pines and weeping willows. Stone lanterns gently illuminate the area at dusk. A memorial pagoda on a raised plateau at one end was donated by Hawaii’s Japanese community to commemorate the centenary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.

I spent 30 minutes just sitting

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The Daniel K. Inouye International Airport Cultural Gardens are a great place to spend time before, after, or between flights. Don’t miss this unique aspect of a unique airport.

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