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Na Aina Kai: A Tropical Work of Art


Courtesy of Na Aina Kai

Sculptures populate the 240-acre gardens of Na AINA Kai, on Kauai.

Nestled on Kaua‘i’s lush North Shore, Na Aina Kai, Hawaiian for “lands by the sea,” opened as Kaua‘i’s newest botanical garden four years ago. The property was cow pasture when Joyce and Ed Doty bought the first 30 acres near Kilauea in 1982. Since then, they’ve transformed their 240-acre estate into 12 stunning gardens, an ever-evolving collage of flowers, foliage, water features and statuary. Twice hurricanes destroyed their work, but the couple—now in their 70s—persevered and rebuilt. In 2000, they set up a nonprofit foundation and donated their $17 million garden to it.

No strangers to hard work—Joyce and Ed Doty once owned a mule ranch in California—the pair had never done a major landscaping project and initially knew nothing about tropical horticulture. They began planting ornamental trees, “and the ideas began to blossom,” Joyce remembers. She is the visionary who designs the gardens, and Ed, a retired contractor, is the builder.

Over the years, the couple created a .75-acre lagoon, a desert garden, a hedge maze, a bog house and a tropical hardwood plantation that will help support the garden in the future. The landscape is populated with more than 60 life-size bronze sculptures, one of the largest private collections of sculpture in the country. One piece, “Valentine,” was an anniversary gift from Joyce to Ed.

“Na Aina Kai is truly unique in design and presentation compared to any sculpture garden I am aware of anywhere,” says gallery owner Rob Pitzer of Carmel, Calif. Works by nationally known artists such as George Lundeen, Rosalind Cook and Kent Ullberg—38 sculptors in all—are as integral to the garden as the flowers and trees.   

Art aficionados, gardeners or nature lovers, Na Aina Kai offers something for everyone. Scarlet passionflowers clamber over arbors, and brilliant red jade vines cascade down a rock wall. Two hundred Japanese koi flash in the lagoon, and a waterfall splashes over giant boulders. Spiky agaves nestle next to tall, organ-pipe cactus as trade winds rustle the branches of nearby palms. Rows of young teak trees reach for the sky, their platterlike leaves aflutter, and the melodious song of a Chinese laughing thrush echoes nearby. Humpback whales breech just offshore, and Laysan albatross soar overheard.

Horticulturist Marty Fernandes came to Na Aina Kai in 1995, and her expertise has been invaluable in locating the best plants to implement Joyce’s ideas. A crew of 13 maintenance and landscape workers tend the grounds. So large is Na Aina Kai that one walking tour lasts five hours.

A 16-foot-tall Jack-in-the-Beanstalk towers over the charming new Under the Rainbow Children’s Garden. A gecko-shaped maze, an elaborate jungle gym, a stockade with a log cabin and a covered wagon and a ceramic wall puzzle provide plenty of entertainment for the little ones.

Three new projects are under construction:  a miniature ahupua‘a, a conference center and a fine arts gallery. Joyce is already dreaming of an information center for Kaua‘i’s horticulture, agriculture and forestry. “It’s a great joy to share the gardens,” she says. “It gives us the kind of satisfaction an artist must feel when someone sees his painting, or when a composer hears his symphony played.”

Na Kai Aina Botanical Gardens

4101 Wailapa Road
Kilauea, HI  96754

Drive north from Lihue past the 21-mile marker, and take the first right turn onto Wailapa Road. At the end of the half-mile road, enter the iron gate.

Tours are offered Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday year-round, and range from one to five hours. All tours are guided. Reservations are recommended, but drop-in guests are welcome on a space-available basis.

For reservations, call (808) 828-0525, or email reservations@naainakai.com.

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Honolulu Magazine December 2019
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