“This place is classic Hawaii,” the guy tells us from across the pool table at Stevenson’s Library at the Grand Hyatt Kauai. He’s a local and has been coming here for years. For Ryan and me, this is only our second trip to the hotel bar — where pineapples are carved into the wood paneling, where the motif is one part adventurist, one part literary — but we’d already gotten in a session on the dancefloor with the Greenstone Project, a band (also local) that knows how to a get a laidback crowd on its feet. (Their cover of “Blurred Lines” has the power to move mountains.)
The Grand Hyatt was also where we, days before, got schooled on the horticulture of Hawaii.
Our exploration of tropical plants started in the lobby, where “warm aloha” takes the form of colorful orchids, bromeliads, palms, banana trees and even parrots that thrive right here in the middle of the atrium.
The Stevenson Library bar at the Grand Hyatt Kauai — both bookish and adventuresome — became a fast favorite.
In the hotel atrium, orchids bathe in the sunlight.
The garden inside the lobby of the Grand Hyatt.
For our first vacation on the “Garden Isle” of Kauai, we wanted to stay somewhere that was “green” in the sense that it was both eco-friendly and packed with vegetation. Enter the Grand Hyatt Resort and Spa — where, in accordance with local code, no building is taller than the largest coconut tree. Here, the heat from the AC system is used to warm the pools, there’s a dedicated “green team,” and solar panels are installed above the employee parking lot.
Plus, the property is a rambling love letter to plants.
Guests receive leis upon arrival: kukui nuts for the men, and strands of dendrobium (in a shade similar to Pantone’s Color of 2014) for the women. At the front of the property, there are mobs of laua’e ferns, hala trees, glossy ti plants, pink penta flowers and split-leaf philodendrons, their trademark Swiss cheese holes punched in by the sun. Past the lobby and outside, winding down to the ocean, there are jewel-toned gingers and yellow hau flowers that bloom for just a day before they turn orange then red and then drop to the ground. The fragrance of plumeria rides the breeze. Croton hedges come in every shade and combination of green, red and yellow. An amazingly architectural traveller’s palm towers over the pool area, and you can high-five a bird of paradise on your way down the addictive waterslide.
Those fiery plants on the left are Aechmea blanchetiana, a type of bromeliad. In the background, planted against a building is a traveller’s palm; Ravenala madagascariensis is actually not a palm at all but a member of the bird of paradise family.
Rico, a green-wing macaw, blends in with the surrounding palms. Three times a week, he and his feathered friends star in “Parrot Talk,” led by a wildlife attendant in the Seaview Terrace.
Ni’ele, a hyacinth macaw whose name means “nosy” in Hawaiian, nestles amidst the fan-like licuala palms.
The resort was also kind enough to put us up for a night. On a morning in late November, director of public relations Diann Hartman gave us a tour of the 52-acre, hand-watered property, while busting wide open our preconceptions about Hawaiian plants. For starters, many of Hawaii’s iconic plants — like plumeria, hibiscus, kukui nut trees and taro — aren’t native to the islands; taro, ti and kukui, for example, were brought over in canoes by Polynesian settlers between 300 and 800 CE. And then there are the introduced species that are diabolically invasive and destabilize the native populations, like the African tulip.
“Most things that are native are a little more compact and not as ostentatious as, say, this hibiscus,” Diann says, pointing to a standout bloom.
Below, take a stroll through these magical grounds, where plants — natives and non — live together in hotel harmony. —TH
The pools and garden luxuriously lead the way from the hotel to Poipu Beach.
Set on 52 acres and 23 years old, the Grand Hyatt Resort and Spa has a number of eco-friendly initiatives in effect, including photovoltaic solar panels above the employee parking lot, and a system that captures the heat created by the air conditioning system, using it to warm the pools.
The split-leaf philodendron, seen here by the entrance to the lobby, gets its signature holes from sun exposure.
More split-leaf philodendrons — this time in striking variegated form — grow below dwarf date palms.
The fragrant laua’e fern is one of the best-known ferns in Hawaii, and is often used as a groundcover. (That said, it’s also a non-native.)
Pantas add a pop of color just outside the main lobby.
Pink ginger can be found throughout the resort and Kauai.
Ginger often develops goose-necked blooms.
A pair of red ginger.
Awapuhi, a type of ginger, grows in wet, shaded areas. (Find it near waterfalls.) “Squeeze it and it pushes out this sudsy liquid that you can use for shampoo,” Diann says.
Heliconia, photographed here, at first blush could be confused with red ginger.
Chive thrives in the veggie garden.
The hala tree, aka screw pine, is culturally important and native to the Hawaiian islands. Its leaves are used to make mats and other woven handicrafts.
The fruit of the hala tree vaguely resembles a pineapple.
The fibrous husks of hala fruits were used as paintbrushes, once upon a time.
This variegated hala tree captured our imagination.
An Aechmea blanchetiana ignites a bed of laua’e ferns
Croton, a member of the euphorbia family, encloses a portion of the lazy river. The shrub can be seen adding warmth to landscapes all over Kauai.
This gardenia tree is native to Kauai.
Behind this Hau tree, a manmade “beach” lets guests get their saltwater fix, especially when the ocean is rough.
Hau flowers bloom for only one day; the blossoms start as yellow and gradually turn orange then red before falling to the ground. This variety of hibiscus is an introduced (rather than native) species in Hawaii, and is considered invasive.
For its close association with Hawaiian culture, plumeria is another introduced species. Here the tree grows next to a crop of red ti plants. The flowers can be seen carpeting the grass, tempting you to tuck one behind your ear.
Ahhh — we can smell the plumeria flowers from here.
Several varieties of plumeria — aka frangipani — grow on the property, including this striped, pinwheel-like beauty.
“Liquid aloha” break! I had a smoothie, Ryan had a mai tai.
In the winter, the ocean tends to be calm on the South Shore of Kauai and get rough in the North. During the summer, it reverses, as swells from Tahiti make the South Shore a surfing destination. We visited in November/December, and experienced somewhat calm waters and outstanding snorkeling at Lawaii beach nearby. The resort features a network of lagoons that can be enjoyed all year round.
The beach naupaka (Scaevola taccada) has a legend attached to it…
Hawaiian mythology explains why the beach naupaka and the mountain naupaka each have half-flowers: After a girl of high birth falls in love with a commoner, her father banishes her to the mountains — and the commoner to the seashore. The halved flowers represent their thwarted love.
A tree helitrope canopies the beach naupaka.
The nene goose is the state bird of Hawaii, where it’s endemic. In the middle of the last century, the nenes were bred back from the brink of extinction and re-introduced into the wild.
A papaya tree towers over a bed of red ginger and laua’e ferns.
At 45,000 square feet, the hotel’s Anara oasis is the largest spa on Kauai.
The “hale” (thatched hut) treatment rooms are each named after a therapeutic plant.
Black lava rock provides privacy in the shower area.
Black taro gets its striking color from sun exposure. Here it grows among the waterlilies.
We like the morning glory against the gray lava rock.
Metal leaf croton.
The black swan guards the pond, and has befriended the goldfish.
It promptly nabs the plumeria that fell from behind my ear.
Auditions have begun for Black Swan: The Sequel.
The kukui nut tree’s light foliage stands out from the canyons where it grows in the wild. It’s another introduced species, and can be invasive. The nuts adorn Hawaii’s iconic necklaces, and their oil was once burned as a light source — hence the plant’s alternate “candlenut” name.
The kukui nut tree is was in bloom during our visit.
At the valet, his-and-her leis.
I opted to wear mine on my head.
Discarded leis can be composted.
Ryan unwinds amid the philodendron, ginger and ti. The latter is reputed to ward off bad spirits and is thus often found in residential landscaping in Hawaii.
Sunset entertainment on the Seaview Terrace.
The myna birds are “noisy talkers,” Diann says. Indeed, we saw (and heard!) a whole mob of them creating a mosh pit inside a few palm trees. Here, we catch a myna during a rare quiet moment.
The day turns to night inside Stevenson’s Library, where we compare field notes over scotch and sushi.