There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track. Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.
Snuggled deeply between Mauna Kea Volcano and Kohala Mountain, sometimes startlingly sunny, sometimes shrouded in mist, Waimea is the heart of “Paniolo”, or Hawai’ian Cowboy Country. It was here that John Parker established the first commercial cattle venture in Hawaii, Parker Ranch, around 1816. Few mainlanders realize that three generations of Paniolo, Hawaiian cowboys, lived, worked and died in Hawaii before white men ever drove cattle into Wyoming or Montana. The sport of rodeo is older here than almost anywhere else in the US.
Sometimes confusing to visitors is the fact that Waimea/Kamuela has two names; “Kamuela” is the Hawai’ian word for the name “Samuel”, named after Samuel Spencer. “Waimea” is the name of the ancient Hawai’ian village that was located here in pre-contact times. Picturesquely, “Waimea” in Hawai’ian means “slop” or “muddy”, which reflects the native Hawai’ian’s poor opinion of this rainy, cold region. The post office steadfastly refers to it as “Kamuela” so as not to be confused with the two other “Waimeas” in the state.
Waimea is in the middle of some of the most incredible scenery in the world, and the intersection of many of the best scenic drives on the island. Midway on Highway 19 between Kailua Kona and Hilo, or Kailua Kona and Waipi’o Canyon, simply touring between Kona and Hilo through Waimea is a wonderful trip. Climbing up through dryland forest to the upland lava flows and rolling grasslands of the Kohala-Mauna Kea Saddle , the road swoops down again through eucalyptus forests to tropical jungle canyons and the feral sugar cane fields of the Hamakua Coast.
Waimea also serves as the gateway to adventures o Hawaii’s highest peak, the tallest mountain on earth, Mauna Kea, as well as the incomparably grand Mauna Kea-Mauna Loa saddle area, via the Saddle Road (Highway 200). You can learn more about the Saddle Road here, and exploring Mauna Kea, here.
The fabulous north Kohala Coast can be reached from Waimea via the Kohala Mountain Road (Highway 250), an incredibly beautiful drive through upland meadow and forest to the old-time Hawaii town and artist community at Hawi. Can learn more about the Kohala Mountain Road here.
Waimea offers some of the finest shopping, restaurants and the most modern hospital on the island. Although it seems a little rough and tumble, and jeans and flannel shirts appear to be the uniform, Waimea is actually a very sophisticated town. Peruse the list below for a taste of what Paniolo Country, Waimea, has to offer the visitor.
Paniolo Country: The cattle industry on Hawaii began on February 22, 1793, at Kealakekua, when British Navigator George Vancouver presented a gift of cows to King Kamehameha. With no training or knowledge of how to handle them, the cows were allowed to roam free and soon turned wild.
Shortly after horses were brought to Hawaii in 1804, Kamehameha recruited California Vaquero Joachin Armas to help contain the wild cattle and train local cowboys. Over the years, more Spanish mission vaqueros came to work for the burgeoning Hawaiian cattle industry. The Hawai’ians called the vaqueros “paniolos” a corruption of the Spanish word “Espańola”; which today remains the island word for “cowboy”.
In the late 1800s, piers and docks began to be built at various shipping spots around the island and the cows were unceremoniously chased into the ocean, lashed by their horns to longboats, then rowed out only to be unceremoniously hoisted by crane onto the deck of the waiting ships.
Ranch culture by its nature is fairly isolated. As such, this allowed the Paniolos to preserve many Hawaiian traditions through the turbulent nineteenth century, such as the art of Hula and the Hawaiian Language, which the missionaries actively tried to eradicate. You can learn more about the Paniolos and the Hawaii cattle industry here.
Parker Ranch, Historic Homes and Gardens: The Parker Ranch is the largest cattle ranch in America under single family ownership and with almost 200 years of history, it is one of the oldest. In 1809, the 19-year old John Parker jumped ship on the Island of Hawai’i. Coming to the attention of King Kamehameha the Great, Parker was trusted with helping the King bring the Kingdom of Hawai’i into modern times.
John Parker was also given the task of shooting many of the wild cattle which rampaged and pillaged the countryside. Parker taught the natives how to render the meat into salt beef which was then sold to the passing whaling and merchant ships and soon became Hawai’i’s number one export. John Parker was given an initial grant of 2 acres land by the King. When he married Princess Kipikane in 1816, Kamehameha the Great’s granddaughter, she was granted some 640 acres…this is how the Parker Ranch began.
There is some irony here, as the Hawaiians considered the land around Waimea nearly worthless—cold and rainy, it was no good for producing traditional Hawai’ian food crops and uncomfortable for living in traditional Hawai’ian homes. However, Parker saw it was perfect for raising cattle. He kept buying and adding land to his holdings until today; the ranch he started covers nearly 10% of the Island’s landmass, a whopping 150,000 acres.
In addition to its importance in beginning and fostering the ranching industry on the Island of Hawai’i, Parker Ranch was also important to Hawaii’s contribution to the war effort during the Second World War. During the years 1943-1945 more than 50,000 marines of the 2nd and 5th Marine Divisions, Navy sailors and Army soldiers used Camp Tarawa, located entirely on the Parker Ranch, for rest and recuperation from the historic assault on Tarawa, as well as training for the assaults on Iwo Jima, Leyte and Guam and the occupation of Kyushu. Tours of Parker Ranch, and the historic Parker Ranch House and gardens, are an interesting addition to your Hawaiian vacation.
Waimea Nature Park: Tucked away on the outskirts of Waimea, out of the way of noise and traffic, is an interesting, if small, gem of a park. The Waimea Nature Park, maintained by the Waimea Outdoor Circle, is a lovely expanse of lawns and gardens, walking trails and a plant nursery. A wonderful place to have a picnic lunch, walk the dog or stretch the legs, Waimea Nature Park also hosts sales to the public of plant saplings and cuttings.
Waimea Park: With picnic tables and shelters, pit barbecues, water, restrooms, a large children’s playground and ball fields, the Waimea Park in the center of town is a great place to stop, have a bite to eat and stretch the legs in the middle of the long drive across the middle of the Big Island.
Waimea Restaurant Row: This is one of the primary commercial centers of Waimea which is not located in the Parker Ranch Center or Waimea Center. Most of the town’s fine dining establishments as well as the more colorful, but less upscale, cafes are located along this stretch of roadway.
Isaacs Art Center: The Isaacs Art Center is a fine art museum and gallery with a smallish permanent collection, but which also regularly features many fine temporary exhibits and traveling art shows. A really fine establishment, the gallery, run by Kamehameha Schools, is something of a surprise to find in the roughish “cowboy country” of upcountry Waimea.
Waimea Center: One of the two principle centers of commercial activity in the center of town, Waimea Center has a large-chain food store, a pharmacy, numerous restaurants, gift and boutique shops, fast food restaurants and public restrooms.
Parker Ranch Center: The other principle shopping-center in Waimea, Parker Ranch Center has a large-chain food store, pharmacy, banks, the Kamuela Post Office, a food court, numerous restaurants, gift and boutique shops and public restrooms. In addition, a small museum about Parker Ranch is located here; this is where tours of the Ranch may be booked and boarded.
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