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by Donald B. MacGowan

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Lapakahi State Park, Kohala Coast, Hawaii: Graphic Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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.

North Kona and Kohala: Ancient History, Sumptuous Beaches

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The majestic cliffs of North Kohala and Pololu Valley, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Approximate minimum time start to finish (to see every site) 8 hours.

The tour begins at the Keauhou Historic District with ancient battlefields, heiau (stone temples), surfing beaches as well as an ancient temple in Kailua Kona. 15 minutes north of town is Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park. See how Hawai’ians used aquaculture to create thriving communities in desolate areas. Among the many coastal sites, Hapuna Beach State Park, 30 minutes north, is rated in the Top 10 Best Beaches of the world, then stop 20 minutes further at Pu’u Kohala National Historic Park to visit an enormous heiau erected to the war god, Kuka’ilimoku. After several more sites, the road ends at Pololu Valley where wild ocean, cliffs, rainforest, waterfalls and a black sand beach make for stunning photographs plus a one hour hike. Looping back, the Kohala Mountain Road (Highway 250) cruises 45 minutes over Kohala Volcano to the lush pastures of Waimea for history of ranching in Hawaii as well as great shopping and dining. From Waimea it is one hour back to Kailua Kona.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The famous Kona Sunset fades behind Ku'emanu Heiau, Keauhou Historic District, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Leg 1) In Kailua Kona, start at Keauhou Historic District, southern point. Drive Ali’i Drive north to Kahalu’u Beach, Keauhou Historic District (north terminus), La’aloa Beach and Ahu’ena Heiau.

Keauhou Historic District and Kona Coffee

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Reconstructed Hapaiali'i Heiau, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

For almost 400 years, temples and palaces along the Kona coastline served as a kind of “Rome of the Pacific”, a great political, religious and cultural center in Polynesia, until the capital was moved to Honolulu in 1850 by Kamehameha III. The most important, interesting and best preserved historical and cultural sites lie within the Keauhou Historic District, between Kahalu’u Beach Park in Kailua running south 6 miles to Kuamo’o Bay in Keauhou. The District contains perhaps a dozen fascinating sites that are easy to walk to, well maintained and quite interesting.

To see the numerous fascinating and important archaeological sites in the Keauhou Historic District, it is necessary to park your car in the free parking at either Kahalu’u Beach Park or the Keauhou Beach Resort and explore on foot. A detailed trip through the Keauhou Historic District can be found here.

Just uphill from the Historic District is the Kona Coffee District. Hawaii is the only state in the union which produces coffee, and Kona coffee is perhaps the finest in the world. Over 2 millions pounds of coffee a year are produced on about 600, 2-3 acre farms; tours of coffee farms and roasteries are available. More about the justly famous Kona Coffee can be found here

Kahalu’u Beach County Park

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Amanda Steven at Kahalu'u Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Loll in sand and sun under swaying palms, snorkel among rainbow-colored fish on a protected reef or ride surf where the Kings of Hawai’i defined the sport a thousand years ago! Kahalu’u is the crown jewel of Kona Coast County Beach Parks. This is the premiere snorkeling beach of the Island of Hawai’i; the snorkeling is in calm, shallow water. There is an abundance of fish of an enormous variety…perhaps the best display on the island. Go carefully into the water, being sure not to harass the endangered turtles, feed or harm the fish, nor touch or stand upon the corals.

There are numerous sites of historic importance around the park. It was here that the great queen, Ka’ahumanu, and her cousin Kuakini (later Territorial Governor) were raised. Abundant parking, disabled access, picnic tables, two shaded pavilions, two sets of public restrooms, showers and lifeguards round-out the facilities of this beautiful beach park. More about Kahalu’u Beach can be found here.

La’aloa Beach County Park (White Sands/Magic Sands)

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A Deserted Afternoon at La'aloa Beach, Kailua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

La Aloa Beach Park is a small, but fascinating, beach. The beach derives the name “Magic Sands” from the fact that for most of the summer and fall, it is a beautiful sandy beach. However, winter and spring storms wash the sand offshore, exposing a rocky terrace. With the onset of summer currents, the sands return. The surf is short, but spectacular, here, and many locals boogie board and body surf. Because of the violent, near shore nature of the break, it is not recommended for beginners.

The remains of Haukalua Heiau, makai of the parking lot, is very sacred to the native Hawai’ians and a hotly contested archeological site. Although not fenced off, visitors are asked not to wander the grounds of the heiau, disturb stones or walls. A county facility, it boasts showers, toilets and running water in addition to a volleyball court and lifeguards stationed throughout the day (except State Holidays). More about La’aloa Beach Park and Haukalua Heiau can be found here.

Ahu’ena Heiau and Kamakahonu Beach

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Morning at Ahu'ena Heiau, Kailua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Centuries ago the inhabitants of this region built a series of sacred temples, or heiau, which were originally used for the purpose of sacrificing human beings to their war god, Kuka’ilimoku. This particular archeological site is called Ahu’ena Heiau, which in Hawaiian means “Hill of Fire”.

Built originally in the 15th century and rededicated by Kamehameha the Great in the early 1800s as the main temple of his capital, the current structures seen at Ahu’ena Heiau were re-built in 1975 under the auspices of the Bishop Museum with financial help from the Hotel King Kamehameha and are constructed to 1/3 the original scale. There are restrooms and showers located on the pier near the beach. Adjacent Old Kailua Town is a treasure of shops, restaurants and aloha. More about Ahu’ena Heiau can be found here; more about Kamakahonu Beach and Old Town Kailua can be found here. Although not a part of the current trip, a walking tour of Kailua Kona can be found here.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Fishtrap at 'Ai'opio Beach, Koloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Leg 2) From Ahu’ena Heiau, drive Palani Road east to Hwy 19; go north on Hwy 19 to Koloko Honokohau National Historic Park.

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park

At Honokohau, ancient Hawai’ians took advantage of abundant freshwater springs to site a large community centered on fishing, fishponds and taro fields. The National Historic Park preserves a vast complex of important archeological sites, including several heiau, fishponds, a fish trap, house sites, burials, a holua (sledding track), a Queen’s Bath and abundant petroglyphs. The Information Center, which is near Highway 19, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and has full facilities, restrooms and a small souvenir and bookshop. A detailed trip through Koloko Honokohau National Historic Park can be found here.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Empty and serene Makalawena Wilderness Beach, Kekahakai State Park in Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Leg 3) Continue north on Hwy 19 to Kekaha Kai State Park, Kua Bay, Anaeho’omalu Bay, Waialea Beach and Hapuna Beach.

Kekaha Kai State Park

At Kekaha Kai, there are a wonderful set of beaches plunked down in one of Hawai’i Island’s gem parks. The northernmost and loveliest beach is Mahai’ula and the smaller, more southerly, less fine one is Ka’elehuluhulu Beach. The water is fine for swimming and boogie boarding but may be a little murky for ideal snorkeling. There are numerous small springs along the entire beach making the near-shore water a little cold.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Frequently Covered by an Afternoon Haze, Many People do not Realize the Potential Sunburn Risk at Kekahakai State Park: Graphic from Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hidden in a little pocket of wilderness, perhaps the finest beach on the island, Makalawena Beach, is contained in this park. It is reached by a 20-30 minute hike over beaches and rough lava from the parking lot. Swimming and snorkeling on this uncrowded, indeed largely unknown, beach are beyond excellent. Facilities include public restrooms and picnic tables, but no drinking water. More about Kekahakai State Park can be found here; more about hiking to Makalawena Beach can be found here.

Kua Bay

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Lovely Kua Bay, North of Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The site of Kona’s newest beach park, this is a lovely white sand beach. Although there is no shade to speak of, the swimming and boogie boarding in the crystalline waters is primo. Strong currents and large waves call for respect here, if the surf is up. Also, sometimes in winter the surf removes the sand to offshore, leaving a rocky shelf that is less fun to frolic on than the sandy beach.

Access is via a newly paved road recently opened to the public (on the ocean-side from the Veteran’s Cemetery). Park facilities include parking, picnic tables, restrooms and water. Wild goats are frequently seen in this area. More about Kua Bay can be found here.

Anaeho’omalu Bay

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Anaeho'omalu Bay looking North, Kohala Coast, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The most photographed sunset view on the Island of Hawai’i, Anaeho’omalu Bay is the icon of what most visitors envision Hawai’i to be like before they get here…swaying palm trees, a clean beach fronting warm, safe, swimmable ocean and eager beach boys bearing large, tropical drinks with comical names like “Malahini Wahine Wahoo”. Here at the bay, one can rent snorkel or surfing gear, sign-up for sailing trips, snorkel tours, windsurfing lessons or scuba dives, order food and drinks, or just lounge pleasantly in the niumalu (shade of the coconut palms). Facilities and services are available at A-Bay and on the nearby resort grounds. More about Anaeho’omalu Beach can be found here.

Waialea Beach (Beach 69)

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Beautiful Waialea Beach, Kohala Coast Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A perfect crescent of golden sand backed by abundant shade at the edge of the beach makes this an ideal, though little known, family beach. A chain of tiny islands and pinnacles leads northward to crystalline water and a long coral reef for some of the most outrageous snorkeling and shore diving anywhere in the state. On windy days the water in the bay is a tad murkier than ideal for snorkeling, but most of the visitors to this beach don’t seem to mind. Restrooms, picnic tables, water and showers round out the facilities. More about Waialea Beach can be found here.

Hapuna Beach

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Hapuna Beach early in the morning, Kohala Coast, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Always rated in the Top 10 of American beaches, Hapuna Beach is the premiere beach destination on the Island of Hawai’i. Long, wide and phenomenally sandy, it has everything one dreams of in a Hawai’ian beach: abundant sun, surf, clean, clear and quiet snorkeling water, shade and well-maintained facilities.

There are several pavilions, barbecues, picnic tables, restrooms, showers and a small dry goods vendor. The center of the beach is for wave play and boogie boarding, the north and south coves are quieter, for snorkeling or gentle floating. Although most patrons must walk about 100 yards down a path from the parking lot, Handicapped Parking exists right on the beach. More about the Crown Jewel of Hawaii Island, Hapuna Beach, can be found here.

Leg 4) Continue North on 19 to jct with Hwy 270; north on 270 to Pu’u Kohola and Lapakahi State Park.

Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Park

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Pu'ukohola Heiau at Pu'ukohola National Historic Park, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A temple inspired by a god-sent vision of greatness, Kamehameha built Pu’ukohola in response to a prophecy by Kaua’i kahuna Kapoukahi that foretold if he built a great temple to his war god Ku in one day, Kamehameha would prevail in his wars of conquest and unite the Hawai’ian Islands. Perhaps as many as 20,000 people passing stones hand-to-hand from Pololu Valley raised this massive Heiau in a single day.

Pu’ukohola is the largest stone structure in Polynesia, not counting the modern rock wall in front of the Kailua Lowe’s Hardware store. The National Historic Park has a very nice, new visitor’s Center and Book Shop, clean restrooms and picnic facilities. Adjacent to the Park is Spencer Beach Park which has a full range of facilities as well as wonderful, protected swimming and snorkeling. More about Pu’u Kohola can be found here.  More about Spencer Beach Park can be found here.

Lapakahi State Historical Park

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Reconstruction of an ancient Hawaiian dwelling at Lapakahi State Park, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

At Lapakahi State Historical Park you can walk through the partially –restored remains of a 600-year old Hawai’ian fishing village, Koai’e.

Bear in mind that Kohala was not always the barren wasteland seen today. Initially dryland forest, a thousand years ago or more the native Hawai’ians burned the forest to clear farmland for dryland crops such as sweet potato. Primitive farming techniques, overpopulation, overgrazing by cattle and climate changes caused this area to become desert like. Admission is free, self-guided tour takes about 45 minutes. There are portable toilets but no water available. More about Lapakahi State Historical Park can be found here.

Leg 5) Continue north, north east on Hwy 270 to jct with Upolu Point Road (incorrectly spelled “Opolu Point Road” on Google Maps; sometimes also labeled “Upolu Airport Road”). Continue north on Upolu Point Road to Mo’okini Heiau.

Mo’okini Heiau

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Mo'okini Heiau, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Have you ever seen anywhere as stark, impressive, primitive and ancient, yet still able to raise the hackles on your neck? Here, untold thousands of people were sacrificed to worship a new god, the war god Ku. Mo’okini Heiau stands today at the north end of Hawai’i, the well preserved remains of a terrible luakini heiau built by the powerful Tahitian kahuna Pa’ao in the 11th or 12th century. This heiau was the first temple of human sacrifice in Hawai’i and the first site in Hawai’i to be preserved as a National Historic Landmark under the Historic Sites Act of 1935. Mo’okini Heiau is now part of Lapakahi State Historic Park; as Mo’okini is an active Heiau and visitors are reminded to stay away if religious observances are being celebrated. There are no facilities here. More about Mo’okini Heiau and the birthplace of Kamehameha the Great can be found here.

Leg 6) Return Upolu Point Road to Hwy 270, continue north east to King Kamehameha Statue, Pololu Valley.

King Kamehameha Statue and North Kohala

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

King Kamehameha Statue in Kapa'au, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The green and lush north end of Hawaii Island contains a treasure trove of interesting small towns, important historic sights and incredible scenery.

The dreamy mountain town of Hawi is one of the few remaining outposts of what locals call “old Hawai’i”. Several small shops, galleries and restaurants make this a pleasant place to visit and grab something to eat on the way to or from Pololu Valley.

At 5480 feet, Kohala Volcano is the northernmost and oldest volcano on the Island of Hawai’i still above sea level. Perhaps the most ecologically diverse area on the island, the Kohala Mountains are dissected by deep, lush tropical valleys, and the slopes are covered by dryland forest, lava deserts, lonely windswept steppes and end in some truly wild beaches.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Kohala Volcano from Honoka'ope Beach, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

In the center of the tiny town of Kapa’au on the mauka side of the highway, stands a storied statue of King Kamehameha the Great. There are a few charming restaurants, shops and galleries in Kapa’au, including the justly famous Kohala Book Shop—definitely worth spending some time poking around. Hawi and Kapa’au have the only food and gas available north of Highway 19.

More about the interesting things to see and do in North Kohala around Hawi and Kapa’au can be found here.

Pololu Valley

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Black sand beach at Pololu Valley, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Violent, lush, wild; the north end of Hawai’i Island is as varied and exciting as it is unexpected. East of Hawi and Kapa’au, at the end of Highway 270 at the 28 mile marker, are the Pololu Valley Overlook and the trail leading down to Pololu Black Sand Beach. This is one of the most beautiful, untamed spots in the tropical Pacific and should not be missed. The trail down to the beach drops 400 feet in 20 minutes of hiking—be forewarned, the hike up is difficult for those not in good physical shape and shoes, rather than slippers, are best here. There are no facilities at the valley overlook or within the valley. More about Pololu Valley can be found here.

Leg 7) Return west on Hwy 270 to jct with Hwy 250; take Hwy 250 south to Waimea.

Waimea Town and Cowboy Country

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Through the ironwood forests on the Kohala Mountain Road, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

From the “Old Hawaii” town and artist community of Hawi, Highway 250, the Kohala Mountain Road spills beautifully through mountain, upland meadow and forest to the heart of Paniolo Country and the town of Waimea. Snuggled between Mauna Kea and Kohala Volcano in Hawaii’s scenic mountain heart, seemingly always shrouded in mist and chilly, Waimea is definitely Hawai’ian cowboy country. Although jeans and flannel shirts appear to be the town uniform, Waimea is very sophisticated, boasting some of the finest shopping and restaurants and the most modern hospital on the island. Find out more about the Kohala Mountain Road here and more about Waimea, here.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Lush Waimea Grasslands, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Additionally, the cattle industry centers in Waimea. In 1793 British Navigator George Vancouver presented cows to King Kamehameha which were allowed to roam free and soon became a problem. Shortly after horses were brought to Hawaii in 1804, Kamehameha recruited California vaqueros, whom Hawai’ians called “paniolo”–a corruption of the word “Espańol”–to control the wild herds, and the generations-old ranching lifestyle here was born.

The vaqueros also brought their guitars and their love of music. A deeply musical people, the Hawaiians were intensely interested in these, the first stringed instruments they had seen. They quickly learned to work-out their own tunings, called “slack key guitar”, which more suited the style of their indigenous music. Learn more about the history of Rodeo, cowboys and Hawaiian music on Hawaii here.

Leg 8 At Waimea, take Hwy 190 to return to Kailua Kona.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The Alpen Glow on Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Although not intended as a part of this particular trip, if you find yourself back in Kailua Kona with the spirit of exploration still upon you, a two-hour walking tour of Old Kailua Town can be found here.

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html. The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Ke'eku Heiau Before Reconstruction, Keauhou Historic District, Kona Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

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All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

Ke'eku Heiau Before Reconstruction, Keauhou Historic District, Kona Hawaii Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Kapua Noni Heiau Last Iki Standing, Keauhou Historic District, Kona Hawaii: Graphic from Photo by Donald B MacGowan

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By Popular Demand…Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Over The Rainbow.

Few Mainlanders Realize that Three Generations of Cowboys Lived, Worked and Died in Hawaii Before Ever White Men Brought Cattle to Wyoming and Montana: Photo by Carol Gilliland

Few Mainlanders Realize that Three Generations of Cowboys Lived, Worked and Died in Hawaii Before Ever White Men Brought Cattle to Wyoming and Montana: Photo by Carol Gilliland

By Donnie MacGowan

The cattle industry in Hawaii began on February 22, 1793, at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island. British Navigator George Vancouver presented to Kamehameha I four cows, two ewes and a ram he had brought from Monterrey, Mexico. In January of 1794, Vancouver landed many more cattle at Kealakekua and formally requested a kapu against killing them.

Kamehameha ordered the first cattle pen in Hawai’i to be built at Lehu’ula. Still in use today, the paddock enclosed over 400 acres.  However, many of the cattle ran wild, and with the kapu against killing feral cattle in place, the wild herds became enormous and unmanageable.

Archibald Menzies, Vancouver’s ship surgeon, wrote in his diary in 1793: “When they [the cattle] stampeded, they ran up and down the country to the no small dread and terror of the natives who fled from them with the utmost speed in every direction.”

Cows Graze the Upper Slopes of Kohala Mountain: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Cows Graze the Upper Slopes of Kohala Mountain: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

For over thirty years the kapu against killing wild cattle was in force and the rapidly growing wild herds destroyed farmland, ate crops, often stampeded through villages destroying homes and claiming numerous lives.  On June 21, 1804, the first horse and mare were landed on the Kona side of the Island of Hawaii, and the days of the free ranging cattle were coming to a close as the number of mounted men increased and they began to coral and tame the wild herds.

Kamehameha lifted the kapu on killing wild cattle in 1830; the rapid increase in whaling ship traffic about this time had caused a great rise in demand for fresh and salt beef. And soon the wild herds were being thinned to meet this demand.

Unused to herding the large, unruly beasts, initially the Hawaiians simply dug deep pits, similar to “tiger traps” and stampeded the cows past them, hoping to catch a few.  This was not only inefficient, it had unintended consequences, as well.  In 1834, Sir David Douglas, the Scots botanist for whom the Douglas Fir is named, died in one of these pits.  Whether killed by the fall, killed by the bull that later fell on top of him, or was murdered by the Englishman Edward Gurney (bull hunter and escaped convict) for his gold and then tossed into the pit was never determined.  A monument to Douglas has been erected at the site of his death, Kaluakauka, off Mana Road on the slopes of Mauna Kea.

At this point, the history of Hawaiian ranching introduces one of its more colorful characters, John Parker, founder of Parker Ranch, which is still today the largest cattle ranch in America wholly under private ownership. Parker’s story in Hawaii starts back a bit in 1809 when as a 19-year old  sailor, he jumped ship on the Island of Hawai’i.

Coming to the attention of King Kamehameha the Great, Parker was trusted with many organizational tasks which the King believed would help him bring the Kingdom of Hawai’i into modern times.  During the War of 1812, John Parker was allowed to go to China seeking adventure, fame and fortune, but returned to Hawai’i bearing many modern inventions to show the King, including the newest models of military muskets.

With his modern weaponry, Kamehameha gave John Parker the task of shooting many of the feral cattle rampaging 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.  For this, John Parker was given an initial grant of 2 acres land by the King.  When he married Princess Kipikane in 1816, Kamehameha the Great’ granddaughter, she was granted some 640 acres…this is how the Parker Ranch began.   Parker asked for lands surrounding the area the Hawaiians referred to as “Waimea”,  which means “sloppy” or “muddy” in Hawaiian.

John Parker Knew the Lush Grasslands Around Waimea Were Perfect for Ranching: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

John Parker Knew the Lush Grasslands Around Waimea Were Perfect for Ranching: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

There is some irony here, as the Hawaiians considered this land nearly worthless—at considerable altitude, 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.  Much to the private mirth of the Hawaiians, 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.

At Parker’s suggestion, Kamehameha recruited California Vaquero Joachin Armas to help contain the wild cattle and train local cowboys.  As the years went by, more Spanish mission vaqueros from California came to work for the burgeoning cattle industry.  They brought their trained horses, Spanish saddles, spurs, sombreros and Spanish traditions of cattle ranching, passing them on to the Hawai’ians they trained.  They also trained the Hawaiian to work leather, jerk beef and cure hides.  Soon, hides and tallow were a major Hawaiian export.

The Hawai’ians called the vaqueros “paniolos”, their linguistic corruption of the Spanish word “Español”; which today remains the island word for “Cowboy”.

Early Hawaiian Cattle Brands: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Early Hawaiian Cattle Brands: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Cattle born on the Island of Hawaii were often shipped live to other islands and the mainland.  In the early days, cows were simply run down into the surf, swum out to longboats and secured to the boat by lashing their horns to the gunwales, then rowed out to the waiting ship.  In the late 1800s, piers and docks began to be built at various shipping spots around the island and the cows were unceremoniously hoisted by crane onto the deck of the waiting ships.

In recent years, due to fears of further ground-water contamination, laws against building new slaughterhouses were passed in Hawaii.  In order to prepare the beef for retail sale, many cattle today are shipped live to the mainland for slaughter and butchering via ocean-going barge; others are loaded aboard converted, air-conditioned, 747s and flown live to California.  Seriously.  I am not making this up.

Ranch culture by its nature is fairly isolated.  As such, over the years this allowed the Paniolos to preserve many Hawaiian traditions, such as the art of Hula and the Hawaiian Language, both of which the missionaries actively tried to eradicate.

A direct benefit of this isolation and the cultural cross-pollination that is not immediately identified with the cattle industry was the advent of modern Hawaiian music.  When the Mexican vaqueros moved to Hawaii, they also brought their guitars and their love of music.  A deeply musical people themselves, the Hawaiians were intensely interested in these, the first stringed instruments they had ever seen up close.  Fearing the Hawaiians would steal their guitars, the Mexicans would de-tune them after use, making it much more difficult for the curious Hawaiians to unlock their musical secrets.  However the Hawaiians were more than clever musically and quickly learned to make their own tunings.  Instead of the standard European tunings which require various fingerings to make chords, the Hawaiians worked out their own open chord tunings that more suited the key and style of their indigenous music.  Called “slack key guitar” these unique tunings are one of the features that make the sound of Hawaiian music so distinct.  The signature Hawaiian musical instrument, the ukulele, was actually introduced by Portuguese settlers.  In Hawaiian, “ukulele” means “dancing flea”.

The modern connection to all of this is that without ranching and without the importation of Spanish vaqueros and their guitars, there would be no rock music.  Don’t believe me?  Hawaiian slack-key guitar virtuosos invented the steel string guitar.  Without steel string guitars, no electric guitars would ever have been possible.  No electric guitars, no rock music. So next time you’re rocking out with your MP3 player, take a moment and silently thank King Kamehameha the Great for his extreme foresightedness…

Hawaii ranches also produced some of the greatest cowboys of all time, the best remembered of whom is Ikua Purdy, winner of the 1908 World Roping Championship at Cheyenne Frontier’s Day.

In 1907 the owner and manager of Pu`uwa`awa`a Ranch, Eben “Rawhide Ben” Low, attended Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Knowing his cowboys far excelled their mainland contemporaries, in 1908 he sent Jack Low, Archie Ka`au`a and  Ikua Purdy (his brother, half brother and top hand) to compete in Cheyenne.

Statue of Hawaii's Most Famous Paniolo, Ikua Purdy, In Waimea: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Statue of Hawaii's Most Famous Paniolo, Ikua Purdy, In Waimea: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

As colorful in their hats with flower lei and vaquero-style chaps as they were masterful in the competition, they took Frontier Days by storm.  Ikua Purdy won the steer-roping contest in 56 seconds, Archie Ka`au`a came in second and even though he had an asthma attack during the competition, Jack Low placed sixth.  Eben Low always said Hawaiian cowboys were the world’s finest because they dealt primarily with wild and feral cows.  In 1999, Ikua Purdy became the first Hawaiian ever voted into the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Cattle ranchers were 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 almost 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 the Japanese home island of Kyushu.

Visiting paniolo country on the island of Hawaii means traveling to Waimea town, snuggled deeply between Mauna Kea and Kohala Volcano.  Sometimes startlingly sunny, sometimes shrouded in mist or rain, Waimea is also the scenic heart of the mountain country, which cries for exploration. From here one can take stunning Highway 250, the Kohala Mountain Road, an incredibly beautiful drive through upland pasture, meadow and forest to the old-time Hawaii town and artist community at Hawi.

Simply touring between Kona and Hilo through Waimea also is a wonderful trip from dryland forest through the upland lava flows and rolling grasslands of the Kohala-Mauna Kea Saddle and down again through eucalyptus forests to tropical jungle-filled canyons and the feral sugar cane fields of the Hamakua Coast.

Waimea Celebrates its Ranching Roots With The Cowboy Boot Statue: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Waimea Celebrates its Ranching Roots With The Cowboy Boot Statue: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Waimea offers some of the finest shopping, restaurants and the most modern hospital on the island. There are two large shopping centers, a fine art museum and “Restaurant Row”, a street of eating establishments that rival any restaurants 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 and an enjoyable place to visit.

For more information on visiting Hawaii in general or visiting the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.  Information on the author is available here.

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan (except where otherwise noted).