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by Donald B. MacGowan

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Ai'iopio Fishtrap at Sunset, Koloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Whether you visit the Big Island for a few days, a couple weeks or a few months, you want to make the most of your time in Paradise. With such a wide variety of natural and commercial attractions, it is natural for the visitor to get a little overwhelmed in the “Option Overload” and not be able to make a balanced and informed decision on what they want to do and how best to spend their time.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

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

Even choosing which beach you want to spend time on, or where you want to hike can be an exercise in confusion and conflicting advice.  Clearly, visitors to Hawaii could use help making quality decisions about how best to spend their time.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Aerial View of the South Entrance to Koloko Honokohau National Historic Park, Kona Hawaii, Showing Ai'iopio Fshtrap: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Tour Guide Hawaii is excited and proud to announce the release of their new GPS/WiFi enabled App for iPhone and iPod that helps you navigate your trip to Hawaii with hours of informative, location-aware video and information. Although our video guide will lead you to dozens of unusual, untamed and unspoiled spots, let’s look at one of Hawaii’s most interesting, fabulous and significant historical parks, Koloko-Honorary National Historic Park, just north of Kailua Kona. This park is almost wholly unknown to visitors…and, strangely, many locals as well; characterized by lovely, deserted beaches, ruins of villages and temples, basking sea turtles and miles of hiking trails, the place is flat amazing.  We will highlight just a bit of the information you might not be able to find from maps and guidebooks about this gem of a park; this information is just a fraction of what is available on Tour Guide’s iPhone App. You see how easily you could miss a lot of great stuff, fun things to do and amazing sights if you did not have Tour Guide Hawaii’s new App.

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Looking toward the far end of Ai'iopio Beach, across the Ai'iopio Fishtrap, at Koloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

A thriving Hawai’ian community out here in the middle of the desert? At Honokohau, ancient Hawai’ians took advantage of abundant freshwater springs to site a large community centered around fishing, fishponds and taro fields. The National Historic Park preserves a vast complex of important archeological sites, including several heiau, fishponds, fishtraps, house sites, burials, a holua (sledding track), a Queen’s Bath and abundant petroglyphs. An information center and bookshop is located between the two access roads off the highway and the best place to start any exploration of the National Park.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Pili Hale at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, Kona Hawaii; Kailua Kona and Hualalai Volcano are in the background: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The archeological sites at both the north and south ends of the Park are worth the little hiking it requires to see them. When exploring these ancient villages, springs and ponds and temples, remember that they are sacred to the Hawaiian people.  Please treat them gently, and with respect…leave only footprints, take only photographs.

As a beach, Ai’iopio Beach is one of Kona’s finest, most protected and fun places to swim. Abundant shade along a long wide beach and a protected reach make this a perfect place to take children, though the water is a little murky for ideal snorkeling.

The shady Ala Hele Kahakai, or shore trail, winds between the north and south ends of the park and intersects with the Ala Hele Ike Hawai’i trail, coming makai (seaward) from the Visitor’s center.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The Ancient Seawal; at Koloko Fishpond is Getting Some Modern Repairs at Koloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The North Entrance of the Park is reached along a one-lane dirt road just south of the Hinalani St. intersection with the Highway, near mile marker 96. This road is open Thursday through Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and it is not a good idea to get locked behind the gate. Fortunately short and in generally good condition, the dirt road quickly leads to the coast and many archeological sites which are worth the quick drive and short hike. Reconstructed Kaloko Fishpond spotlights the enormous construction projects the Hawai’ians were capable of undertaking in their heyday. A kuapa, or rock wall, separates the fishpond from the ocean, with a gated opening which allows fresh tidal waters to pass in and out of the pond, but through which the growing fish cannot swim. Aquaculture of this magnitude could feed thousands of people; however, other foodstuffs besides fish were grown at Kaloko. Looking around the countryside from the Kaloko fishpond it is possible to see many elevated planter boxes made of the local basalt rocks, in which taro was gown. Taro, prepared as poi and baked as unleavened bread, was a staple food for the early Hawai’ians.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Looking South Along the Coast from the Koloko Fishpond at the North End of Koloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The North Entrance has facilities limited to composting pit toilets and picnic tables.

In the middle of the Park, the Information Center, Hale Ho’okipa, is situated in an obvious parking lot in the middle of an a’a lava flow just south of the intersection of the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway and Hina Lani street on the ocean side of the road.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hale Ho'okipa, the Visitor's Center at Koloko=Honokohau National Historic Park, Kona Hawaii: Photo By Donald B. MacGowan

The Information Center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and has full facilities including drinking water, restrooms and a small souvenir and bookshop. The Ala Hele Ike Hawai’i trail leaves the visitor centers a heads to the beach past numerous archaeological sites, both pre-contact and historic. The Old King’s Highway, a beautiful, narrow stone-paved path, passes through a’a and pahoehoe north and south from the Visitor’s Center to the other two Park entrances.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

These enormous stone piles, as seen from near the intersection of the Ala Hele Kahakai and the Ala Hele Ike trails, lead to the Queen's Bath Golden Pond at Koloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Accessed by the Ala Hele Ike Hawai’i trail from the Visitor’s Center, and lying more toward the interior of the park, the Queen’s Bath, in particular, is quite unique. The natural pool was improved by the native Hawai’ians to provide smooth stones on which to sit and stand and to make it a pleasant place, even though it’s located in the middle of an inhospitable a’a field.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The Sacred Queen's Bath Golden Pond at Koloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, Kona Hawaii. When You Visit the Queen's Bath, Please "Malama Aina", Respect The Land. Do Not Wade or Swim in the Pond, Especially If You Are Wearing Sunscreen. Not Only is this Pond Sacred To the Native Hawaiians, But It Is a Delicate Micro-Environment Filled With Unique, Rare and Endangered Aquatic Life: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

You can also get there from the North Entrance by walking south beyond the north end of the beach to a large rock wall. Looking mauka (towards the mountain) along the wall, a series of enormous rock piles can be seen. Follow the trail along the border between the yellow grass and fresh lava, to and then between the first two rock piles; head for the only green shrubbery in the area and you’re at the pond!  When You Visit the Queen’s Bath, Please “Malama Aina”, Respect The Land. Do Not Wade or Swim in the Pond, Especially If You Are Wearing Sunscreen. Not Only is this Pond Sacred To the Native Hawaiians, But It Is a Delicate Micro-Environment Filled With Unique, Rare and Endangered Aquatic Life.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Ai'ipio Beach is a safe place to bring the family to enjoy the ocean. Generally uncroweded, sheltered from tides and currents, shallow and bath-water warm, it's a deflightful way to experience the ocean at Koloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

At the south end of the park, adjacent to Honokohau Harbor, is Ai’iopio Beach, Hale O Mono Heiau and the Ai’iopio Fishtrap.

Different in design from the rock wall and fishpond structure seen at the Kaloko Fishpond in the northern end of the Park, Ai’iopio Fishtrap is a unique and ingenious invention of the Hawai’ians. Comprised of a large spiral built of basalt stones piled up in the bay, fish enter the trap’s system of canals and walls over the top at high tide, but are trapped within by the receding water of the out-going tide. Hale O Mono Heiau, an ancient Hawai’ian temple still in use for religious ceremonies today, stands guard over the fishtrap at the entrance to Ai’iopio Beach.

The hike along the beach from the North Entrance to the South Entrance is one of the few, beautiful wilderness beach hikes left anywhere in the State of Hawaii. The trail passes through the remnants of a once vibrant fishing and farming community; many ruins, fish ponds and springs dot the area, which is also famous today for its populations of wildlife and birds. One is virtually assured of seeing basking green sea turtles along the beach. Dolphin and pilot whales are frequently seen offshore. During Humpback Whale season, (November through March), the whales are often seen frolicking off the coast here. Of course, the famous Kona sunsets are incomparable from the wild and beautiful beach.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Ai'iopio Beach, Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, South Entrance, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Sacred Hale O MonoHeiau at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

To see Hale O Mono Heiau and Ai’iopio Beach, turn makai (toward the sea) from the Highway onto Kealakehe St and then right (north) into the harbor area, and continue to the end of the paving on the north side of the yacht basin. A few minutes walk brings you to public porta-a-potties, Hale O Mono Heiau and the south end of Ai’iopio Beach. A small ranger station and port-a-potties are the only amenities available at this end of the Park; however a store, restaurant and public restroom are available at the adjacent yacht basin.

The hike along the beach from the North Entrance to the South Entrance is one of the few, beautiful wilderness beach hikes left anywhere in the State of Hawaii.  The trail passes through the remnants of a once vibrant fishing and farming community; many ruins, fish ponds and springs dot the area, which is also famous today for its populations of wildlife and birds.  One is virtually assured of seeing basking green sea turtles along the beach.  Dolphin and pilot whales are frequently seen offshore.  During Humpback Whale season, (November through March), the whales are often seen frolicking off the coast here.  Of course, the famous Kona sunsets are incomparable from the wild and beautiful beach.

This large, stone wall is some of the last remnants of the once thriving farming and fishing villages and sacred temples along this stretch of coastline, Koloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, Kona Haaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Few people realize that the Kona Coast in general, and in particular the region between Keauhou and Kailua, was the vibrant and populous social, political and religious center of the Hawai’ian Islands for nearly five hundred years. Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park allows you see the some of the best ruins and reconstructions anywhere in the state, just as they sat after they were abandoned in the early 1800s. It would be a real shame for visitors to come all the way to the State of Hawaii and miss this important, spiritually refreshing and beautiful place.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Ala Mamalahoa, an ancient paved road that has been in use for over a milenium passes through the eastern side of Koloko-Honokohau National Historic Park in Sunny Kona Hawaii--where all the fun is! Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

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. 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.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Paddling a Hawaiian outrigger canoe through the sunset, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

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by Donald B. MacGowan

Hilo From the Air: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hilo From the Air: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Beautiful but wet, metropolitan but decrepit, bustling but laid back, Hilo is a lovely, maddening, heartbreaking, addictive study in contrasts.

It can rain all day long for 50 days in a row, yet when the sun does shine, the views of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea from the Liliuokalani Gardens, or of Hilo Bay as you drive down from the mountains on Kaumana Drive, or the waterfall and flower choked jungle gulches leading to lovely small beaches along the highway north of town, make Hilo one of the most truly, achingly lovely spots on earth.

Rainbow at Lokawaka Fishpond, Hilo: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Rainbow at Lokawaka Fishpond, Hilo: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The wettest city in America, Hilo is about rain; Hilo is humid and moldy. Hilo is poor; Hilo is dirty, littered and unkempt.

In Hilo, the Skies Just Open...For Days at a Time: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

In Hilo, the Skies Just Open...For Days at a Time: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Even where tourists are expected to congregate, street trash blows, drug merchants abound and mildew, flapping tin roofs and peeling paint are omnipresent. Hilo’s public restrooms, on the whole, are a disgrace.

Although it Boasts a Modern Mall and Small Downtown Shopping District, Much of Hilo's Commercial District Are Fairly Disreputable Looking: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Although it Boasts a Modern Mall and Small Downtown Shopping District, Much of Hilo's Commercial District Are Fairly Disreputable Looking: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Hilo area’s reputation was so bad among early native Hawaiians that when Kamehameha the Great wanted to build a fleet of 1200 war canoes in secret to invade Maui, he looked around Hawaii to see where such massive construction could be undertaken without danger of spies or locals seeing. The Hilo area was so universally shunned and abjectly empty that her bay was the perfect place to build and hide the largest fleet of warships the central Pacific Ocean would see until the Second World War.

The Deadly Tsunami of 1960 Stopped This Clock in Hilo; The Clock Now Stands As A Memorial To those Who Lost Their Lives: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Deadly Tsunami of 1960 Stopped This Clock in Hilo; The Clock Now Stands As A Memorial To those Who Lost Their Lives: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hilo bears the scars of killer tsunamis and racial intolerance.

Hilo's Numerous Waterfall, Beach and Open Space Parks Are Inviting and Attractive: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hilo's Numerous Waterfall, Beach and Open Space Parks Are Inviting and Attractive: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hilo was built by the sweat of immigrants, threatened by volcanoes, destroyed by tsunami and built again. Hilo deeply reflects the passion, mystery and flavors of her imported cultures; like her fiercely loyal citizens, Hilo’s culture represents a broad mix rather than pointed differences. Hilo is about family and love and fun. Under festive lights, Hilo’s streets echo with the sound of neighborhood parties, backyard jam sessions, laughter. The mind-blowing fusion of multi-ethnic musical styles boils over in Hilo’s unique and varied local music scene. A bit like Nashville, in Hilo everybody seems to play an instrument, everybody seems to be recording an album—and they are all magnificent joys. How is this possible?

Hilo is About Fun; Boiling Pots at Wailuku River Rark:Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hilo is About Fun; Boiling Pots at Wailuku River Rark:Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hilo has one of the best small-town farmer’s market in the United States of America.

Hilo Has One of the Most Amazing Farmer's Market's of Any Small Town in the US: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hilo Has One of the Most Amazing Farmer's Market's of Any Small Town in the US: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

You will not eat a better meal in the Pacific than those had in many of the tiny family restaurants in Hilo’s Old town…nor will you find a more varied palette of cuisines in any major US city than in Hilo.

Hilo's Bay Front Shopping and Dining District is a Bright Spot of Prosperity Surrounded by Urban Blight: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hilo's Bay Front Shopping and Dining District is a Bright Spot of Prosperity Surrounded by Urban Blight: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hilo has among the most stunning waterfalls and loveliest beach parks in the world within her city limits.

Hilo is Justly Famous for its Many Gorgeous Bay Front and Ocean Beach Parks: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hilo is Justly Famous for its Many Gorgeous Bay Front and Ocean Beach Parks: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

On some days, people say the shadows appear a bit deeper and it feels like Hilo is made of steam and myth and half-remembered visions. One gets the feeling, even after living in Hilo for years, that there is vague intrigue boiling, a dimly heard dance or beating heart, just below the surface. You should trust these feelings.

Even the Longtime Resident Sometimes Catches the Vague Whiff of Mysterious, Secret and Hidden Things Afoot in Hilo--Not All of Which Go On at Apuni Center: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Even the Longtime Resident Sometimes Catches the Vague Whiff of Mysterious, Secret and Hidden Things Afoot in Hilo--Not All of Which Go On at Apuni Center: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The seat of political power in Hawai’i County, Hilo is experiencing a long, painful slide into economic and physical decline. Having long since lost the war of social vigor, the battle for tourists and the struggle for attracting new residents and industry to Hawai’i’s newer, cleaner and much sunnier West Side, Hilo seems content to sit back on her mildewing laurels as the once-prosperous center of the sugar industry in an era long gone by, dictating policy and politics to the rest of the island while consuming the vast majority of Hawaii’s resources and swallowing the lion’s share of the taxes.

Hilo From the Northwest, Over the Bay: Photo by Prescott Ellwood

Hilo From the Northwest, Over the Bay: Photo by Prescott Ellwood

Yet, even in her dissipation and decay, Hilo is lovely, interesting and intriguing. Like a courtesan in her declining years, who, having squandered her riches, is forced to live off the charity of her wealthier relations, Hilo is still presentable, but far more notable for her raucous, and slightly ribald, tales of past glory.

Hilo's Lovely Black Sand Beach Was Once Over A Mile Long Until They Covered It With A Highway: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hilo's Lovely Black Sand Beach Was Once Over A Mile Long Until They Covered It With A Highway: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general, and exploring the  Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.  To see a demonstration of Tour Guide’s new, interactive, GPS-enabled video tour of the Big Island for the iPhone and iPod Touch, please visit here. For more information about the author, please go here.

Mauna Kea from Hilo Airport: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mauna Kea from Hilo Airport: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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).