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by Donald B. MacGowan

Sunset from the Kailua Seawall, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Sunset from the Kailua Seawall, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie 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.

Along the Seawall from the Kailua Pier, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Along the Seawall from the Kailua Pier, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Choosing which beach you want to spend time on, or where you want to hike or drive can be an exercise in confusion and conflicting advice.  Even more so, finding quality information on the history, culture, geology and natural history of the area can be almost impossible–and much of what you do find is inaccurate, or third-hand retellings that are, well, better stories than histories.  Clearly, visitors to Hawaii could use help making quality decisions about how best to spend their time and understanding what they are seeing, the culture they are visiting.

Hualalai Looms over the sleepy fishing village of Kailua Kona, protected by it's seawall, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hualalai Looms over the sleepy fishing village of Kailua Kona, protected by it's seawall, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

This is why Tour Guide Hawaii is so excited and proud to announce the release of their new GPS/WiFi enabled App for iPhone and iPod video tour 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, as an example of the fabulous coverage our App for iPhone and iPod provides, let’s look at a fascinating, but perhaps mundane-appearing couple of places in the heart of Old Kailua Town itself, but might not be able to find from maps and guidebooks and would otherwise miss if you did not have Tour Guide Hawaii’s new App.

Kamakahonu Rock, Kailua Pier and Sea Wall

The Old Seawall Behind the Kona Inn, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Old Seawall Behind the Kona Inn, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

In the heart of Old Kailua Town’s downtown section, amidst the many shops and restaurants, lies the old Kailua Pier and Seawall. As they excitedly trek from the pre-contact Hawaiian temple at Ahu’ena Heiau, to Hulihe’e the Hawaii Royal Palace and Moku’aikaua, the first Christian Church in the state of Hawaii, tourists busy shopping, dining and snapping photos often do not even notice these historic constructions. But the pier and the seawall have an ancient, complex and fascinating history, the stones recycled from gun-turreted forts and ancient Hawaiian royal palace walls over the centuries.

Mokuaikawa Church and Hulihee Palace stand above the seawall, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mokuaikawa Church and Hulihee Palace stand above the seawall, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Congregationalist missionaries from Boston crossed the Atlantic Ocean, fought the frigid, turbulent waters off Cape Horn, endured 5 months of intense stormy weather and unimaginably cramped and filthy quarters below decks on the Brig Thaddeus, and headed for a new life in Hawai’i. In March of 1820, the missionaries sailed into the balmy waters of Kailua Bay and landed at Kamakahonu Rock, the “Plymouth Rock” of Hawai’i, in 1820.

Along the Seawall, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Along the Seawall, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

First constructed in 1900 and then rebuilt in 1950, stones for the pier and the seawall that runs from the pier to the Old Kona Inn were scavenged from the immense stonewall that once surrounded the Ahu’ena Heiau Temple complex and from the massive stone fort erected after the destruction of the heiau during the reign of Kamehameha II. The large stone fort once boasted 18, thirty-two inch naval cannon and was nick-named “The Rock” by passing whalers; today, that appellation is universally applied by locals to the entirety of the Big Island.

A Hand-Built Boat Tied-up at Kailua Pier, Kailua Kona, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A Hand-Built Boat Tied-up at Kailua Pier, Kailua Kona, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The pier originally was built to facilitate loading cattle onto steam freighters bound for Honolulu. Before the advent of the pier, horseback cowboys used to rope and drag individual steers from Kaiakeakua Beach (the minuscule beach just south of the pier), plunge them into the surf and swim them out to waiting whaleboats. There, the cows were lashed to the gunwales of the whaleboat and, with their backs awash, ferried farther out to the steamer offshore. The cows were then, unceremoniously, by means of sling and crane hoisted aboard the steamer

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

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

The pier sat on Kamakahonu rock and pilings until 1950 when concrete pylons were poured. From around the turn of the last century until the 1970’s the pier was covered by various sheds and warehouses that served to protect 100 pound coffee bags, sugar and other goods ready for shipment. Renovators in the early 1950s even planted trees along the pier in an effort to beautify the downtown area. The modern shape and configuration of the pier resulted from a year and a half’s renovations during 2003-2004.

Canoes Parked at Kamakahonu Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Canoes Parked at Kamakahonu Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Back in the day, at the entrance to the pier sat H. Hackfield And Company, the largest business concern in Kona at the turn of the last century; in 1917, H. Hackfield was bought by American Factors which became AmFac in 1960. Hackfield’s buildings contained a general store, post office, coffee mill and an ice factory as well as serving as the company’s headquarters. Standard Oil stock tanks sat on the shore of Kamakahonu Beach in the 1950s and 1960s until the construction of the original Hotel King Kamehameha in the 1960s. This original hotel was rebuilt as the current King Kamehameha Beach Resort in the 1970s.

Ahu'ena Heiau Surrounded by its Ancient Stone Walls. Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacgGawn

Ahu'ena Heiau Surrounded by its Ancient Stone Walls. Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

In several places along the seawall, if you look 20-60 feet offshore, you will observe the distinct “boil” associated with undersea fresh water springs discharging into the ocean. These springs result from the discharge of aquifers that collect fresh water far up the mountain slopes and transport it down to where they intersect the seafloor. The Hawai’ians used to dive under the surface of the ocean with a sealed gourd, down to the springs, turn the gourd mouth-end down, uncork it and fill the gourd with fresh water. This was a necessary task to obtain fresh water, as fresh water springs are scarce in the Kona district. Today, one can often spot honu (sea turtles) languorously swimming through the springs, trying to kill parasites and algae that grow on their shells and skin.

Kamakahonu Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kamakahonu Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Today, Kamakahonu Rock (eye of the turtle) lies underneath the modern-day Kailua Pier, where it serves as a footing for it. It is not uncommon to observe dolphin, sea turtles and whale off the pier.

Kaiakeakua Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kaiakeakua Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Even many locals will be surprised to learn that the tiny beach adjacent to, and south of, the pier and the little beach associated with Hulihe’e Palace both have names; respectively they are Kaiakeakua (the god of the sea) and Niumalu (“in the shade of the coconut trees”) Beaches. Snorkeling from Kamakahonu, Kaiakeakua or Niumalu beaches is spectacular and strangely uncommon. A beautiful coral garden and abundant fish are to be seen snorkeling along the shoreline of Ahu’ena Heiau and fish, turtles, moray eels and the occasional sunken boat are abundant in Kailua Bay. Be wary of boat traffic to and from the pier, don’t go in on boat days, when careless lighter pilots ignore the marked swim channels.

Niumalu Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Niumalu Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Many commercial ocean-going enterprises use the Kailua Pier as their departure point, lighters from large cruise ships land here and fishing captains on charter boats still bring their catches of marlin and tuna to be weighed at the scale at the pier. During the 2nd or 3rd weekend of October, the Kailua Pier serves as the staging grounds for the first leg and finish line of the Ironman World Championship Triathlon.

Kamehameha's view of his taro fields, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kamehameha's view of his taro fields, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Good fishing is to be had all along the pier and the seawall, but the best is behind the Hulihe’e Palace and the Old Kona Inn. During heavy seas and big storms, waves up to 20 feet high explode over the seawall and surge across Ali’i drive.

Ahu'ena Heiau Sacred Iki, Kialua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Ahu'ena Heiau Sacred Iki, Kailua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Views from the pier are spectacular, particularly at sunset; it is worth the time to stop, explore the pier and the adjacent Ahu’ena Heiau.

The Seawall at Hale Halawai Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Seawall at Hale Halawai Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Facilities include showers, restrooms, changing rooms, drinking water, public telephones and a boat ramp; Kailua Pier and seawall lie in the heart of Old Kailua Town’s many shops and restaurants so anything the visitor could wish for is in easy walking distance.

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.

A Vog-Tinted Sunset from the Kailua Pier, Kailua Kona, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A Vog-Tinted Sunset from the Kailua Pier, Kailua Kona, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.


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).

Driving south on Hwy 270, just past the town of Hawi, you will see the turn off for Hwy 250 on the mountain side of the road. This hwy will take you over Kohala Mountain to the town of Waimea. This hwy is rated by AAA Travel as one of the top 10 most scenic highways in the U.S. Along the way you will pass through beautiful pasture lands, areas for horseback riding, ranch style dinners, ATV tours and Hummer tours. Tour Guide will give the history of this area as well as activities offered here.

At the other end of Hwy 250 is Waimea. This town is known for the paniolo, the Hawaiian word for cowboy, and the Parker Ranch. At 3500 ft elevation, the cooler climate is perfect for growing all sorts of fruits and vegetables as well as a variety of livestock. There are also some fabulous restaurants featuring some of the best chefs in the world. Tour Guide will tell you about the storied history, museums, tours, shopping and dining. For such a small town there is a lot to do here.

From Waimea, it’s time to head south on Hwy 190 on our way back to Kona. Along the way is Waikoloa Village. This is mostly a residential town but is built around the Waikoloa Village Golf Course. This Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed course has some stunning views from the 2000 ft elevation. Tour Guide will show you where there is a shopping center with grocery, restrooms, restaurants and a gas station.

Super Tip: Finding restrooms on the road can be difficult when you are driving in unfamiliar territory. Tour Guide has a special feature that helps you to find the nearest public restroom anywhere you are on the island. This is super handy when touring with the family.

Along the way back to Kona, you will pass some of the finest beaches and most interesting historical and cultural spots on the Kona-Kohala Coast. Tour Guide can tell you all about these fascinating places, as well as opportunities here for whale watching, wild-life viewing, hiking and sight-seeing.

From Waikoloa Village, continue driving south on Hwy 190, about 30 minutes, until you arrive back in Kona. Tour Guide will give you turn-by-turn directions to your resort to end you’re second day of touring by car.

For more information on touring Hawaii in general and visiting the Big Island in particular, go to tourguidehawaii.com and tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.