Guests get to feed Kilohana's friendly critters during the train tours. // © 2016 Sue Kanoho
Feature image (above): The vintage train carries families past Kilohana’s highlights. // © 2016 Kauai Plantation Railway
In the 1800s and 1900s, sugar was the leading crop on Kauai. Trains chugged around the island hauling tons of cane, and in the midst of the action stood Kilohana, a thriving plantation with a magnificent mansion.
After Kauai’s sugar industry came to a close, Kilohana broadened its horizons. It restored the mansion and replaced its cane fields with a variety of crops. It added farm animals and became a visitor attraction. And last but not least, it created a train tour.
Today, families can explore Kilohana and its fascinating story courtesy of Kauai Plantation Railway, which offers daily interactive rides. Along the way, the train passes key points across approximately 100 picturesque acres so that guests can see and learn about the area’s crops and creatures.
Fred Atkins, general partner of Kilohana Plantation, explains that the train tour appeals to all ages due to its affordability and range of informative, engaging experiences. “There is really no other Hawaii tour like ours,” Atkins said. “Families get a glimpse into Kauai’s agricultural past and future at the same time.”
The adventure begins at a charming depot. Children, teens and adults board a vintage 1948 diesel-engine train with open-sided cars for optimum viewing. As the locomotive rolls along, the clickety-clack of its wheels on steel rails instills nostalgia in older passengers, while the younger set excitedly calls out, “Choo choo!”
An upbeat guide narrates the tour, incorporating humor, history and fun facts. He points out the different crops grown at Kilohana, from the expected papaya and pineapple to the less recognizable rambutan and cashew. Visitors see how taro — the staple of ancient Hawaiian culture — is cultivated, and they also get up close to indigenous hardwoods.
For little ones, the real magic happens when the train stops near the animals. Guests disembark to feed sheep, goats, donkeys and pigs, resulting in squeals of delight from kids and prime photo ops for grown-ups.
The standard tour lasts 40 minutes, but during a four-hour guided train excursion, families can wander through plantation groves, pick and taste fresh fruit right off the trees and enjoy a deli lunch.
The train ride is a multigenerational lure in its own right, but it also serves as an adjunct to the entire Kilohana Plantation experience. Before or after the tour, families can spend time in the renovated mansion with its period furnishings, quaint shops and alfresco restaurant. Adults can sample Kauai-made Koloa Rum, and in the evening, the whole gang can bond over local food and entertainment at the attraction’s luau.
Throughout it all, families will feel the warmth and aloha of the Kilohana staff. “I get a lot of compliments from guests about the friendliness of our people,” Atkins said. “I’m very proud of that.”