Delicious Changes to Big Island Festival

Gourmet tours are added to this year's program

By: Marty Wentzel

KOHALA COAST, Big Island Organizers of the third annual Big Island Festival believe travelers are hungering for culinary tourism opportunities like never before, and in response, they’re adding tempting ingredients to this year’s schedule.

As in years past, the Nov. 3-7 special event emphasizes the variety of things to see and do on the Big Island. However, guests attending the 2004 celebration get something extra, thanks to the creation of new gourmet agricultural tours during the festivities.

“We believe Hawaii’s Big Island Festival is one of the first of its kind to tap into the growing trend of culinary tourism and harness it into a unique five-day adventure,” said Big Island Festival director Kristin McGrath. “Visitors can learn terrific amounts about agriculture and the products coming out of the Big Island, then return home and use this newly-acquired knowledge in their own kitchens.”

McGrath noted that a growing number of Big Island farms, ranches and gardens are opening their gates to visitors. “With agricultural tourism bearing fruit on Hawaii’s Big Island, visitors can access remote, private lands, meet family farmers and gain hands-on experience in the day-to-day productions of Hawaii’s tasty treats,” she said. “Visitors have the opportunity to explore the path less traveled, pick a bag of Kona coffee, crack open roasted macadamia nuts, and ride horses across verdant mountainsides where cattle roam. They come away with lasting memories and culinary connections, feeling an emotional tie to our farms and their agricultural products.”

The new agricultural tours are the brainchild of the Big Island Farm Bureau. Clients who sign up for them can get a first-hand look at the production, roasting and processing of Kona Coffee, and learn how Hawaiian chocolate is created. They can visit farms specializing in locally-grown mushrooms, vanilla and exotic tropical fruits, and learn how Hawaiian bees create mouthwatering Big Island honey. Back by popular demand is a tour launched last year at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii, where a state-of-the-art aquaculture facility cultivates such world-class seafood as lobster, abalone, Dungeness crab and oysters. Most of the agricultural tours include lunch, so guests can experience the flavors of the fresh local products, McGrath said.

The third annual Big Island Festival will host nine of the ten celebrities chosen by Food & Wine magazine as the best new chefs of the year. “Only at Hawaii’s Big Island Festival can a visitor see this much culinary talent in one place,” said McGrath.

Clients attending the festival’s food and wine events get a chance to pick up tips from creative American masters, then pair that knowledge with local agricultural products and great wine. “Even visitors who aren’t particularly good in the kitchen will be inspired by the level of expertise and new ideas that they see here,” McGrath said.

Hawaii’s Big Island Festival is produced by the Big Island Group, a promotional alliance between the Big Island Visitors Bureau, county of Hawaii, Kohala Coast resorts, and corporate and community sponsors. Mauna Kea Resort is serving as headquarters of the 2004 festivities, with the main paviliion at Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel.

McGrath expects this year’s festival attendance to reach 2,000 participants, up from 1,300 in 2003. Tastings and demonstrations are intimate affairs, with 75 guests each, while the opening and closing galas draw hundreds of revelers.

Highlights of this year’s schedule include a Nov. 3 party at Hilton Waikoloa Village, where executive chef Willie Pirngruber and his team showcase island products ranging from Hamakua mushrooms to Waimea tomatoes. On Nov. 6, a Mauna Kea Resort gala called Under the Hula Moon satisfies the crowds with foods crafted by local and national chefs. Throughout the week, clients can attend health and wellness activities, including spa events at the Hilton and a morning of guided yoga, meditation, Hawaiian storytelling and snorkeling.

Officials are working closely with participating Big Island hotels to provide members of the travel industry with sales tools, including a one-page flyer for travel agents. Event organizers are targeting potential participants with four-page advertising inserts in national publications. The festival has also developed a direct mailing piece that will be sent to 100,000 targeted consumers.


Clients attending the Big Island Festival can purchase tickets to daytime tours and activities for $79-$115 per person, per event. Event dinners cost $105-$125 per person, including wines.

The $400 Platinum Pass provides access to the festival’s opening and closing events, culinary demonstrations, wine pairings and seminars (a $460 value).

The following hotels have put together five-night packages timed with the Big Island Festival:

Kona Village Resort: Standard accommodations, including three meals daily. Add $15 per person for the Fri. Nov. 5 chef’s dinner ($1579 per person).

Hilton Waikoloa Village: Golf course-view room with daily buffet breakfast for two ($789 per person).

Mauna Lani Bay Hotel: Garden-view room ($1,095 per person).

Waikoloa Beach Marriott: Partial oceanview room with daily breakfast for two ($619 per person).

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel: Mountain-view room and $100 per room dining credit ($829 per person).

A four-night package is available at Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, with terrace view accommodations, daily breakfast buffet and two tickets to the festival’s final evening event ($1,100 per couple).