When I moved across from the old sugar mill remains at Kualoa
Ranch about a decade ago, my recreational pursuits took a twist. I
started exploring my new Oahu “country” neighborhood at a casual
pace, taking a trail ride one weekend, kayaking at Secret Island
the next, then ATV-ing deep into hidden valleys when friends would
visit from the mainland.
While the action was great, I was equally consumed with Kualoa’s
rich cultural significance as one of the most sacred places on Oahu
in ancient times. I realized that each activity exposed merely a
sliver of the big picture the power of the aina (land) and how
steeped in history Kualoa actually is.
Well aware that soaking in the 4,000-acre spread was no quick
task, I was pleased when Kualoa recently linked its maze of
discoveries into the new Hawaiian Experience.
Clients can now select from a menu of outings to match their
interests and abilities in full- or half-day packages that expose
the historic ranch’s vast diversity.
Owned by sixth-generation descendents of Dr. Gerrit P. Judd, who
purchased the land from King Kamehameha III in 1850, the ranch
operates with an admirable mission: to preserve, protect and
enhance the land’s beauty and culture, while developing
recreational and agricultural enterprises compatible with the
environment. The Hawaiian Experience does just that.
“We want to be the premier destination for those wanting to
experience the real Hawaii,” explained John Morgan, president of
Kualoa Ranch Hawaii, Inc.
Morgan recognized that the market for horseback riding and ATV
touring comprise but a small percentage of Oahu’s visitors.
“We know that beauty and culture appeal to a greater population,”
he said. “The Hawaii Experience evolved from that. It takes
visitors off the beaten path into the heart of Hawaii.”
I decided to make a day of it, having a choice of four narrated
tours plus a buffet lunch at Auntie Pat’s Paniolo Cafe in the
ranch’s visitor center.
Being a movie junkie, I started with the Ranch and Movie Set Tour.
It’s no small wonder that even first-time visitors to Kualoa find
it oddly familiar. Kaaawa Valley’s lush landscape has served as a
backdrop in such blockbusters as “Jurassic Park,” “Pearl Harbor,”
“Godzilla” and “50 First Dates.” Most recently, the ranch has found
the cast of “Lost” filming on a regular basis.
Stopping at a WWII bunker which has been converted into an exhibit
space, we learned even more about the history of the land.
“Kualoa was a residence of kings, a place of refuge and sanctuary,
and a training ground for royalty who were instructed in the art of
war, history and social traditions,” said our guide.
Next, I boarded a six-wheel-drive Swiss Pinzgauer vehicle for the
Jungle Expedition that rocked and rolled into the lush Hakipuu
Valley. Bumping and grinding through the tough terrain, the jolts
were well worth the payoff a dramatic view of the windward
coastline and Molii, an 800-year-old Hawaiian fish pond that is one
of the largest and best-preserved in Hawaii.
Requiring a bit of ped power, the Paliku Exploration included a
mild hike to the top of a ridge with a 360-degree view of Oahu’s
windward side. Along the trail, we learned the history of the
dramatic mountain named Paliku and how Kualoa became a ranch.
During my finale, the Hawaiian Fishing and Garden Tour, we
traveled through fields of tropical flowers, gardens and fruit
trees for an easy-going cruise on the 125-acre fish pond we’d
spotted from the Paliku and Jungle tours earlier.
“The ponds were stocked with moi and awa fish for alii [Hawaiian
royalty],” explained Lani, one of our guides. “Small fish could
swim in with the tide, but when they grew, they couldn’t swim
It was obvious that the alii had a great dining plan.
The Hawaiian Experience also includes an Ocean Voyaging option
aboard a 49-passenger catamaran. Offered Monday through Saturday
only, the outing covers Hawaiian navigation as it sails past
Mokolii Island in Kaneohe Bay.
At the end my day of range roving, I had an even deeper
appreciation of Kualoa’s place in Hawaii’s past, and tremendous
respect for how the ranch shares that past today. Kualoa is the
polar opposite of a fabricated theme attraction. The culture and
history of this sacred site make it the real deal.
Kualoa Ranch and Activity Club
49-560 Kamehameha Hwy.
Kaaawa, HI 96730
Open from 9 a.m. daily except major holidays.
Half-Day Experience: Choice of two one-hour tours and buffet
lunch: $69 per adult and $39 per child 3-11 years old.
Full-Day Experience: Choice of four one-hour tours and buffet
lunch: $95 per adult and $59 per child 3-11 years old.
Kualoa Ranch also offers activities a la carte, including one- and
two-hour horseback rides, one- and two-hour ATV dune cycle
excursions, a one-hour ranch and movie set tour and one-hour jungle
Commission: 15-20 percent