I had wanted to explore the mountainous northern region of the
Big Island of Hawaii, east of Kona and west of Hilo. As a traveler,
the question always arises of how best to see remote areas marked
by fewer tourist landmarks. I found the perfect entree to an
insiders’ view of Hawaii through Hawaii agricultural tours.
Hawaii AgVentures, an ag-tourism project of the Big Island Farm
Bureau, sets up agricultural tours across the island for groups and
individuals. Visitors get to take part in a behind-the-scenes view
of farms and ranches, while gaining access to property and stunning
scenery ordinarily off limits.
“Most of the farms truly are off the beaten track,” said Stacy
Davis, Coordinator of Hawaii AgVentures.
Our ag-tour was organized in conjunction with the 10th Annual
Taste of the Hawaiian Range in September, sponsored by the College
of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources of the University of
Hawaii at Manoa. Nearly 100 farmers, ranchers, restaurant chefs and
agriculture organizations, many of which host on-site farm visits,
showcased their products on the premises of the Hilton Waikoloa
Village. It was a food lovers’ paradise.
On display and available for tastings were: fresh Hawaiian heart
of palm, Yamashiro Farm genuine wasabi (distinct from the daikon
root most sushi restaurants serve,) Kohala Mountain oysters,
Hamakua Heritage Farm specialty mushrooms, Hawaii Island Goat Dairy
goat cheese, the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory dark and milk
chocolate, Mac Pie macadamia nut pie, Hawaii Coffee Company Royal
Kona Coffee, Kailua Candy Co. chocolate-dipped Waimea strawberries
and 12 Trees Project exotic tropical fruits. There were also many
dishes featuring island grass-fed lamb and beef and kalua pork.
The next day, the agriculture tour started at the Waimea
Homestead Farmers Market. About two dozen of us boarded a mini
coach and drove the high road along the Kohala Mountain range to
Kahua Ranch. In what seemed like the middle of nowhere, we turned
onto the 8,500-acre ranch property. The coastal views from 3,000
feet above sea level spurred everyone to get their cameras. The
land has been a working cattle and sheep ranch since 1928. Today,
Kahua Ranch also draws visitors for horseback and ATV rides. It
also offers BBQ ranch dinners with entertainment provided by any
guests willing to try their hand at roping livestock.
We then headed to Wiaka Farm and Beamer-Solomon Halau O’
Po’ohala for a buffet lunch, where students of the hula dance
school performed several ancient hulas and made us dance one hula
with them. From there we traveled to a picturesque lavender and
organic vegetable farm, Honopua Farm, located on Hawaiian Homestead
Lands established for native Hawaiians. We strolled through the
winding paths of the lovingly tended farm that featured native
plants and treasured flowers used by master lei maker Marie
McDonald, the farm owner’s mother.
Honopua Farm sells its vegetables to the farmers market, a local
restaurant and several health food stores, and makes its lavender
into wonderful teas, soaps and creams.
One tour participant, an annual visitor to the Big Island from
California since childhood, said she was delighted she and her
husband had found out about the Hawaii AgVentures tour at their
“It gives you the chance to share and experience the local
culture,” she said.
While true agricultural enthusiasts may spend time swapping
secrets of the trade, the non-aggies of the group equally will be
rewarded. These days only two out of every 100 Americans work in
agriculture. Hawaii AgVentures’ programs aim to provide interaction
with local farmers and ranchers to learn about their livelihoods
and customs on Hawaii. Best of all, everyone who participates in
the tours helps support the sustainability of Hawaii’s agriculture.
Proceeds benefit members of the Big Island Farm Bureau, and
visitors also can purchase products directly from the farms as
gifts and souvenirs.
Hawaii AgVentures offers themed agricultural
tours, regional tours, cruise ship passenger tours and seasonal
tours tied to special events. Some participating farms and ranches
offer tours independently.
Themed tours range from $80 to $125, including lunch or dinner,
taxes and gratuity. Group sizes range from a minimum of six to a
maximum of 25.
Private group excursions can be arranged for visitors traveling
in their own vehicles or by chartered transportation. Availability
and cost depend on group size and place of departure.
Travel agents may negotiate an added commission rate.
Some but not all of the farms can accommodate larger groups in
chartered buses. Large groups of more than 50 can be divided into
Themed Agricultural Tours
Chocolate Treats & Tropical Temptations
Tour of coffee farm, tropical fruit farm, chocolate producer;
includes picnic lunch; departs from Kailua-Kona
Mauka to Makai (Mountain to the Sea)
Tour of historic cattle ranch, vegetable and flower farm,
state ocean science and technology park; includes lunch at
Merriman’s Restaurant; departs from Kailua-Kona
Merriman’s Farm Visits & Dinner
Tour of coffee estate, vegetable and flower farm and cattle ranch;
followed by four-course dinner at Merriman’s Restaurant; departs
Tour of orchid nursery, Volcano National Park, coffee
plantation and tropical flower farm; departs from downtown Hilo
Regional Agricultural Tours: Create your own
East Hawaii, from Hilo to Volcano
Visit a papaya producer, orchid nursery or coffee
North East Hawaii, along the Hamakua Coast
Visit a native forestry ranch, specialty mushroom grower,
banana plantation, coffee grower, honey producer or vanilla
vineyard (derived from the orchid.)
North Hawaii, from Kohala to Kamuela
Visit two cattle ranches or a vegetable and lavender
West Hawaii, from Kona to South Point
Visit Kona coffee producers and roasters, ethno-botanical
garden highlighting Hawaiian plant uses, tropical fruit and flower
gardens, ocean science and technology park or chocolate
Big Island Farm Bureau
P.O. Box 2341
Kealakekua, Hawaii, 96750