No Place Like Home

A Big Island tour takes visitors behind closed doors

By: By Fern Gavelek

The Details

Home Tours Hawaii
877-325-5772 or 808-640-6303 
Tours operate from 8 a.m.-noon five days a week (days vary) and begin with a van pickup at Kailua-Kona hotels and condos. Vans accommodate up to 12 persons and children are welcome. Sutherland can arrange for special diets and food preferences, special occasions like birthdays and customized home choices for groups. The price is $105 per person, commissionable at 15 percent.

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What’s it like to live in paradise? Hawaii clients can find out with a new activity on the Big Island — Home Tours Hawaii. The tour features a progressive brunch served at three different island homes, van transportation through Kona’s residential neighborhoods and an amenity bag filled with local products and recipes.

The half-day activity debuted in December 2007 and is geared for repeat visitors, foodies, clients vacationing with an eye on real estate or anyone who has "been there, done that." The intimate tours are full of insider information provided by Home Tour founders Pat Peterson and chef Ann Sutherland. The two seamlessly handle every aspect of the tour, from driving the van to preparing brunch.

Chef Ann Sutherland in the kitchen during a Home Tours Hawaii outing on the Big Island // (c) Fern Gavelek
Chef Ann Sutherland in the kitchen during a Home Tours Hawaii outing on the Big Island 

"I got acquainted with home tours while traveling in Beijing, Italy and Finland," said Peterson. "However, we were only allowed to stand in doorways or walk around a home’s exterior. It’s fun to see how people live in exotic places, and I wanted to see more."

Home Tours Hawaii does just that, as clients visit three different dwellings, inside and out. Clients are invited into kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms and, while homes are occupied, their residents don’t take part in the tour. Home visits rotate among six different properties, but each tour includes a visit to an oceanside home at sea level; a lush, mountainside property with lots of acreage; and a luxury estate in a subdivision.

On a recent tour, our first stop was a two-story home on seaside Alii Drive. The entryway greeted us with beams made from local trees, dolphin-etched glass doors and a trickling fountain. Inside, the kitchen gleamed with granite countertops, contemporary wood-grained cabinets and stylish lighting. A telescope perched in a tiny room on the top floor.

"Check out the dolphin-shaped faucets in the bathroom," said Peterson.

Out on the lanai, where panoramic views and chaise lounges awaited, chef Sutherland sliced her just-made tropical breads using local pineapple, coconut, bananas and macadamia nuts. Also for our enjoyment was taro malasada, a popular Portuguese treat that resembles a doughnut without the hole. We washed it down with fresh guava juice and a Kona coffee cappuccino.

As we munched on our first course, Sutherland graciously showed us how to decoratively carve a pineapple for serving. Sutherland, who hails from Oahu’s North Shore, has been a culinary professional for more than 30 years, working not only in resort and restaurant kitchens but for Ethel Kennedy in the 1970s.

Sutherland provided a humorous and informative narration while en route to home stops, sharing her knowledge of the Big Island and telling stories of growing up in Hawaii. Her love of the islands was evident as she fondly described her favorite places.

Our second home stop was a cottage on a certified organic coffee farm at a cooler 1,500-foot elevation. We turned down a mile-long shared driveway, glancing into neighboring backyards. Peterson pointed out trees laden with coffee cherry, passionfruit and mango.

"There are 96 varieties of avocado on the Big Island," said Sutherland. "Each one lends itself to different uses."

We soon tasted one of them as our progressive brunch continued with a mango gazpacho accompanied by taro chips, guacamole, tropical salsa and passionfruit juice. We enjoyed the repast on the cottage’s lanai, which sat like a treehouse above the coffee orchard. Walking around the property, we peeked at the outdoor shower, surrounded by colorful gingers and cascading tree ferns.

Our third stop provided even more scrumptious eating and house viewing. The luxury estate had a lava-rock fireplace, spectacular mango paneling and floors crafted from Brazilian cherry wood. Vintage island art and Hawaiian artifacts decorated the interior.

On the lanai overlooking the pool, Sutherland showed us how to expertly grate a coconut while we feasted on passionfruit cilantro shrimp, pineapple rice and a selection of desserts including custom-made local ice cream.

"The food is incredible. I’m trying things I’ve never tried before," said Tim Stuart of Inverness, Fla. "I’m particularly impressed with how the homes meld tree posts and the natural environment into their architecture."

"Chef Ann just fascinated me with her use and knowledge of local produce," added Joan Smith of Sevierville, Tenn. "Her food is marvelous!"