Where It All Begins

Factory tours give visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the best the islands have to offer

By: Marty Wentzel

Factory tours make for good public relations, according to officials with several makers of island products. On Oahu, in particular, more and more manufacturers are offering visitors an unusual behind-the-scenes look.

Perhaps the most homespun of Oahu’s factory tours is found at KoAloha Ukulele, a respected producer of the four-stringed instrument. KoAloha started the tours three years ago, said a company spokesman, Alan Okami.

“We want to share our brand of aloha,” said Okami. “It’s a way for visitors to meet the people of the islands.”

For 45 minutes, clients learn about the meticulous process master craftsmen go through as they create ukuleles out of highly prized native koa wood, found only in Hawaii.

At the end of the visit, clients participate in a hands-on activity where they create a koa gift to take home. Members of the family-run business play an original song for their guests, then take pictures of tour participants to add to the family scrapbook.

“We try to share a bit of the old Hawaii,” said Okami. “Music often brings people together.” Tours are held Mondays-Fridays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

866-840-4911; www. koalohaukulele.com.

On the Lion Coffee roasting plant tour, clients watch how Hawaii’s crop is processed from beans to bags.

“Offering tours gives us a chance to teach consumers about the benefits of Hawaiian and gourmet coffee,” said Hawaii Coffee Company president Jim Wayman. “Learning about local products gives Hawaii meaning. It provides the visitor with a personal connection with the islands.”

Highlights of the 30-minute tour include a look at the cooling bin, the roaster and a machine that grinds 10,000 pounds of beans per load. The showroom displays and sells coffees, T-shirts and Lion memorabilia; and the cafe sells the finished product. Scheduled tours take place Tuesdays at 10 a.m.

800-338-8353; www. hicoffeeco.com.

Martin & MacArthur, which makes island furniture of koa, started offering free 20-minute tours of its workshop last November.

The firm has become known for reviving unusual Hawaiian furniture designs dating to the mid-19th century combining influences from Asia, Europe and New England. Clients get a lesson in history and art as they see the various grains and colors of koa.

“We teach people what to look for when buying the best wood furniture,” said a company partner, Lloyd Jones. “The tour exposes visitors to one of the crafts that enriches the culture of Hawaii.” Tours run every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon.

800-845-0099; www. martinandmacarthur.com.

Maui Divers’ Jewelry Design Center, Oahu’s most polished factory tour, takes groups behind the scenes of a manufacturer specializing in coral jewelry.

“We keep the groups small, up to 10 people at a time, so they can ask questions,” said Kris Taylor, a Maui Divers spokeswoman. “We try to make this a good memory of a visit to Hawaii.”

Clients see a short film on how coral is harvested from the sea, then watch artisans at work.

The tour ends in a 3,000-square-foot showroom with jewelry that features coral and various gemstones. While the display is dazzling, clients should be forewarned that employees do their best to make a sale before the clients leave.

Free 20-minute factory tours are offered from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. A free shuttle runs from Waikiki to the site.

808-946-7979; www.maui diverstour.com.