Surveying the scene at about the 3,000 ft elevation in North Hawaii on the Big Island, you realize that you’ve entered Hawaii’s paniolo (cowboy) country. This is the land of vast cattle ranches, organic farms and rolling green hills (also known as puus).
If you are a first-time visitor to the Big Island, you may first hear about Waimea as a destination when you ask about “not-to-be-missed” North Hawaii restaurants. Many residents and returning visitors will say that a Big Island vacation is just not complete without at least one dinner at Merriman’s Restaurant in Waimea’s Opelo Plaza. (Chef/restaurateur Peter Merriman is known as a “pioneer of Hawaii Regional Cuisine.”)
Here is a possible day-trip itinerary for anyone who wants to get to know North Hawaii at higher elevations a little better:
- For a taste of “old Hawaii,” visit Anna Ranch Heritage Center where you can learn about the fascinating life of Anna Leialoha Lindsey Perry-Fiske (1900-1995), the “First Lady of Ranching” in Hawaii. Tours are only $10 per person and worth every penny. The koa furniture in the main house and the beautifully landscaped grounds are amazing!
- Drive up Kohala Mountain Road and visit one of the North Kohala ranches that offer ATV rides, horseback riding or guided hikes. Kahua Ranch, home of Na’apala Stables, is one working ranch that welcomes visitors. The views from the highest points of Kahua (4,000+ ft above sea level) are simply stunning. The Ranch’s Wednesday Evening Sunset Dinner program is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, so you can stay at the Ranch all day and enjoy the all-you-can-eat buffet and live music in the evening.
- At some point during your day, visit Waimea Coffee Company in Parker Square, where you’re likely to find yourself in the company of Big Island ranchers and cowboys stopping in to enjoy their locally grown coffee before heading back to work.
I’ve lived on the Big Island for 6 years now, and the Waimea-Kohala area is by far my favorite place on the island. Welcome to true Hawaiian country!
Photo: Anna Ranch Heritage Center on Kawaihae Road in Waimea