A Guide to Northern Hawaii

Parker Ranch

Known as the second biggest cattle ranch in America, the Parker Ranch was founded in 1793, when British sailor and explorer George Vancouver brought cattle to the Big Island as a gift for King Kamehameha. The king, honored by this gift, placed the cattle under a kapu, thus ensuring their long-term survival. For twenty years, these cattle reproduced, and eventually became something of a nuisance on the island. A young fellow from Massachusetts, John Palmer Parker, a friend of the king, saw opportunity in the excess of cattle, and began to supply newly-arrived ships with fresh meat. As more ships arrived for whale hunting, this cattle trade increased in importance. At Parker's 1815 wedding to the king's granddaughter, he inherited the land upon which he could raise herds of cattle of his own. Parker established the ranch in his name in 1847 on land granted to him by King Kamehameha III. Upon Parker's advice, the king hired skilled labor from as far as Spain, Mexico, and California to teach the native workers to properly handle the cattle, and thus the Hawaiian cowboy, or paniolo, came to be. Modern visitors to the area can still find paniolos, grocery shopping on their horses. The Waimea Lodge provides visitors with a taste of the country lifestyle.



Waimea, or Kamuela, is the village closest to the very large Parker Ranch. Covering 225 thousand acres and home to fifty thousand head of cattle, the Parker Ranch is the biggest privately owned ranch in America, with 27 paniolos on horseback caring for the cattle and patrolling the 700 miles of fencing. The beef from Parker Ranch is still processed in Hawaii, and most of the beef is ultimately exported.


Annually, the ranch arranges a rodeo festival on the fourth of July, and this festival includes bull riders from all over the state in addition to mugging, roping, children's horse rides, and raw hide races. You can call (808) 885-7311 to get additional information about this annual event.


Waimea is also home to the Parker Shopping Center, which is size-able and features a number of stores and restaurants. You can also find the Parker Ranch Visitor Center and the Parker Museum on site. Waimea also hosts the Imiola Church and the Kamuela Museum. A drive along the Kohala Coast features breathtaking views as well as picturesque pastures full of peacefully grazing cows.


Waimea Sights

Parker Museum and Visitor Center

 Located on the site of the Parker Shopping Center, the Parker Museum and Visitor Center is open form 9am to 5pm, and it features collectibles from at least six generations of Parkers as well as a great deal of Hawaiiana. Arriving on the island in 1808, John Palmer Parker left his home state of Massachusetts at the tender age of 19, and, upon his landing in Hawaii, rapidly became friendly with King Kamehameha the Great, eventually marrying his granddaughter in 1815. Weapons, clothing, photos, and a ladder press are all featured at the museum as well as an informative fifteen minute video which shares the century and a half of history of not only the Parker Ranch, but also the Kamehamehas. There is also and exhibit that shares the story of Kahanamoku, the famed Hawaiian Olympiad who swam and brought surfing to the attention of the rest of the world. Guests of the facility can also take a tour of the family's historic homes, which still feature paintings by Chagall, Renoir, and Degas, and are just a brief drive to the south of Waimea.


Imiola Church

One of Waimea's most prominent landmarks for more than one hundred years, Imiola Church was built by Lorenzo Lyons, a missionary visiting the island, in 1857. Gaining popularity through his article writing for local newspapers as well as his compositions of hymns and songs, the choir at the church sings in English as well as in native Hawaiian. Free tours are available for visitors, and Imiola Church can be found on the street known as "Church Row", adjacent to the shopping center.


Kamuela Museum

While the museum is very small, it's still worth taking the time to visit. Founded by Albert and Harriet Solomon, collectors of artifacts from Hawaii, this family-run museum is an interesting place for tourists to learn more about the area, and the guides are often conducted by one of the remaining family members. Open daily from 8am to 5pm, admission is only $5 for adult visitors and $2 for child visitors.


Waipi'o Valley

Located at the end of the coast of Hamakua, the Waipi'o Valley is a very large valley that has become quite popular among hikers and lovers of nature of all stripes. Featuring an impressive overlook, visitors can enjoy a gorgeous view of the fields and the valley after parking their vehicles at the end of the road. There are a number of bed and breakfasts in the area for those who wish to extend their visit, including the Honokaa Plantation or the Waipio Wayside. You can spend the night in the valley's renowned tree house or even take a tour by wagon across the valley.


Considered to be a sacred spot by native Hawaiians, Waipo was cultivated and populated by ten thousand farmers who enjoyed the idyllic conditions until the destructive tsunami struck the valley, forcing a number of the farmers out of the valley. Now lush with natural vegetation, the gorgeous black sand beaches as well as the natural beauty of the valley invites many visitors each year. A waterfall provides refreshment for overheated hikers on their way down the valley.


While the road that leads down into the valley appears to be easily navigated, locals know that this is not the case; while your vehicle might make it down, the only way back up the very steep path is via the most powerful tow truck that can be found on the Big Island; the price for this folly is $700, so it's best to hike your way down or take the tour via the sanctioned wagon and 4x4.


Hamakula Coast

Stretching from the Akaka Falls adjacent to Hilo up to the Waipio Valley, the Hamukua Coast is home to macadamia nuts, sugar cane, deep lush valleys, and cascading mountains. Known also as the Scotch Coast due to the large influx of Scotch immigrants who managed the many sugar plantations, there are no roads into these gorgeous, untouched valleys, save into Waipio Valley.


If you are a fan of nature, here are some of Hamakua Coast's most gorgeous gems, as well as another great reason to spend some time in one of the beautifully appointed hotels or bed and breakfasts in Hilo.


Panaewa Rainforest Zoo

Open every day with free admission, the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo can be found on the road that leads to the Volcanoes National Park. This zoo is home to more than fifty different species of animals as well as the sole rainforest zoo in America.


Nani Mau Gardens

Located in Hilo and covering more than twenty acres, this garden features beautiful tropical trees and flowers, waterfalls, and pools. This locale is extremely popular for special occasions such as weddings.


Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Breathtakingly beautiful, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is located in Ono Mea Bay. Filled with tropical trees and plants as well as amazing birds and other animals, the garden is gorgeously landscaped, with plenty of features to capture the attention of visitors. The garden could potentially become your favorite spot in Hilo.


Located 8.5 miles north of Hilo, the garden attracts scientists, botanists, photographers, nature lovers, and gardeners, all of them fascinated by the internationally famous collection of tropical plants. This garden features 2000 different species of plants, representing at least 125 families and 750 genera. The valley is protected from Hawaii's tradewinds and is a sort of organically natural greenhouse on the forty-acre valley. The huge coconut palms and mango trees featured in the garden are more than a century old, and the volcanic soil's extremely fertile nature allows tropical plants to thrive at this, one of the best showcases for the fauna and flora of Hawaii.


Now a place for preserving species that are endangered all over the globe, the garden's proprietor, Dan Lutkenhouse, bought this land in 1977 and started planting the various trees and flowers with friends and helpers. Throughout Lutkenhouse's many travels to places such as Madagascar, Indonesia, Australia, Bali, and Africa, he found different rare and unique species, bringing them to their new home in the valley. The garden is open for visitors every day, and further information can be obtained by calling 964-5233.


Akaka Falls

A mere twenty minutes from Hilo, you can see Akaka Falls. This waterfall, known as the tallest and the largest, can be reached on foot. Cascading 420 feet into a pool and over a volcanic cliff, the waterfall can become a very strong torrent if the rainfall has been heavy. Floral fragrances, including orchids, ginger, and heliconia, pervade the area.


Rainbow Falls

Just to the west of Hilo, visitors will encounter gorgeous waterfalls, and an early morning visit will make the name understood. Gorgeous rainbows can be seen through the mist of the waterfall if the light is hitting the falls just right.