Experience Historic Parker Ranch, by Deborah Turner
Photos courtesy Parker Ranch.
Just outside the small town of Waimea(also known as Kameula),on the north end of the Big Island of Hawaii, lies the historic Parker Ranch. It was founded in 1847 by John Palmer Parker, who married Kipikane, the granddaughter of King Kamehameha I. They bought the first two acres of ranchland for $10. They expanded in the 1850 when Kipikane was granted 640 acres of surrounding pastureland. Subsequent Parkers continued to expand until, at its height, Parker Ranch covered nearly 500,000 acres, the largest single-owned ranch in the United States. Today it is the fifth largest at 130,000 acres, much of it grazing land for approximately 19,000 head of cattle and 125 horses. There are approximately 850 miles of fence, over 300 paddocks, and 15 corrals. The water system consists of 175 miles of pipeline, three large reservoirs, 145 water tanks, three water dams, and 650 water troughs. There are 12 cowboys and another 12 support staff.
Six generations lived on Parker Ranch before Richard Palmer Parker (also known as the actor Richard Smart) formed the Parker Ranch Foundation Trust to support and improve healthcare, education, and the community at large.
During WWII, Richard Smart leased acreage for $1 to battle-weary Marines for what became Camp Tawara. Fifty thousand men trained for attacks on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. In gratitude, the Marines gave back to the community that sheltered them. They built the first rodeo arena and held the first rodeo on the 4th of July as a friendly challenge with the town Paniolos (Hawaiian for cowboy). They also built the first water system for the community and introduced ice cream to the town children. A memorial was built nearby to commemorate Camp Tawara and the men who served in WWII.
Turning in at the main gate, a tall trees border a long drive, while paddocks spread away on either side. The drive ends in a circle facing the main house, Puuopelu. Built in 1862, it was purchased in 1879 by John Palmer Parker II and his wife, Hani. Over the years, it was expanded and renovated to its current 8000 sq. ft. Highlights are the crystal chandelier in the foyer, the bronze statue of Ikua Purdy, the 1908 Cheyenne steer roping champion, and the puppet theater, installed to look like an entry off the foyer, which Richard Smart bought and had installed in the house.
The 55′ x35′ central room with its 16′ ceilings and elegant chandeliers contains original art from around the world. Precious Chinese ceramics and Asian art adorn an antique armoire and shelves along the walls. Portraits of the Parker family line the wall over the beautiful marble fireplace. French doors provide access to the terrace, a view down the hill to the rose garden, a sparkling lake, and the ocean in the distance. The kitchen retains its old-fashioned feel, with glass-paneled cupboards. Inside is a large collection of yellow Peking glass, a rarity, as Peking glass is not seen outside the Imperial city.
The second house on Parker Ranch is Mana Hale (House of the Spirits) was built by John Parker Palmer in 1816 and moved from its original location to make it accessible to visitors. He covered the interior with beautiful, gleaming koa hardwood. The rooms are filled with the original furniture and some of the fashions worn by the women over the years. Photos and some of the old cast-iron equipment stand in one of the rooms. A twenty minute video gives the history of Parker Ranch. Both houses are open for free, self-guided tours M-F 8-4.
The grounds are as fascinating as the houses, with their views of both the majestic mountains of Â Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. The 145′ Cook Pine at the front of the Puuopelu was planted in 1862; it is lighted each December in a special Christmas Lighting Ceremony. Sculpted gardens, the rose gardens, and the terrace show spectacular views of the pond, and paddocks used to hold the Ranch’s brood mares. Beyond, the hills and valleys fall down to the sparkling blue ocean in the distance. A stroll around the back of the house ends in the mausoleum of Richard Smart set near the rose gardens.
The rodeo has played a large part in the history of the Ranch, and continues to do so to this day. There are two a year: July 4th and Labor day. They feature thrilling horse races, team roping, the unique-to-Hawaii, Po`o Wai U (wild cow roping), and more. The Labor Day Rodeo also features a live horse auction as Parker Ranch sells some of its stock.
For the more adventurous, Parker Ranch hosts commercial guided hunts of meat pigs, trophy pigs, feral goats, birds, and Spring turkeys. They have temporarily suspended hunts for wild cattle but hope to start them up again soon. Hunts include transportation, snacks, beverages, gun checks, and care of harvested animals. For more information and hunting regulations, check out Parker Ranch Hunts. They are open 7 days a week, including holidays; for reservations, call 877-885-7999.
Trail rides are no longer available at the ranch, but they recommend Kahua Ranch. Call 808-889-0022 for reservations. Paniolo Adventures at Ponoholo Ranch also has a variety of ride packages. Reservations can be made by calling 808-889-5354.
A visit to the Parker Ranch Store is a must. Located in the Parker Ranch Center, 67-1185 Mamalahoa Hwy, in Kamuela, it sells all things Parker Ranch: hats, shirts, jeans, belts, boots, dishware, and a fascinating book on the history of the ranch itself. It is open 9 AM to 5 PM. Have lunch at the restaurant next door or eat at the Food Court, then stroll through the shops and galleries in the Center. If you need a pick-me-up or groceries, there is a Starbucks and a Foodland. A large statue of Ikua Purdy graces the entrance to the Center.
Visit the Wednesday Market at Pukalani Stables located at 67-139 Pukalani Rd. (808-854-1541). Located within the majestic stables of the Parker Ranch, the market offers a large variety of locally grown produce, including coffee and island honey, grass-fed beef, plate lunches, jewelry and crafts. Enjoy paniolo style music, and browse the Historic Museum of the Hawaiian Paniolo, free to the public on Market days.
Parker Ranch is located at 66-1304 Mamalahoa Hwy, Kamuela, HI 96743. For more information, call 808-885-7311.