Chronological / Destinations / Hawaii / United States

Oahu’s Kualoa Ranch Is A Treasure

Never did I expect to find an authentic multi-generation family-owned and operated natural area that would provide me with so many different experiences and opportunities. I’ve visited Oahu many times, but never Kualoa Ranch, where you see traditions flourish. In Hawaiian, Kualoa means “long back.” When you see the land, the name fits. Its long mountain range is full of lush valleys and great peaks. From exploring the beauty of the area that is used for numerous movies and television show, it offers multiple attractions, including jungle rides, natural fishponds and horseback riding, to mention a few.

Fifteen hundred years ago, Polynesians landed in Hawaii. One of their important villages rested at the foothills near Kualoa. Over 800 years ago, the ranch fishpond was built with a lava rock wall that still spans 4,000 feet. It had small gates to let the water in and out. Small fish would come in and eat too much to get out through the gates and remain in the pond and grow. This was definitely an early aquaculture feat that is still active today. In the 1600s, the first breadfruit trees and taro were introduced and flourished.

Valley for many movie sets

Valley for many movie sets Photo: Maralyn D. Hill

Kualoa itself was established in 1850. It was known by ancient Hawaiians as a sacred place and residence of kings, as well as a refuge, sanctuary and training ground for royalty.

During the 1800s, missionaries arrived. Due to illness that was prevailing, they recruited Dr. Gerrit P. Judd in 1828. His love and treatment of the people earned him great respect with King Kamehameha III. In addition to becoming the king’s physician, he became a personal friend. In 1850, King Kamehameha III sold Dr. Judd approximately 622 acres of land in Kualoa, as well as all its offshore fishing rights. In 1863, Dr. Judd’s son, Charles Hastings Judd, purchased additional land in Hakipu’u and Ka’a’awa, which increased the size of Kualoa estate to 4,000 acres. This estate has operated as Kualoa Ranch since 1927. Today it is owned and operated by descendants of Dr. Judd, the Morgan family.

From 1863 to 1871, sugar cane thrived and was harvested for eight years. When it hit a bad year, the ranch switched to cattle and boasted approximately 1,000 head. Pineapple harvesting started in the early 1900s.

Headquartr Bunker Photo: Maralyn D. Hill

After Pearl Harbor, the army took over the ranch. In addition to building an airfield, now a straight stretch of highway along the coast, bunkers were built surrounding this strategic location. When the war ended, the ranch was in shambles. Rather than let it become parks, the family claimed their rights and turned Kualoa around, into a profitable endeavor.

Kualoa is the location site for many well-known films and activities; it is also a working ranch and a producer of many fruits, fish and prawns. Its owners have kept the true story of Hawaii alive and have the activities to support it.

During all this time, the focus has been stewardship and preservation of all its natural wonders.

I was fortunate to meet one of the Morgan brothers and greatly admire how they have managed to maintain the environment with a jungle area and still raise 280 head of cattle, mostly a cross between Angus, Bragus and Hereford, grazing on approximately 1,500 acres. Aquaculture efforts also began in the late 1970s with prawns, catfish and shrimp production. Although they are not welcome, you can see some barracuda in the pond. They arrived small and quickly became too fat to leave.

Maralyn on Jungle Ride

Maralyn on Jungle Ride

Michelle and I tried the Movie Sites and Ranch Tour first, where we traveled into Ka’a’awa Valley. We discovered where many blockbuster movies and television shows have been filmed, including Mighty Joe Young, Jurassic Park, Godzilla, Hawaii Five-O, 50 First Dates and more than you can imagine.

Our next stop was the Jungle Expedition Tour with four other guests in a six-wheel-drive Swiss Pinzgauer. As we bounced and rumbled up and down jungle trails, we ascended to the lush and remote valley for a phenomenal view of mountains and ocean. All guides have been trained to provide some history of the ranch along the way. Kualoa also offers an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Tour, Hawaiian Fishpond and Garden Tour, Horseback Tours, Ancient Hula Lessons, Legends and Legacy Tour, Secret Island Tour and Ocean Voyaging Tour.

From the jungle to the sea Photo: Maralyn D. Hill

From the jungle to the sea Photo: Maralyn D. Hill

Before you consider a luau anywhere on the island, I’d suggest the Legends of Kualoa. This dinner show is an all-Hawaiian performance with hula kahiko and the sounds of old Hawaii. The leader beats an ipu (gourd) for the sounds and chants that take you through ancient customs of the people and land. I’ve been to several luaus and most were entertaining. However, this one is traditional all the way. An added bonus: the food is very good. They feature Kiawe -smoked hand-carved prime rib, fresh seasonal salad selections, island grilled chicken, Hawaiian Island fish, dessert and beverages.

I’d have to sum up Kualoa as a not-to-miss activity. Check out its website Kualoa doesoffer round trip transportation from Waikiki.

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