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At the Big Island's Kahua Ranch, a view from the clouds

Kahua Ranch on Hawaii's Big Island now accepts overnight guests; there's a rainbow waiting for guests

The Big Island beaches are lovely, but it's those magnificent mountains that call my name. I wanted to hop the fences and climb the hills, turn down every country lane to see where it led, go around the next bend in the road because the view might be even better. What was there to discover? A lot, it turned out.

One of the best ways to get up close and personal with the mountains of the Big Island is also one of the most scenic. Cutting across the brilliant green upcountry, Highway 250 leads from the town of Waimea across the Kohala Mountains at the 3,200-foot level for close to 20 miles before dropping down to the small north shore towns of Hawi and Kapaau. Along the way are 180-degree ocean views that stretch from Kona in the south all the way to Maui and the peaks of Haleakala more than 30 miles away across the Alenuihaha Channel.

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FOR THE RECORD:

Kahua Ranch: In the April 26 Travel section, the caption for a photograph with an article about Kahua Ranch on the Big Island of Hawaii said that the mountain in the background was part of the Kohala Mountains. It was Mauna Kea. —
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Horse and cattle ranches dot the rolling landscape here, and much of the time the clouds are so low you feel as though you could touch them. Sometimes you are literally in their midst.

It also turned out that one of the historic ranches along 250, Kahua Ranch, recently started accepting overnight guests, so my wife, Landry, and I decided to check it out. Hey, it's down a country lane, I could hop a bunch of fences to climb hills, and the view is even better from here.

Terri and Tim Richards met us at the Ranch Retreat, a private home-turned-guest rental. Kahua, an 8,500-acre ranch, has been in the Richards family since 1928. A western-facing plate-glass window in the retreat's living room showcased the expansive ocean view. "A sunset every night," Terri said, "and that's where you get the daily rainbow that we order especially for every guest," drawing an arc across the horizon with her finger. From the hot tub on the deck with wine glass in hand, she said, was the best place to view it all.

The living room, with its comfy black leather couch and fireplace, was a pretty good spot to hang out too. Art and artifacts — many with a Thai influence, because Terri is part Thai — adorned the walls and shelves. A well-equipped kitchen served nicely to whip up meals. Tip: The nearest grocery stores are more than 12 miles away, so don't forget the eggs (though pre-stocking can be arranged for a small charge plus cost of items).

The place is rustic, not a plush hotel room but an authentic ranch house from the 1950s. There is no daily housekeeping.

"But," Terri told us, "when people get here, they just want to stay. As soon as we posted on Facebook that we were accepting guests, the response was overwhelming. We got likes from Iceland, Israel … all over the place.

"But as it turns out, most of our guests are locals. They want to come up here and get a chance to see a different side of Hawaii."

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If you go:

THE BEST WAY TO THE BIG ISLAND

From LAX, nonstop service to Kona is offered on United, American and Delta, and connecting service (change of planes) is offered on Hawaiian, United, Delta and Alaska. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $586, including all taxes and fees.

Kahua Ranch is about a one-hour drive from Kona. Head north from the airport on Highway 19 for 27 miles (just past Mauna Kea Resort) to a stop sign. Turn right and follow Kawaihae Road up the hill toward Waimea for 7.9 miles. Turn left onto Highway 250 (Kohala Mountain Road) and travel 9.3 miles. Turn right into Kahua Ranch and Naalapa Stables.

WHERE TO STAY

Ranch Retreat at Kahua, Kahua Ranch; (434) 466-1637, ranchretreatkahua@gmail.com. From $450 per night (sleeps six), three-night minimum, plus 13.4% tax and departure cleaning fee of $175 (VRBO No. 691952). A smaller apartment is also available (sleeps four), from $175 per night, two-night minimum, plus 13.4% tax and departure cleaning fee of $125 (VRBO No. 697418). A one-bedroom Cowboy Cottage with gourmet kitchen is expected to be available in June.

WHERE TO EAT

Merriman's Waimea, 65-1227 Opelo Road, Waimea; (808) 885-6822, www.merrimanshawaii.com/waimea. Fresh, local produce, meats and seafood meet expert preparation in an inviting atmosphere. $25-$49 for dinner.

Village Burger, 67-1185 Hawaii Belt Road, Parker Ranch Center, Waimea; (808) 885-7319, http://www.villageburgerwaimea.com. Renowned for its outstanding burgers and locally sourced ingredients; non-meat-eaters will love the mushroom burger. $8-$13 for lunch.

Paniolo Country Inn, 65-1214 Lindsey Road, Waimea; (808) 885-4377. Hearty ranch-hand breakfasts with eggs any style, potatoes, bacon or sausage, pancakes, toast.

TO LEARN MORE

Hawaii Tourism Authority, www.gohawaii.com/en/big-island,

Paniolo Preservation Society, http://www.paniolopreservation.org

travel@latimes.com

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