Make like a Wild West cowboy--on Hawaii Island--with ranch stays and a rodeo

Cattle graze in a pasture at Kahua Ranch near the northern tip of Hawaii Island.
(Elizabeth Brentano / Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau)

In Hawaii, surfers riding the waves atop their boards are an everyday sight. Less well known are cowboys on horseback herding cattle in the verdant hills of Hawaii Island.

Visitors who want a taste of the islands’ Wild West can take a scenic horseback ride or stay overnight in a historic rancher home.

Cowboy boots, Stetson hats and giant belt buckles are common apparel in Hawaii Island’s interior, where cattle ranches sprawl and cowboy culture thrives.
(Heather Goodman / Hawaii Tourism Authority)

You’ll need to get off the beaten path to see the paniolos — the Hawaiian word for cowboys. They work on ranges in North Kohala near the northern tip of the island and a bit farther inland near the town of Waimea.

Visitors are welcome at the 8,500-acre Kahua Ranch, about 45 miles north of the Kona airport.


Visitors to Hawaii Island enjoy a horseback ride in North Kohala.
(Kirk Lee Aeder /Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau)

Naalapa Stables provide 2.5-hour horseback rides through lush pastures for $115. To cover more ground, you can take a 90-minute ATV Adventure, which costs $150.

A traditional hoedown is part of the Wednesday evening entertainment at Kahua Ranch.
(Susan Foat / Big Island Discovery)

For a taste of the local beef, as well as the cowboy life, consider the Evening Sunset Dinner at the ranch.

Offered each Wednesday, the experience begins with storytelling around a campfire, during which guests learn of the long tradition of raising cattle in the area.

Visitors to Kahua Ranch can use a red-hot branding iron to create a souvenir. Wood shingles are used to demonstrate how cattle are branded.
(Susan Foat / Big Island Discovery)

Visitors then chow down on a chicken and steak dinner before joining in activities such as line dancing, roping and branding. People can even brand their own wood shingle — to experience what it’s like to brand cattle — to take home as a souvenir.

Priced at $139, the experience includes transportation from hotels.

A stop at the Paniolo Heritage Center provides the opportunity to learn even more about ranching’s rich history on the island.

Much of the cowboy and cowgirl activity on Hawaii Island is centered on the town of Waimea, where the sprawling Parker Ranch continues to raise cattle.
(Nancy Erger / Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau)

The museum is located in the historic Pukalani Stables in Waimea, where Parker Ranch bred horses for half a century.

The center is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, with farmers markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Admission is free, but donations are accepted to help restore the original blacksmith shop.

At 2,670 feet, the bustling small town of Waimea is known by locals as Kamuela, the Hawaiian word for Samuel. It honors Samuel (Kamuela) Parker, under whose leadership the ranch flourished in the late 1800s. Even the local post office recognizes the town as Kamuela, not Waimea.

Parker Ranch does not offer tours, but parts are open to hunters seeking game and fowl.

A boy practices his roping skills on a sawhorse at the 2018 Panaewa Stampede Rodeo in Hilo.
(Hawaii Horse Owners Inc.)

With cowboys come rodeos. One of the island’s biggest takes place each February in the city of Hilo, on the eastern side of the island.

To be held Feb. 16-18, the Panaewa Stampede Rodeo will feature competitive events for men, women and children.

Two paniolos show off their steer roping skills during the rodeo in Hilo.
(Hawaii Horse Owners Inc.)

For skilled cowboys, the events include bareback bronc riding, bull riding and tie-down roping. Cowgirls can demonstrate their skills in barrel racing, breakaway and mugging. The youngsters participate in barrel racing, bronc riding and team roping.

Info: Panaewa Stampede Rodeo

Set amid lush gardens, James’ House is a classic Hawaiian bungalow built in the 1920s. It rents for $289 a night.
(Karen Loudon Photography)

Folks wanting to further immerse themselves in the paniolo culture should consider a stay at Puakea Ranch near the northern tip of the island in Hawaii. Cattle were first raised here, to provide food to passing ships, in 1793.

The oldest of the homes at Puakea Ranch, Cowboy Cottage.
(Karen Loudon Photography)

Four cottages in which ranchers and their families once lived are available for overnight rental.

Room prices range from $289 a night for James’ Cottage, a large suite with hot tub, to $629 a night for Yoshi’s House, which features two bedrooms and a pool. It was built in the 1940s by ranch foreman Yoshio Kawamoto.

The Cowboy Cottage, the oldest of the homes at Puakea Ranch, was built around the turn of the 20th century. With three bedrooms and a lanai overlooking the ocean, it rends for $449 a night.

Info: Puakea Ranch