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The Big Island of Hawai`i is truly an amazing place! With 4,000 square miles the Big Island is twice the size of all the other Hawaiian Islands combined. It has 11 of the world's 13 climate zones.

Between the chocolate brown dry lava fields and white sand beaches of the west side of the island and the wet, lush tropics of the east windward side of the island lies North Kohala. This is the oldest, most rural part of the island that is dominated by large cattle ranches with rolling green pastures. North Kohala is really a peninsula jutting out from the northern end of the island. The Pacific Ocean is on three sides with Kohala Mountain running north to south through the peninsula with rain forests and lush secluded valleys on the east side of the mountain and dry volcanic soil on the west side. Kohala Mountain is the oldest of five volcanoes that account for the surface area of the Big Island.

The Big Island, and especially North Kohala, is the home of the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy). In 1793 Captain George Vancouver brought the first long horned cattle to the Big Island. The cattle were presented to King Kamehameha I, who placed a kapu (taboo) on their slaughter so they could multiply. The result was that hundreds of wild cattle roamed the mountain slopes creating such a nuisance that the kapu was lifted.

In 1803 Richard Cleveland, an American trader, brought the first horse to Hawai`i and presented the animal as a gift to King Kamehameha I. After seeing a riding demonstration, the king was so impressed that more horses were soon brought to the island.

In the early 1800's, the economy of the Hawaiian kingdom was dominated by trading, especially sandalwood. When the sandalwood forests were depleted, other goods were needed for trade. Cattle produced hides, tallow and beef for trade. As the commercial value of the cattle increased, there was a need for experienced cattle handlers. King Kamehameha III invited vaqueros from Spanish California to come to Hawai`i to teach cattle handling skills. The first vaqueros were brought to the Parker Ranch in 1823. They were called Espanoles (Spaniards) which the native Hawaiians pronounced as paniolos. In time all cowboys in Hawai`i became known as paniolos.

The vaqueros' use of horses and roping methods to herd cattle, as well as their teaching of breeding methods was the beginning of the cattle ranching industry in Hawaii.

The Parker Ranch, the largest privately owned ranch in the United States at nearly a quarter million acres, was a gift by King Kamehameha to John Parker, a sailor from New England. The King requested that Parker develop a cattle ranching industry on the Big Island.

Over time the paniolos attained fame as world class cowboys. In 1908, Parker Ranch paniolo Ikua Purdy won the world rodeo steer-roping championship in Cheyenne Wyoming. In 1999, Purdy was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

The history of North Kohala would not be complete without mentioning sugar cane. Sugar Cane dominated North Kohala from 1862-1975 and was even more important than cattle to the economy of the area. In order to work the cane fields, the mill owners imported cheap labor from China, Japan, the Philippines, Portugal and Puerto Rico. The laborers lived in mill owned camps that dotted North Kohala, especially in the areas of Niulili, Hawi and Kapa`au. Sugar cane requires huge amounts of water and in 1904 Kohala Ditch was completed. This engineering marvel brought 22 million gallons of water per day through 44 tunnels from the Kohala valleys to the cane fields. After dominating the North Kohala economy for over 100 years, the sugar cane industry died in 1975 primarily due to the ascendancy of cheap-labor-produced sugar cane of Asia and Central America. After many years of a depressed economy, the North Kohala towns of Hawi and Kapa`au have been revived in recent years with art galleries and restaurants. These towns still retain their old Hawai`i, rural charm and are definitely worth visiting before or after your Paniolo Adventures experience. These towns are just 9 miles from Paniolo Adventures.
┬ęPaniolo Adventures: Hawaii Horseback Riding on the Big Island
Mile 13.2 | Kohala Mtn. Rd. (Hwy. 250) | N. Kohala, HI 96743
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