Monday, October 5, 2015         


 Print   Email   Comment | View 0 Comments   Most Popular   Save   Post   Retweet

Kualoa Ranch filled with history, fun

By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

LAST UPDATED: 12:56 a.m. HST, Sep 28, 2010


» An earlier version of this story said admission is free to the Hawaii Women's Rodeo Association All-Girls Rodeo. Admission is $6. Kualoa Ranch is also hosting a country fair on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free to the fair.


His name might not be listed when the credits roll, but you could say John Morgan, president of Kualoa Ranch, had a part in "The Descendants," which wrapped up filming in Hawaii in May.

Set to be released next year, the movie is based on Oahu resident Kaui Hart Hemmings' best-selling novel about Matt King, a wealthy Honolulu attorney and land baron who is forced to re-examine his life when tragedy strikes. Before shooting started in March, Morgan accompanied director/screenwriter Alexander Payne and star George Clooney on tours of his magnificent Windward Oahu spread.

"When Mr. Payne was fine-tuning the screenplay over a year ago, he came to Kualoa Ranch to get an idea of what it was like for a local family to successfully manage their land without developing it," Morgan said. "I took him around and told him the history of the ranch and the challenges we face. When filming began, he thought enough of that visit to ask George Clooney, who plays the main character, to spend an afternoon here, too."

Like the fictitious King, Morgan inherited a blue-blood pedigree, a vast parcel of prime land and all the responsibilities that go along with it. Morgan's great-great-great-grandfather was Dr. Gerrit P. Judd, a missionary doctor who arrived on Oahu in 1828 and became a trusted adviser to King Kamehameha III.


» Address: 49-560 Kamehameha Highway, Kaaawa

» Tours: Offered 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily. The visitor center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily

» Phone: 237-7321

» E-mail:

» Website:

» Notes: Several scenic venues are available for private functions, ranging from a beach bordering Kaneohe Bay to a pavilion beside pastureland and corrals. Educational programs for school groups include horsemanship, Hawaiian legends, aquaculture and conservation efforts.


In 1850 the king sold 622 acres on Oahu's verdant northeastern coast to Judd. Over the next 20 years, the Judd family purchased neighboring properties, which increased their holdings to 4,000 acres. They started ranching there in the early 1870s.

Still a working cattle operation, Kualoa Ranch encompasses two valleys, three mountains, a secluded beach and 800-year-old, 125-acre Molii, Hawaii's largest and best-preserved fishpond. Hollywood fell in love with it decades ago, using various sites as backdrops for blockbusters such as "Jurassic Park," "Tears of the Sun," "50 First Dates" and "Lost."

In ancient times the area was the home of kings; a puuhonua (place of refuge) for violators of kapu (laws); a training ground for royalty learning combat techniques; and a site for the Makahiki, a four-month festival beginning in mid-October when war was banned and Hawaiians engaged in sports competitions and religious observances.

During World War II the U.S. military took over most of Kualoa Ranch, regarding it as a strategic location for an auxiliary airstrip and artillery defense battery because of its unobstructed coastal views. After Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941, a bunker and a dozen pillboxes were built in anticipation of additional attacks, which never occurred.

Now used as a storage facility, the bunker can be seen on the Movie Sites & Ranch Tour. Pillboxes are visible on that tour, the two-hour trail ride and the Legends & Legacy tour.

Kualoa Ranch began offering recreational activities to the public in 1985; thus, it is celebrating two notable occasions this year: the 160th anniversary of its acquisition by the Judd family and its 25th anniversary as a visitor attraction.

"We're continually thinking of ways to enhance our experiences while keeping true to our mission of conservation, sustainability, agriculture and cultural and historic preservation," Morgan said. A year ago the ranch started serving its grass-fed beef in its restaurant. Plans are in the works to build a double-hulled canoe as an educational display for its Ocean Voyaging tour. And it is sponsoring a country fair (see sidebar), a new community event, on Saturday.

"My family feels fortunate to be the caretakers of such a beautiful and significant part of Hawaii," Morgan said. "We intend to preserve Kualoa Ranch as a place of refuge, enjoyment and education for all."



Kualoa Ranch will host a country fair from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. There will be a farmers market; classic car show; craft booths; live musical entertainment; food such as baked goods and Kualoa Ranch beef; and keiki activities, including lei making and Makahiki games. Admission is free and part of the proceeds from booth sales will benefit the 4-H and the Aloha Council of Boy Scouts of America.


Also Saturday at Kualoa Ranch: Watch the best cowgirls in the state compete for top honors in barrel racing, roping and steer un-decorating (steer wrestling) at the Hawaii Women's Rodeo Association All-Girls Rodeo. The event starts at 8:30 a.m. and admission is $6.



All tours are about an hour long (two-hour trail rides and ATV tours also are available). Prices start at $21 for single activities; packages range from $59 to $135. Kamaaina discounts are available. Transportation between the ranch and Waikiki can be arranged for an additional fee. Although walks-ins can be accommodated on a space-available basis, it's wise to make reservations at least two days in advance.

The 25th Anniversary Special Package allows kamaaina to choose either the Ocean Voyaging tour or Hawaiian Fishpond & Garden tour and either the Jungle Expedition or Movie Sites & Ranch Tour. Cost is $30 per person (30 percent off regular rates).

Horseback rides: The one-hour tour offers spectacular views of Molii Fishpond and Mokolii Island (Chinaman's Hat). The two-hour tour ventures into Kaaawa Valley, where many movies were filmed.

ATV Adventure: Zip along trails in remote areas of the ranch; crossing streams is part of the fun.

Jungle Expedition: Rumble in a six-wheel-drive Swiss Pinzgauer through stream beds, up hills and over rough terrain to secluded spots overlooking panoramas of Oahu's Windward coastline.

Ocean Voyaging tour: Sail to Kaneohe Bay on a 49-passenger catamaran and enjoy spectacular views of Mokolii, Kualoa Ranch and the Koolau Mountains.

Movie Sites & Ranch Tour: See Godzilla's footprints, the battleground for "Windtalkers" and other settings where hit movies and TV shows were filmed.

Hawaiian Fishpond & Garden tour: Admire flourishing gardens of tropical flowers and fruit trees before heading to Molii Fishpond for a boat tour.

Legends & Legacy tour: Legends and historical accounts make numerous references to Kualoa. This tour shares the best known of these.

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.

 Correction: Admission is $6 for the All-Girls Rodeo. A previous version of this story incorrectly said it was free.

 Print   Email   Comment | View 0 Comments   Most Popular   Save   Post   Retweet

You must be subscribed to participate in discussions

Latest News/Updates