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Waialua's wonders

The North Shore town offers a beautiful beach, peaceful surroundings and many creative folks

By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

LAST UPDATED: 3:55 p.m. HST, Apr 2, 2012

Waialua residents will be the first to admit their town is not a happening place; the biggest event of the week might be an exhibit of local art at the public library. But that's precisely why Kyoko Johnson and her husband, Tor, decided to live and work there.

"Tor and I grew up in cities — he's from Santa Cruz and I'm from Tokyo — but we were drawn by the peaceful atmosphere and the eclectic mix of people in Waialua," said Johnson, who manages Tor's photography business and owns Country Canine, a dog-training and pet-sitting service.


>> Place: Old Waialua Sugar Mill, 67-106 Kealohanui St.
>> When: 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
>> Admission: Free. Food, drinks, jewelry, produce, art, crafts and more will be sold. >> Information: 779-7439; email
>> Website:


>> 9:45 a.m.: Shawn Steiman of Coffea Consulting discusses the history of coffee in Hawaii and the emergence of Waialua coffee and cacao.
>> 10:30 a.m. and noon: North Shore Chamber of Commerce hosts 90-minute historical and agricultural bus tours of Waialua, including a stop at a taro farm and Waialua Estate Coffee and Chocolate’s cacao fields. Cost is $5. Space is limited; sign up at the entrance to the sugar mill.
>> Noon: David Elliott, co-founder and chocolate production manager of Madre Chocolate, demonstrates how to make chocolate, from bean to bar.


>> Four 45-minute tours of Waialua Estate Coffee and Chocolate’s mill (see sign at site)
>> Tours of Third Stone Hawaii surfboard factory
>> Waialua Farmers Market featuring produce grown in Waialua (the farmers market is held from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday at the sugar mill)

"Our friends and neighbors are artists, farmers, beach bums, small-business owners, young mainland transplants and elderly Filipinos who used to work for Waialua Sugar Co. We love being surrounded by nature, including a beautiful beach that's a lot less crowded than the famous surfing spots 20 minutes away. It's like a laid-back Sunday every day in Waialua."

Each year on the Saturday before Easter, Taste of Waialua rouses the sleepy community on Oahu's North Shore with music, dance, food booths, a farmers market, historical and agricultural tours, and an art and crafts fair.

"It's a fun family event," Johnson said. "It also helps boost the economy here by showcasing businesses that can't afford expensive advertising. In a small place like Waialua, word of mouth is very important in building a business, and it's great to have an event that supports the many creative, talented people who live here."

Bill Martin and his wife, Reba Yang, launched Taste of Waialua five years ago to spotlight the wealth of products being grown and made in the area. They sell many of these products at Island X Hawaii, their store in the 114-year-old mill that once processed Waialua Sugar Co.'s cane. Big sellers include coffee from Waialua Estate Coffee and Chocolate, which the couple roasts daily on site, and Sugar Mill Shave Ice, flavored with all-natural syrups that Yang makes from Waialua-grown mango, papaya, pineapple, coffee and extra-dark chocolate made from Waialua Estate's cacao.

"The community was hit hard when Waialua Sugar Co. shut down in 1996," said Martin, who is on the boards of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club of Wahiawa/Waialua. "A lot of people moved away to find jobs elsewhere. Reba and I are committed to help revive Waialua by promoting sustainable agriculture and cottage industry-based development. So many wonderful crops and products are coming out of this area."

Martin has lived on the North Shore for 23 years. He moved Island X Hawaii from Waipio Gentry to the Old Waialua Sugar Mill in 2001. The mill now houses about 30 other small businesses, including the Waialua Community Commercial Kitchen, an incubator for ventures selling everything from barbecue chicken and haupia pie to teriyaki beef and taro cookies. About 20 of those food vendors will serve their specialties at Taste of Waialua.

"The food at the event is always really special because the focus is on Waialua-grown ingredients and manufacturers of products that use local ingredients," Martin said. "Every year, new farming operations are appearing out here, boosted by people's desire to buy local and to support sustainability. Agriculture keeps Hawaii green and keeps Waialua ‘country.' Taste of Waialua brings together Waialua residents, businesses, history and agriculture; showcases our fine products; and preserves our rural way of life. It celebrates the rebirth and rejuvenation of our amazing town."


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

History of a plantation town

Sugar’s history in Waialua started in 1865, with the opening of a plantation established by Levi Chamberlain and his son Warren. (Chamberlain arrived in Hawaii in April 1823 with the second company of American missionaries, and went on to become one of the original trustees of Punahou School, founded in 1841.)

The Chamberlains’ venture wasn’t successful, however, and in 1874 they sold it to entrepreneurs Robert Halstead and Henry Gordon, who formed the partnership of Halstead & Gordon. After Gordon’s death in 1888, Halstead ran the company as Halstead & Sons with the help of his two sons, Edgar and Frank. When Halstead retired in 1891, the company became Halstead Bros., with Edgar and Frank at the helm.

Castle & Cooke purchased the plantation from Halstead Bros. in 1898, initially operating it as Waialua Agricultural Co. A new mill was constructed by the end of that year, and in 1899 the plantation harvested its first crop of cane, which produced 1,741 tons of raw sugar.

Over the next six years, Waialua Agricultural Co. expanded cane acreage, improved irrigation systems and built a railroad and ground and surface water collection systems. As a result, sugar production increased to 20,000 tons in 1905.

In the 1970s, Waialua Agricultural Co. was renamed Waialua Sugar Co., a subsidiary of Castle & Cooke’s Dole Food Co. Although it was producing 8 percent of Hawaii’s sugar by 1991, rising production costs and flat prices cut profits, leading to the demise of the 12,000-acre plantation in October 1996. After nearly a century in operation, the company that employed 2,000 workers at its peak became the last sugar plantation on Oahu to close.

But the fertile land was still there, and consumer demand for locally grown products was rising. Dole introduced a diversified agriculture program that encouraged former plantation workers to cultivate new crops.

Dozens of varieties of fruits and vegetables now flourish in Waialua, including mango, papaya, asparagus, eggplant, okra, lettuce, basil, corn, passion fruit, potatoes, oranges and tangerines. Dole’s Waialua Estate Coffee and Cacao operates a 155-acre coffee farm above Haleiwa and Waialua, and a 20-acre cacao orchard at sea level, along the banks of the Kaukonahua River near Waialua.

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