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5 delightful farm tours on Hawai‘i Island

Eggplant, radish, lime, papaya, bok choy, and edible flowers are among Big Island Farms’ bountiful crops. Eggplant, radish, lime, papaya, bok choy, and edible flowers are among Big Island Farms’ bountiful crops. | Photo courtesy Big Island Farms

The Hawai‘i Island district of Hāmākua, meaning “breath of God,” is a fitting name for the scenic stretch of Highway 19 within its boundaries. Stretching 50 miles between Hilo and Waipi‘o Valley, it’s bordered by botanical gardens, lush valleys, spectacular ocean views, and small towns founded in the late 1800s when sugar was king.

But this drive delivers more than beautiful scenery. Tours of working farms—among them apiaries, orchards, and tea fields—offer insights into the area’s economic backbone: agriculture. Cultivate great memories on an adventure-filled south-to-north Hāmākua Coast road trip that stops at any or all of these 5 must-visit farms.

1. Nakihalani Farm, Laupāhoehoe

Nakihalani Farm

Nakihalani Farm in Laupāhoehoe spans 11 acres. | Photo courtesy Nakihalani Farm

Chicago natives Mike Nakamura and his wife, Jackie, vacationed on Hawai‘i Island for 23 years before fulfilling their dream of settling there. They purchased an 11-acre Laupāhoehoe property in 2018, which Mike describes as “surely the ugliest parcel on the market at the time. There were overgrown trees and guinea grass; a house, garage, tractor shed, greenhouse, and washhouse that looked like teardowns; and junk everywhere, including 14 abandoned cars. We cleared the land, hauled out 5 dumpsters of trash, and renovated the buildings.”

Nakihalani Farm Hot Sauce

Hot sauce and syrup made from fresh liliko‘i. | Photo courtesy Nakihalani Farm

Today, Nakihalani Farm is a picturesque homestead surrounded by citrus, sugarcane, avocado, herbs, māmaki, and liliko‘i, the latter 2 being its key plantings. Endemic to Hawai‘i, māmaki is known for its healing properties, including relieving digestive disorders. Liliko‘i is an Australian transplant; at Nakihalani, vines wrap around 10,000 square feet of pergolas and trellises. That’s reputedly the largest planting of liliko‘i in Hawai‘i, and Nakamura plans to triple the area this year.

On a 2-hour tour, you can sample seasonal fruits; pet the resident cows, goats, sheep, and chickens; and learn how natural fertilizers and repellents are made with the farm’s byproducts. Tours are available at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays from May through December.

Cost is $49 per person 14 and older; $40 for kama‘āina and seniors 60 and older; free for kids 13 and younger. Included are snacks and māmaki tea, cane juice, and/or liliko‘i juice. Ask about 2 sunset tour options—one including appetizers; the other, a farm-to-table dinner. (815) 703-4383.

2. Honoka‘a Chocolate, Honoka‘a

Honokaa chocolate bars

An assortment of Honoka‘a Chocolate bars. | Photo by Sarah Anderson Photography

Before launching Honoka‘a Chocolate in 2013 with his wife, Rhonda, Mike Pollard was a scientist and engineer in aerospace and astronomy. But farming wasn’t foreign to him: He comes from 5 generations of farmers in Texas, Oklahoma, and California. His philosophy about the award-winning chocolate he now makes is simple: “Don’t mess with Mother Nature. Let her gifts shine.”

Cacao nibs and organic goat and coconut milk are among the ingredients Pollard blends into dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and spirit-infused bars (most recently, bourbon). Some of his cacao is harvested from the 1,000 on-site trees; the rest comes from 8 other Hawai‘i Island farms and fair-trade farms in Fiji, Peru, Ecuador, Madagascar, Vietnam, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. Pollard handcrafts everything from scratch in small batches that are free of soy, gluten, emulsifiers, stabilizers, and GMOs.

Honokaa tour group

More than 40 crops grow on Mike and Rhonda Pollard’s farm, including cacao, from which some of Honoka‘a Chocolate’s products are made. | Photo by Sarah Anderson Photography

A 2-hour tour includes a walk around the 4.5-acre farm, which grows many other crops for the family’s personal use, including banana, coffee, papaya, and white pineapple. You’ll learn about the chocolate-making process before noting the flavor, fragrance, and mouthfeel of 9 Honoka‘a Chocolate products during a tasting session. As with wines, terroir gives chocolates their distinctive character.

Tours are available at 2 p.m. on weekdays. Cost is $60 per person, $30 for children 5 through 9, and free for kids under 5 (tasting is not included for them). Plans call for the opening of a factory in Honoka‘a this year, which will significantly increase production. (808) 494-2129.

3. Mauna Kea Tea, Honoka‘a

Mauna Kea Tea green tea

Green tea from Taka and Kimberly Ino's farm. | Photo courtesy Mauna Kea Tea

In Japan, ikigai is defined as a lifestyle devoted to one’s passion. To Taka Ino, who was born and raised in the city of Nomi on Honshu island, tea is ikigai. “Farming tea with natural methods, brewing it, and drinking and sharing it bring me peace and joy,” he says. “I sip a cup of tea at least 5 times every day; it’s both calming and rejuvenating.”

Ino and his wife, Kimberly, started Mauna Kea Tea in 2005. Today, 10,000 tea plants flourish on 2 of their 5 acres. With the help of their 3 children, they’re growing green tea, processing it, and selling it on its own and as blends with ginger, turmeric, coconut, cinnamon, and black pepper.

The enterprising family offers a 2-hour tour that includes a walk through their tea fields and an outdoor tasting of 3 teas and homemade snacks. You’ll learn about the mental and physical benefits of green tea, pick up tea-brewing tips, discover how sheep control weeds and grass and provide nutrient-rich fertilizer, and learn about the contributions other crops such as sesbania and perennial peanut make to the overall health of the environment.

Tours are available at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. daily except Sunday. Cost is $75 per person 13 and older for 2 or 3 people, and $60 for 4 or more. Children 6 through 12 are $30; kids 5 and younger are free. (808) 775-1171.

4. Bird and Bee Hawai‘i, Honoka‘a

Bird and Bee Hawaii honey

Bird and Bee Hawai‘i’s honey is “raw,” meaning it’s not processed and there are no additives. | Photo by Sarah Anderson Photography

Susan Collins’ foray into beekeeping started with a swarm of bees that she found in a tree on the 5-acre property that she and her husband own in a rain forest above Honoka‘a town. Intrigued, she began reading books, talking with local beekeepers, and attending beekeeping workshops and conferences. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators to reproduce. The more Collins learned about the importance of bees as pollinators, the more committed she became to being involved with them.

Honeycomb frame

Tour attendees observe a bee- and honey-filled frame from a hive. | Photo by Sarah Anderson Photography

Thus, the birth of Bird and Bee Hawai‘i 4 years ago. Collins now maintains 2 to 3 dozen hives at any given time; provides services such as hive removal, beekeeping equipment sales, and colony production for beginning beekeepers; and leads hands-on educational experiences that engage even young children.

On the 2-hour tour, participants learn about the history of beekeeping, bees’ life cycle, various types of hives and honey, and more. The highlight for most guests is donning protective bee suits to examine a hive and taste honey right from the comb.

Wax comb

Hives yield wax comb, used to make soaps, lotions, candles, and other products. | Photo by Sarah Anderson Photography

“Appreciation of honeybees often brings people closer to their environment,” Collins says. “Bird and Bee Hawai‘i is part of a movement to restore, renew, and support local food production and education, and I’m eager to see where the path takes us.”

Call to check on dates for tours, which start at 9:30 a.m. and cost $65 per person. If you’re allergic to bee stings, be sure to note that when you book. (808) 936-6019.

5. Big Island Farms, Honoka‘a

Big Island Farms outdoor class

Students learn about regenerative agriculture practices during an outdoor class. | Photo courtesy Big Island Farms

At Big Island Farms, staff members and volunteers grow more than 100 species of superfoods and medicinal plants on 64 acres. “I’m so grateful to have a huge ‘office’ that’s outdoors,” cofounder and Executive Director Annick Dauphinais says. “We love sharing the beauty and bounty of the ‘āina with visitors.”

Dauphinais’ husband, farm cofounder Gordon Goff, moved to Hawai‘i Island in 1989. From the start, he was intent on developing a world-class model of regenerative practices, living sustainably on the land, and offering hands-on tropical agriculture workshops. The couple’s educational programs focus on topics that range from lāʻau lapaʻau (traditional Hawaiian plant medicine) to beekeeping (the farm maintains 80 hives on site).

Big Island Farms fruit

During their tour of Big Island Farms, visitors sample a variety of fresh fruits and veggies, including luscious papaya, shown here. | Photo courtesy Big Island Farms

On a 1-hour tour, you’ll learn about dozens of plants, trees, and shrubs, including exotics that usually aren’t grown commercially in Hawai‘i. You might see bilimbi, sapote, loquat, mangosteen, rollinia, ashwagandha, gotu kola, and/or dragon fruit. You’ll nibble fruits from the trees and sniff aromatic curry leaves and ylang-ylang, cranberry hibiscus, and passion fruit flowers.

All tours are private and can be scheduled weekdays beginning at 9 a.m.; the last time slot is 4:30 p.m. Cost is $25 per person 7 and older; free for children younger than 7. Check the website for workshop details. Kama‘āina pay $20 and receive cuttings so they can start their own food forest (types vary depending on availability).

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi was born and raised in Honolulu, but she’s no city slicker. Riding horses, hiking in the mountains, and cruising country roads bring her the greatest pleasure.

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What to know before you go

  • Terrain can be steep, rocky, uneven, muddy, and/or slippery; wheelchairs can’t be accommodated.
  • Wi-Fi and cell service may not be available.
  • Bring extra cash or a credit card; some farms sell fresh produce and other products such as sauces, syrups, soaps, and salves.
  • Wear a hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, and closed-toe shoes.
  • Take a jacket and umbrella during the rainy season (November through March).

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