Kona’s Ranching Traditions

Although Parker Ranch in South Kohala is most associated with Hawai‘i’s rich paniolo heritage, the Kona district is actually the birthplace of ranching in the Hawaiian Islands.

It all began in 1793 when Captain George Vancouver presented Kamehameha the Great with four cows in Kealakekua Bay. Soon thereafter, the king commissioned the construction of an enormous cattle pen, “Pa Nui,” made of dry-stacked lava rock. Eight to nine feet high in some places, the pen encompassed nearly 480 acres and is still standing on private ranchlands near Honalo. Eventually, some of the herd escaped and began spreading across the island.

Kona paniolo load cattle in Kailua Bay

In the 1800s and through much of the last century, Kona’s ranching industry thrived. In 1850, Henry Nicholas Greenwell arrived on the island and became one of the largest landholders and ranchers in the state. His ranches totaled tens of thousands of acres, and were subsequently divided between his three eldest sons, resulting in W.H. Greenwell Ranch, Kealakekua Ranch and Palani Ranch. According to local historians, Hawaiian royalty fully embraced the cattle industry, with Kamehameha V serving as president of the Royal Agricultural Society. Hawaiians became very skilled as ranchers and equestrians. Known as the paniolo, these Hawaiian cowboys developed their own unique saddle, called the Hawaiian tree saddle.

Hawaiian tree saddle

To learn more about Kona’s ranching history, be sure to visit Kona Historical Society in Kealakekua, just a few short miles south of Holualoa Inn. The museum includes the old general store, a Portuguese stone oven and the impending renovation of a historic ranch home that has been dismantled and donated to the historical society. When you book a stay at our Big Island bed and breakfast, you’ll find yourself in the heart of Kona’s historic ranching district.

Innkeeper Holualoa Inn