Cattle ranching and the unique culture of the paniolo cowboys both played important roles in the history and development of the Hawaiian islands. You will find these cowboys, originally from California when it was still part of Mexico, and their ranches from Makawao on Maui to Diamond Head near Honolulu on Oahu. Parker Ranch on the Big Island is one of the most important and historic of these ranches. It is located near the town of Kamuela, also called Waimea, and about fifteen miles inland from the Kohala Coast.
This paniolo ranch on the Big Island is one of the largest and oldest ranches in the United States, spreading across 135,000 acres. Long before the cowboys of the American Southwest were wrangling cattle, King Kamehameha I authorized the import of paniolos (a Hawaiianization of the word español, meaning Spaniard) from California to domesticate the wild cattle of the islands and teach the art of cattle herding to the locals. This was in 1832, 23 years after a young sailor named John Parker jumped ship. These were the beginnings of Parker Ranch Hawaii, which was officially founded in 1847, and its history of development provided the foundations for development of all other ranches in the state. John Parker's friendship and business association with King Kamehameha I, Hawaii's last great monarch, sewed the seeds of today's thriving cattle industry. Not long after the two became acquainted, Parker was responsible for replacing trade in the dwindling supply of native sandalwood with trading in cattle, forever earning the king's gratitude and friendship.
The original Mexican vaqueros became paniolos and brought with them their own unique culture and traditional dress. Today the rodeos of this paniolo ranch on the Big Island that demonstrate their superb horsemanship and wrangling skills are major events on the island, drawing thousands of visitors. Parker Ranch Hawaii itself is one of the island's major tourist attractions, offering not only a fascinating and unique glimpse into the island's history but also many things to do.
Driving and hiking tours of Parker Ranch on the Big Island are available to tourists. There is horseback riding and even hunting for wild goats, wild boars, wild Vancouver bulls, pheasant, turkey, and a variety of other game birds. You can turn in your car rentals and hop on an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) to enjoy scenic off-road adventure tours over vast portions of the ranch and its verdant pastures, with the silhouettes of Mauna Kea volcano and Mauna Loa volcano as the backdrop. Tours of the two Parker Ranch Hawaii historic homes and gardens are also available. A highlight of a visit to the paniolo ranch on the Big Island is getting acquainted with the Paniolo Hall of Fame, chronicling the lives and careers of more than 90 legendary cowboy inductees who left their mark on the ranch, the community, and Hawaiian cowboy lore. Parker Ranch on the Big Island is also available for private events and functions, and it is a popular site for Big Island weddings.