It seems that around these parts livestock outnumbers the residents of Waimea. A town of over 9,000, the paniolo culture takes on a western motif of its own. It’s a place where most folk spend the majority of their days in jeans and boots rather than the more common island wide attire of swimsuits and slippers. A place where waiting on the weather doesn’t take long and not long does it give. Cradled in the valley of the Kohala volcano, a quiet Big Island town, Waimea sets itself apart in so many ways from other communities on the island. The makeup of this diverse town expands itself far beyond farmers and ranchers. Educators, health-care professionals, scientist, and entrepreneurs, all choose to work, play, and call the valley home. Artisan shops, boutique, and local restaurants lining the main strip shows a vibrant small business culture. Night skies are watched diligently by an internationally monitored telescope based in town. With so many attractions to offer, Waimea provides change of pace that is unique to the island. Exploring the vast perspective of how the paniolo culture has rooted a home in the valley is something worth discovering and so I headed north, and yes it was much more than I expected.
Rows of crops wrap around luscious vegetated gorges heading northbound from Hilo towards the North Kohala district. There’s a noticeable change in the weather almost immediately with the seeping wind searching for any possible crack or crevice into the cab of the vehicle. Patsy Cline tags along for the ride in an effort to set the scene of what I thought was to come. Grazing pastures take over most of the landscape the closer we get to the town of two names. Waimea has three other namesakes around the state of Hawaii, which made things difficult for the United States Postal Service. The name Kamuela distinguishes itself from other Hawaiian cities and geographical locations also named Waimea. Three stoplights controlled the somewhat slow processional of cars through the center of town. They are flanked by “STOP” signs insisting that you “WHOA” instead. The Parker Ranch complex in the center of town. Parker Ranch is a name you see quite frequently in Kamuela. By is being the largest private ranch in the nation, its vast reach and impact on the town is very evident. Parker Ranch has been apart of the community for over 160 years. Introducing the private cattle industry to the countryside. The ranch continues to provide important contributions the transformation of the economic growth of the valley. Year-round events sponsored by the ranch such as Keiki Fest, Waimea Cherry Blossom Festival and holiday events celebrate the various valley’s cultures.
A decorative plaid toed eight-foot-tall paniolo boot, palm trees climbing high along the shaft as a paniolo handle the reigns of a steer, sits in the town center. Gifted to the town by Waimea sister city Cheyenne, Wy. it captures the island town own pace within the Aloha spirit. Personally, designed by the in the in-house artist at the Cheyenne Depot Museum, Waimea Paniolo Preservation Society (PPS) orchestrated its arrival to town. This non-profit society, was created in 1998 to help preserve the legacy of the Hawaiian cowboy. The billows of smoke tumbling out of smokestacks clouds the town with the aroma of barbecue adding to the western charm. Meats over an open flame seems to be a good signature of a ranching town. BBQ restaurants are more concentrated on this strip than any other town I’ve visited on the island. Another appreciation of a good blue-collar town is the chances of finding a good pair of work boots and coverall at the same place becomes an easier task with western outfitters claim their stake around town. My brief visit most definitely left me wanting to explore the depths of this beautiful community. To the roadside malassadas stand, the Kahilu Theatre, Waimea Homestead farmers market, and all the side roads, I’ll be back, sooner than later.
The Hearbeat of the Big Island