When researching excursions for Kauai, Jim let me pick one that I would be interested in even though that meant that we would NOT be visiting the locations used by movies such as Jurassic Park, would NOT be snorkeling, kayaking, zip-lining, taking a river cruise up the Waialua River, tubing, relaxing at the beach……… or any of the other amazing excursions offered for the day.
No, my choice was typical to my love (bordering on obsession maybe) for history. We joined a small group of about two dozen other history nuts for a trip to Grove Farm and the Kauai Plantation Railway. Fortunately for my “tour-picking” reputation, I don’t regret this choice in the least!
This plantation provides one of the last authentic experiences of Kauai’s sugar cane heritage. It was really interesting and we learned a lot about life on a Hawaiian Island plantation and the short steam engine railway ride was a lot of fun.
In 1864 he leased the plantation to George Norton Wilcox who later purchased the plantation. It remained in the Wilcox family for over 100 years.
It is believed that sugar cane, along with other foods, was introduced to Hawaii by Polynesians when they sailed to the islands about 1,000 years ago, but they didn’t process the sugar, they chewed on the cane. European and American Immigrants began building plantations and processing the sugar for export in 1825. With the introduction of irrigation, the plantations flourished.
Hawaiian sugar plantations became particularly successful during the U.S. Civil War which shut off access to and eventually destroyed many of the South’s sugar crops.
Behind the main house is a hexagonal gazebo styled after a Japanese teahouse, built in 1898. To the south is a guest cottage with two living areas from about 1890. Another single story cottage was built in 1877 for George Wilcox, and an office building was built in 1884. The kitchen and laundry are both located in detached cottages near the main house to prevent them heating up the house.
When Charles Dickey was hired to renovate the main house in 1915, he knocked down walls and opened up spaces. He felt that it was important to allow the trade winds to circulate through the house and built wide projecting eves so that windows could be kept open even when it was raining. This style was copied throughout the islands and became known as the “Hawaiian style home”.
Grove farm is an active farm museum. We walked through the vegetable garden and admired the view of the island valley from the shady back porch, kept company by one of the many, many cats on the plantation. These cats even lounged in the chicken coups and pens, friends for life with the many roosters and hens!
Groves of banana trees lined the dirt roads next to horse pastures, but only remnants of the cane fields survive. There are no active cane plantations existing on Kauai any longer.
After a very thorough tour, we boarded our vans again and sped off to the Kauai Plantation Railway for a train tour of the plantation.
We trundled by coconut palms, cane fields, banana groves, rain forests and many tropical plants that I will never remember, but were pretty amazing at the time while learning about the fascinating botany and agricultural history of Kauai.
My favorite part of the train tour was our stop at the “Farmyard”. We were greeted by wild pigs, goats, and tiny newly hatched chicks being frantically herded by their moms. I began to believe that the “Wild” label might be a stretch as the pigs sidled up to the fence where we were encouraged to feed them and their greedy pen-mates, the goats. I have to admit, it was pretty cute watching Jim try to keep his fingers out of the way when one of the pigs eagerly pushed his snout forward to munch a piece of bread!
The restaurant itself has a beautiful tropical courtyard area where you can enjoy a relaxing meal of fresh island cuisine (much of it grown on the island), but since we were interested in a colorful tropical Mai-Tai with a juicy chunk of pineapple perched on the rim, we walked on through to the Mahiko Lounge. The lovely bar area is decorated in early 20th century island style. It felt like Hemmingway could walk in any minute!
Refreshed, we peeked into a few of the mansion rooms which have original plantation furnishing and décor. You will find tiny boutiques and art for sale tucked into several of the rooms.