The paniolo cowboys of Hawaii

Paniolo is the Hawaiian word for “cowboy” (though the literal translation of the word really means “sitting”), and the paniolo culture has thrived on the islands ever since 1809, with the arrival of a 19-year old sailor from Massachusetts named John Palmer Parker. As Parker passed along the islands on his way to China, he decided to jump overboard and try his life as a marksman on the Big Island, thus beginning a 200-year cowboy tradition that has lasted in Hawaii since the rule of King Kamehameha I.

Word of Parker’s ranching abilities got around to Hawaii’s King Kamehameha I, and the king asked Parker to round up the wild cattle roaming the hills of Waimea, a town well-known for its paniolo history. Since then, Parker became a close companion to the king, eventually marrying into the royal family and building what would become one of the largest cattle operations in the United States. By the 1920’s, Parker Ranch was a 500,000 acre estate that held the biggest herd on the planet.

In order to tend the ranch’s vast land, Parker hired Mexican cowboys called vaqueros, who taught the Hawaiian cowboys important riding and ranching techniques. The original paniolos of Hawaii are a dying breed, though, as more and more Hawaiian ranchers apply modern techniques as opposed to the ones brought by Parker 200 years ago.To get a real taste of the paniolo lifestyle and culture, head to the country in Maui (the Kula area) or the Big Island (Waimea).

Maui has a popular 2-hour Paniolo Ride across scenic and historic Haleakala Ranch, which is located at the 4,000 ft. elevation of Haleakala and is the largest working cattle ranch on the island. The ride offers awesome views of the ocean and valley while riders trot through green pastures and amid eucalyptus trees. For real ranch-like accommodations, stay at the Silver Cloud Guest Ranch in Kula.

If you on the Big Island, two of Parker Ranch’s historic homes in the Waimea area, Puuopelu and Mana Hale, are open for tours. Also, as part of the month-long Hawaii Island Festival, the town of Waimea celebrates a Paniolo Parade, usually in September. The parade celebrates Hawaii Island’s oldest ranching community with floats, marching bands and equestrian units. Paniolo and pa’u riders will ride to display their colorful costumes, lei and riding skills. Immediately following the Paniolo Parade is the Annual Waimea Ho’olaule’a featuring “ono local grinds” (a.k.a. “yummy food”), beautiful crafts, and day-long entertainment featuring local entertainers.

3 unexpected destinations for riding like a wild west cowboy

The wild west cowboy is an American icon. Buffalo Bill. John Wayne. The Marlboro Man. These guys were as tough, rugged and wild as the west itself. They represented everything exciting and romantic about the undiscovered western half of the country. But this area of the US isn’t the only place where cowboys roam the range. Here are are few more places where you can rope and ride alongside real cowboys.

South America – The Pampas of Argentina
Someone has to wrangle the cows that make that famously tender Argentine beef, and that’s the job of Argentina’s gauchos, the South American cowboys who run the country’s estancias (or ranches). Many, like Estancia los dos Hermanos, are now open to tourism. Just an hour or so outside of Buenos Aires, you can gallop alongside the gauchos for hours, and then return to the ranch for a filling meal of juicy local beef.

Other cowboy outposts in the region include Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru.

Central America – The Hills of Honduras
The hilly region of northwest Honduras, close to the border with Guatemala, is pure cowboy country. Outside of the small town of Copan, near the Mayan ruins, coffee plantations and cattle farms cover the land. Most of these are purely working operations, but a select few, like Finca el Cisne, have caught on to the agri-tourism trend and offer horseback tours of their properties. Here you can learn all about how coffee is produced and then enjoy an exhilarating ride through the misty green hills.

You can also find cowboy culture alive and well in parts of Guatemala and Costa Rica.North America – The Islands of Hawaii
In Hawaii, paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys), herd cattle and sheep over the rolling hills of the islands. Kahua Ranch, on the Big Island, is one of the oldest working ranches in Hawaii. It’s been around since 1850, and in fact is located just above the harbor where the very first cattle arrived on the island. The ranch welcomes guests for 2.5 hour rides over some of the property’s 12,000 acres.

Western Canada, Mexico and of course, many parts of the Western US still rely heavily on cowboys to manage large cattle farms.

Cowboy culture extends far beyond the Americas. They’re just as tough in Australia, where they herd cattle over never-ending expanses of the hot, dusty, Outback, or in New Zealand, where they guide sheep over the country’s rugged landscape. There are even cowboys in South Africa. So pack your boots and ten-gallon hat for your next international journey, and you can have a cowboy adventure almost anywhere you go.