We have driven by the sign pointing up the hill in Kawaihae, Hawaii, many times. Hamakua Nut Factory Tour is just one block off of the main highway from Kailua-Kona to Hawi on the Big Island of Hawaii. Having a guest with us, we were looking for a macadamia nut factory tour and the time was right to finally check it out.
Hamakua is a district on the northeast of the island, but Hamakua Nut Factory is in Kohala, the northwest district, over an hour’s drive from the mac nut orchards of Hamakua. The factory’s owner located in Kohala because it is a dryer part of the island facilitating more rapid drying of the nuts for processing. Also, the factory is less than a mile from the Kawaihae harbor that container ships use, the least expensive way to export products from the island.
We entered the Visitor Center and immediately were greeted by staff inviting us to try their varied flavors of mac nuts, mac nut brittle and mac nut kettle corns. They invited us to wash down the samples with a variety of Ka’u and Kona coffees made available for tasting. The food sampling display was exceptional and I even tried the spam-flavored mac nuts; not my favorite but not unpleasant. The coffee was excellent and demonstrated that good coffee comes from Ka’u District as well as Kona.
Down the hall from the reception area is a self-guided tour that begins with one of the best videos of an ag-industrial process I’ve seen. In less than five minutes, it told the processing story from collecting nuts to drying, cracking and on to the Hamakua Nut Factory kitchens and packaging plants. When the video was over, we turned around to walk along the windows looking into the kitchens where workers wearing protective clothing prepared the nuts in a variety of ways. They made batches of flavored and candied nuts from the raw product and packed the product into attractive sales bags or boxes. Similar ones were displayed along the hallway where the tour took place. Returning to the reception area of the Visitor Center, we had picked up more than a few items to purchase. The friendly sales staff rang up our purchases (with a kama’aina/local person’s discount) and then it was time to get out on the road to visit Hawi and Kapa’au, with just one more quick visit to the sampling table on the way out the door.
The charm of this self-guided tour was as appealing as the guided tour at Mountain Thunder I wrote about last week, in a different way. The tour invites visitors to stroll through at their own speed and ask questions of staff. It was just the right level of attention from well-trained staff, who were helpful without being intrusive. A visit could take five minutes or two hours, as desired. We have seen mac nut tours with viewing windows in other places, but not with the tour, tasting room and sales area under one roof. This approach tied the process, products and sales together very neatly. Mac nut ice cream and specialized coffee drinks were also available in the Visitor Center.
Interpretation of ag-industrial processes certainly makes sense from an economic perspective. They sell products to almost everyone who stops to look and taste. Ag tourism or agriturismo, as it is called in Italy, can transform a hard working agricultural district into one with literally hundreds of ag businesses that sell products and also deliver engaging experiences. Tuscany in Italy has more than 400 agriturismo businesses in that one province. They help visitors learn about farming practices, wine and cheese making, and local culture and provide charming places to stay with wonderful food.
I grew up in agricultural country in Illinois and saw few tours or experience-based ag businesses. Many farms sold their apples or peaches from roadside stands but few ever made the effort to tell their story in a way that engaged visitors more deeply. Engaged guests stay longer, buy more and tell their friends. Kids on ag tours learn that nuts, fruit, vegetables and fiber come from important processes after growing and harvest of ag products. At a time when many of a child’s experiences with the world are virtual, these real experiences have great attention getting and holding power.
We enjoy the agricultural ambiance of the Big Island. And we’re loving the sophistication of some of the agricultural tour opportunities we’ve seen. I guess it’s fair to say that we’re nuts about these macadamia factory tours.