Dole Plantation offers more than pineapples

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WAHIAWA -- No visit to Oahu would be complete without a drive to the North Shore for a visit to the Dole Plantation.

Originally opened as a fruit stand in 1950, its central building took on its present form in 1989.

The interior underwent a $125,000 renovation in 1997 that divided it into many sections, or "shops," offering pineapple-related and Dole brand items.

Other attractions that help lure nearly 1 million visitors a year are the Pineapple Express train ride, the Pineapple Garden Maze and the Plantation Garden Tour.

On a recent visit, my husband and I started our day by shopping. By far the most popular area is the counter serving pineapple-flavored ice cream cones. Another favorite is the logo shop that offers hats, shirts and other Dole souvenirs.

The country store sells soaps, monkey-pod wood bowls, clocks in the shape of surfboards and other easy-to-pack items.

The maze

An aerial photo is the only way to appreciate the vastness of the Pineapple Garden Maze. The 100,000-square-foot garden, with 1.7 miles of pathway, was labeled the world's largest maze by the Guinness Book of World Records.

We were given a map with colored dots identifying the locations of tiny wooden kiosks we were supposed to find, but I can't say that it helped us much.

At each kiosk, we colored the appropriate box on our stamp card, proving that we actually found that checkpoint. Starting and finishing times are also clocked on the card.

Those who fill all six boxes the fastest get their names posted in the booth at the entrance to the maze. We did not make the list.

The train tour

We joined the Pineapple Express Train Tour, a two-mile excursion through pineapple fields with the Koolau and Waianae mountains as a backdrop.

A narrator told us the story of James Dole, who built the first pineapple cannery in Wahiawa in 1901 and in 1922 bought the island of Lanai to create the largest pineapple plantation in the world.

The garden tour

The most recent addition to the Dole Plantation is the garden tour. Self-directed or with a tour guide, it introduces visitors to plants, flowers and fruits grown on the North Shore.

Staff members at Dole offer pineapple-cutting demonstrations and teach visitors how to select a pineapple.

Their advice: Choose one that is plump and fresh-looking, with green leaves in the crown. Size doesn't matter, and the color of the shell isn't always a sign of maturity and ripeness. The fruit could be ripe even when the outside is nearly all green.

Because visitors can have pineapples shipped home from the country store, they should know that once a pineapple is picked, it won't get any sweeter or riper. It can be kept fresh in the refrigerator but should be eaten as soon as possible.

The Pineapple Garden Maze costs $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 4 to 12. The Pineapple Express Train Tour costs $7.50 for adults and $5.50 for children. The Plantation Garden Tour costs $3.50 for adults, $2.50 for children. A combined fare for the train and garden tour is available for $9 for adults, $7 for children. Group tours and parties are available for 25 or more people. Educational groups should inquire about student tours.

The plantation is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information, call (808) 621-8408 or visit www.dole-plantation.com.

To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to [email protected] .

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