Parker Ranch: Where the locals go

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WAIMEA -- Parker Ranch on the Big Island of Hawaii has rolled out its 2004 visitor activities and prices, with fresh additions and a popular new wedding site.

Visitors of any age can find something to do on the 175,000-acre working ranch, a jewel in a town that is fast becoming a destination in itself.

"Parker Ranch is a great place for families," said Diane Quitiquit, vice president of marketing and development.

Quitiquit highlighted the 45-minute Kohala Carriages Wagon Rides ($15 adults) that depart every hour. This narrated tour lets visitors see some of the ranch, visit an historical corral and learn more about the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) history.

More adventurous travelers can enjoy horseback excursions or all-terrain-vehicle rides, an activity launched in December.

There's also a sporting clays range and the Parker Ranch Hunt Club, which organizes big-game hunting expeditions from sea level up to 7,000 feet. Several outings have been featured on national cable network hunting shows. Targets include Polynesian boar andVancouver bulls.

Upland game-bird hunting is also available from October through February, and the Spring Turkey Hunt takes place March 1 through April 15.

According to Quitiquit, there's plenty of room to accommodate such diverse pursuits. "Even horseback riders will not see or hear the ATVs," she said.

Those interested in culture will enjoy the Parker Ranch Museum and Visitor Center (admission $8.50 adults), featuring150 years of ranching history.

Two historical ranch homes, Puuopelu and Mana Hale (admission $8.50 for both homes), share stories about the Parker family from founder John Parker to the late Richard Smart six generations later.

A visit to Parker Ranch can also include romance. The Historic Homes and Gardens is a unique place to get married. Quitiquit said an increasing number of inquiries have come in about scheduling ceremonies in 2004, now that the word is getting out.

Prices begin at $500 for a two-hour site rental accommodating up to 400 guests. Groups up to 100 have access inside the historical homes, as well.

Parker Ranch provides planning assistance, flowers, a minister, photography, entertainment and a white wedding carriage pulled by Belgian draft horses.

Meetings planners should know that beef cookouts, dancing in the stables and other special events can be organized. Call (808) 995-2303 for information.

Though Waimea is short on lodging, "This area is becoming a place where you can spend the whole day," said Quitiquit.

Located about 37 miles from Kona Airport, Waimea has many excellent eateries and specialty shops, in addition to the 3,500-square-foot Parker Ranch store, which even distant Big Island residents are frequenting.

Quitiquit said up to 50% of the ranch store's business comes from locals, a good indication for visitors looking for gifts that don't fall into the usual tourist fare.

Special events in the coming year will make the destination even more exciting. Watch for the Cherry Blossom Festival in February, with a craft fair, tea ceremonies and paper-making.

Rodeos are scheduled for the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekend, and the Aloha Festivals in August and September are sure to be a big draw.

For more information, call (808) 885-7655 or visit the Web at www.parkerranch.com.

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

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