Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

After years of trailing behind the rest of the Aloha State, Oahu now has a pair of new zipline products, but the recently launched tours offer Hawaii visitors more than just the expected high-adrenaline experience.

Kualoa Ranch, on Oahu’s east coast, opened its Treetop Canopy Zipline Tour in January, just six months after Climbworks Keana Farms launched its zip tour product on the island’s North Shore. Prior to that, Oahu visitors keen to try a zipline experience during a vacation on the island were essentially out of luck. 

According to C.J. Hughes, the zipline tour operations manager for Kualoa Ranch, there were no zip tour products on Oahu before because the island’s county officials weren’t particularly interested in adding a range of thrill rides across the destination.

“The county wasn’t sure if they wanted ziplines in the area because they want to keep Oahu as Hawaii as possible,” Hughes told Travel Weekly. “They’re trying to make it so you can’t have a big theme park here, so they were a little bit afraid that ziplines might be the next step to roller coasters.”

Zipline tours have been an adventure activity option on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii for years, popping up regularly across the Neighbor Island destinations, but Honolulu County officials appear to have allowed the Oahu operators to enter the zipline market largely because the new products include a heavy focus on cultural education and agriculture. 

The three-hour Kualoa Ranch tour takes people back into an untouched region of the gorgeous Ka‘a‘awa Valley, where television shows and movies like “Jurassic Park” or “50 First Dates” were filmed. The excursion features seven ziplines, a pair of suspension bridge crossings over ravines and the chance to see all sorts of Hawaiian plant species, such as Koa and Ohia trees and Uluhe ferns.   

“The main reason we did this was we wanted to share the valley with people, but we wanted to do it in a way that wouldn’t destroy the valley,” Hughes said. “So we figured with a zipline, people are flying over the ground instead of tearing it up with their feet. And you see the natural beauty of a valley that hasn’t been touched. This ranch was purchased from King Kamehameha III in the late 1800s, and nothing has been done in the back of the valley since.” 

Oahu visitors will find sustainable agriculture is a major component of the Climbworks Keana Farms zipline on the island’s stunning North Shore, where the three-hour product features seven zips but also offers rappelling, rope climbing and sky bridge experiences.

For co-owner Aaron Campbell, who was raised on Oahu, the Keana Farm zip tour was a chance to expose people not only to the beauty of the region, including towering mountains and gorgeous ocean views, but also to introduce travelers to the ancient Hawaiian ahupuaa system, a tradition of land division typically running from the mountains to the ocean.

“Basically, what we’re trying to do is look to our kapuna [or elders] for ways to be sustainable in today’s world and find a nice balance between ancient and modern,” Campbell said, noting that visitors will encounter a range of farmed produce, such as bananas, eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes and even chili peppers, that all end up for sale in local supermarkets.

“And we’re trying to show people how the ancient Hawaiian agricultural system was extremely self-sustainable,” he added. “We show them examples of what that old system looked like, and at the top of the mountain they get to see the boundaries of the Keana ahupuaa.”

The Climbworks Keana Farms zip tour is $169 per person and available to for guests age 7 and older. Kualoa Ranch tours are $139 per person, and guests must weigh at least 75 pounds. Both activities are commissionable to travel agents.

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