Moseying down toward The Stables at Turtle Bay, as horses graze in the surrounding fields and the bright orange sun begins to set over the Pacific Ocean on Oʻahu’s North Shore, you’re transported to an era when ranching was a key component of Hawaiian culture. At the entrance, servers in traditional cowboy garb await to offer a lei greeting and a welcome cocktail. Turtle Bay carefully curated every aspect of the Hawaiian Paniolo Pāʻina (paniolo is Hawaiian for rancher) to set just the right mood, including a bar fashioned out of vintage horse trailers filled with paniolo-themed cocktails, as the resort honors the rich history of ranching culture on the islands.
The wild, wild west…of the Hawaiian Islands
“Pāʻina means party, a gathering or a celebration,” says Turtle Bay Vice President and Managing Director Tom Donovan, a hospitality executive who has been in the industry for over two decades. And this pāʻina honors the tradition of herding cattle that dates to the 1800s on the islands, when cowboys and ranchers were brought to the islands to train locals how to work cattle that roamed freely all over the land.
The need for herding came after Hawaiian King Kamehameha accepted a gift of five longhorns from a British Royal Naval officer named George Vancouver in the early 1800s, and banned the hunting of cattle for a decade, during which time the cattle population flourished. “The ranchers brought in a whole different style of food and culture with them,” explains Donovan, and a way of life that is lesser known but still present in Hawaii. “The ranch on the Big Island is one of the biggest ranches in the States. Maui has a big rodeo, and here on Oʻahu there was a lot of cattle ranching.”
A weekly celebration in honor of this aspect of Hawaii’s culture is a natural fit for Turtle Bay, which boasts 32 horses on premises, a mix of quarter horses, working horses and stock horses. “We have big horse stables right here—we’re the only resort with horses that I know of; we’ve had horses here for over twenty years. Guests ride them along the ocean. The Paniolo celebrates something of a bygone era. We thought that would be fun to give people a different take on the history of Hawaii,” says Donovan.
Mouthwatering meats, Latin American influences, and farm-to-table veggies
A big draw of the night’s buffet dinner is smoked beef brisket and a pig roast: all cooked to perfection on a 20-foot-long roaster. “A lot of the dishes have Hawaiian flare, but the meats are cooked with a spice that’s more Latin American,” says Donovan, in a nod to the ranching culture imported from Latin America in the 1800s.
There’s plenty of vegetarian options, too, including grilled pineapple and a variety of salads made with produce straight from Turtle Bay’s Kuilima Farms, set on 460 lush acres. It doesn’t get fresher or more seasonal than this: the resort grows a range of greens, herbs, baby tomatoes, juicy mangos, and Kahuka sweet corn, all on premises. “We just started nearly two years ago, and now the crops are starting to mature,” notes Donovan.
Live music and more
Beyond the succulent buffet, there’s entertainment for the whole family, with a pony experience for the younger set, and stable tours for everyone. The night caps off with a spirited blend of Hawaiian dance, Paniolo storytelling and live music. Donovan explains, “It’s a little different from a traditional luau, but we will still have the fire dancing and the Hula Halau—very traditional, synchronized Hula dancing. It’s a great time for families to go and enjoy the evening together.”
Guests will leave the festivities having learned about an aspect of Hawaiian culture that they may not have even heard of before: the era of the cowboy and ranch hands of the 1800s and early 1900s. The event is on-trend for how people like to travel today, says Donovan. “There’s a maturity that goes on in travel now. More and more it’s about the experience of the trip and what you learned on that trip; people want a more in-depth understanding of where they’ve been. Travel makes you smarter.”