A Ghost Town in Hawai`i

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When I first moved to Hawai’i, I lived in the plantation village of Pahala on the southern end of the Big Island in the district of Ka’u. I couldn’t have had a better introduction to the true spirit of local Hawai`iana. Neighbors raised several dozen fighting cocks that lived under my bedroom window. Need I say more?

Approximately eighteen months before I moved into the community, the sugar plantation closed down. The folks still talked fondly of the last day the cane workers brought cane to the mill. The truck drove through town full of freshly cut cane while villagers threw leis onto the truck and wept. That last load was dumped at the mill and everyone went home – the end of an era. T-shirts were made to commemorate the day.

This is the main corner in “Greater Downtown Pahala” today. It shows several of the old camp houses where the plantation workers lived. I call them “sugar shacks.” When the plantation closed, people were given the opportunity to buy the houses to fix up and keep for themselves.

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One blogger has done a superb job of discussing some of the history and describing the ambience of Pahala, the small plantation town where the sugar cane was processed into sugar for the C. Brewer Company.

During the active days of sugar cane production, the cane was shipped out of a small port near Pahala. A small camp was set up for the workers and immigrants. Today, all you see is a sign leading you to Whittington Beach off the highway.

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I first learned about Honu`apo when I was attending a Leadership Conference. The idea of building barbecue pits there came up so we all went out to look at the possibilities. This website was created several years ago by a group called Ka Ohana O Honu`apo, people committed to preserving this piece of Hawai`i.

If you click on the “Getting There” tab, you will find directions for where it’s located and driving directions. On that same site, click on the “Photo Galley” tab and scroll down to the bottom for vintage photos of the original village.

Here is the foundation to one of the buildings as it appears today.

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John Replogle (my friend Velvet’s husband) grew up in this area and here he is explaining the names of the various hills we can see from Honu`apo, and telling us about what is being done to preserve the natural surroundings of the area. Many people have helped to clear out the rubbish and brush.

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If you don’t look at any other link on this post, please check out this one that explains why the pier was rebuilt several times, ultimately not rebuilt and no longer in use. There are a couple more lovely photos of several past periods of time.

Some of the natural growth is starting to come back, now that the ponds have been cleaned up.

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I spent many years living in Arizona, where I loved visiting many of the ghost towns, so when I discovered that Honu`apo is designated as a “ghost town,” the place became even more intriguing.

Several friends have told me about their Japanese mothers coming to the island as “picture brides” through ports on the Big Island of Hawai`i. This was very common in the early 1900s. I think it was fostered in order to keep the workers happy. I took this photo that shows another foundation left from the village and the remnants of the pier.

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Honu`apo is one of those places in Hawai`i that those of us who live here love to keep as a secret. It’s a lovely place for any sort of celebration and as a pastor, I have performed several marriages there. Such a beautiful and romantic backdrop! I recently attended a healing circle there for my friend, Velvet.

Honu`apo is a great place to fish, picnic, camp (at the Whittington Beach section), relax, or whatever your soul needs. If you are traveling around the bottom end of the Big Island, stop by with your picnic basket and let your mind wander back to the village that is no longer there. Just don’t tell anyone I told you how to find it.

A hui hou!

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