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On Walkabout At: The Dole Pineapple Plantation

Another highlight of the visit my wife and I made to the Hawaiian Island of Oahu was when we stopped by the Dole Pineapple Plantation:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

The plantation is located towards the center of the island on a broad plain of farm land that is also home to the US Amry’s Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Army Airfield:


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We didn’t really have high expectation for visiting the plantation; it was basically just something we saw on our way back from visiting the North Shore and decided to check out.  As it turned out this was actually an interesting and fun place to visit.  I didn’t know anything about pineapples until I visited this place and right away I learned more than I ever knew before about this fruit:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Here is a brief history of pineapples in Hawaii from the Dole website:

THE HISTORY OF THE PINEAPPLE

The pineapple—fierce on the outside, sweet on the inside—was given its English name for its resemblance to a pine cone. Christopher Columbus brought this native of South America back to Europe as one of the exotic prizes of the New World. In later centuries, sailors brought the pineapple home to New England, where a fresh pineapple displayed on the porch meant that the sailor was home from foreign ports and ready to welcome visitors. Pineapples were the crowning glory of lavish American banquets, and were considered the height of extravagant hospitality. Even George Washington grew them in his Mount Vernon hothouse.

No one knows when the first pineapple (“halakahiki,” or foreign fruit, in Hawaiian) arrived in Hawai‘i. Francisco de Paula Marin, a Spanish adventurer who became a trusted advisor to King Kamehameha the Great, successfully raised pineapples in the early 1800s. A sailor, Captain John Kidwell, is credited with founding Hawaii’s pineapple industry, importing and testing a number of varieties in the 1800s for commercial crop potential. But it wasn’t until James Drummond Dole arrived in the islands that the pineapple was transformed from an American symbol of friendship and exotic locales into an American household staple.

Here is what the pineapples look like when they are growing:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Here is another brief history from the Dole website that explains how James Dole revolutionized the pineapple business in Hawaii:

JAMES DRUMMOND DOLE
The Story of the Pineapple King

James Drummond Dole arrived in Hawai‘i in 1899, holding newly minted Harvard degrees in business and agriculture, and eager to prove that Hawai‘i could take part in the boom times for farming that were sweeping across America. The following year, he bought a 61-acre tract of land here in Wahiawa, where he established the first plantation of what would in later years become an agricultural empire that reached around the world. Dole wasn’t the first person to grow pineapple in Hawai`i, but he was the first to realize its tremendous potential—and he eventually became known across America as the Pineapple King.

Dole knew that there could be an enormous market for pineapple outside of Hawai‘i, and the technology to distribute it had finally arrived. The then-high-tech process of canning food to preserve it had been around for decades, but had only been perfected in recent years. Packing and sealing pineapple in a hard-traveling can was the perfect way to keep it fresh over long distances—and thus Dole’s first pineapple cannery was born in Wahiawa in 1901. Several years later, the cannery was moved to Honolulu Harbor to be closer to the labor pool, shipping ports, and supplies. The Honolulu site, at one time the world’s largest cannery, remained in operation until 1991, its landmark pineapple-shaped water tower visible from every part of the city.

In many ways, building the cannery was the easy part. Although the pineapple was considered a desirable exotic fruit and had appeared for centuries in the arts and crafts of New England and Europe, very few Westerners actually knew what to do with one. Dole joined forces with Hawaii’s other pineapple distributors and set out to create a national market for the tropical fruit by showing the world how sweet a pineapple could be. Nationally distributed advertising campaigns featured recipes for pineapple pie and pineapple salad and taught readers how to choose and use different grades of fruit. In 1925, the classic American recipe for pineapple upside-down cake was popularized during a pineapple recipe contest sponsored by Dole. The contest drew 60,000 entries. Canned pineapple had secured a place in the American pantry.

As the demand for pineapple grew, so did the need for more land. In 1922, Dole bought the Hawaiian Island of Lana`i and transformed it into the largest pineapple plantation in the world, with 20,000 farmed acres and a planned plantation village to house more than a thousand workers and their families. For nearly 70 years, Lana`i supplied more than 75% of the world’s pineapple, becoming widely known as the “Pineapple Island.”

By the 1930s, Hawai`i was famous as the pineapple capital of the world. The Hawaiian Pineapple Company James Dole had founded was now processing over 200,000 tons of pineapple a year, helping to make pineapple Hawaii’s second largest industry. By the 1940s, eight pineapple companies operated in Hawai`i. By far the largest was James Dole’s Hawaiian Pineapple Company (often shortened to HAPCO), with vast plantations on Oahu and Lana`i and a cannery in Honolulu, employing about 3,000 permanent and 4,000 seasonal employees.

James Drummond Dole passed away in 1958 at the age of 80. The Hawaiian Pineapple Company he founded is now known the world over as Dole Food Company, one of the most recognized brands in the world today.

The grounds around the visitor center are landscaped with the various varieties of pineapples that are grown for visitors to check out:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Like other popular tourist sites on Oahu, visitors from around the world could be seen touring the Dole Pineapple Plantation:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Something my wife and I really enjoyed was taking a ride through the Dole Plantation via the Pineapple Express train:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

The train takes visitors on a 2 mile loop tour of the plantation:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

The tour is fully narrated and takes about 20 minutes to complete the loop route.  What I found really interesting is that the plantation grows much more than just pineapples.  That have various tropical crops from around the world planted here:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

One of the crops being grown is the only crop that was ever bigger than pineapples and that is sugarcane:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

The train went right by a grove of banana trees as well:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Here is a close up of the bananas growing on the tree:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Of course pineapples makes of the vast majority of the crops planted on the plantation:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Interestingly I did learn that this plantation and Hawaii in general exports very little pineapples now.  The vast majority of pineapples in the US are imported from foreign countries:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Approximately 75% of the world’s pineapple supply originates from one of the following countries: Thailand, Philippines, Brazil, China, India, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Kenya, Mexico and Indonesia:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

At the very edge of the plantation there is a large lake that the train zooms around that I figure is probably the main water source for the plantation’s crops:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

From the lake there was a beautiful view of the Waianae Mountains on the island’s west coast:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

From the lake the train than headed back towards the visitor center.  My wife and I really enjoyed the train ride.  Here is ticket prices for those interested in riding the Pineapple Express:

Adults $8.00
Children (4-12) $6.00
Kama’aina/Military – $7.25
Children under 4 are free when accompanied by an adult.

From the train we then decided to check out the botanical garden near the visitor center.  This gum tree was quite a striking site due to its rainbow colors:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

This tree is supposedly native to the Philippines before being brought over to Hawaii.  The bananas when they are first sprouting I found to be quite striking as well:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

This Bird of Paradise flower also known as a strelitzia we found to be quite beautiful:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

This flower is native to South Africa before being brought over to the Hawaiian Islands:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Of course this garden had the flower that most people associate with Hawaii, the hibiscus:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

The yellow hibiscus known in Hawaiian as the ma?o hau hele is the state flower of Hawaii:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

There are hibiscus that are native to Hawaii like the yellow hibiscus pictured above, but most the variety of hibiscus grown on Hawaii are in fact from various countries in Asia:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Here is another example of the Walking Tree that my wife and I first saw in the Waimea Valley:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Here is a close up look at some more sugarcane:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Something else they have for visitors to do at the plantation is to pay to walk through this maze.  My wife and I just didn’t feel like we should pay to walk in a maze and declined to check it out:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Besides having pineapples and gardens to check out outside the visitor center there is plenty of vendors selling soveneirs as well:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Inside the visitor center there are more people selling things such as the jeweler that makes necklaces and earrings from oysters that are opened right there on the spot:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Inside the visitor center there is also of course every type of pineapple related product you can think of for sale:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

I did buy some pineapple hard candy which lasted me for quite and while and was quite good:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

We also bought some fresh pineapple to eat as well.  It is amazing how much better fresh pineapple from Hawaii is compared to canned or imported pineapples:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

Of course there is pineapple ice cream and milkshakes as well.  My wife and I tried one of the milkshakes and it was incredibly good:

Picture from the Dole Pineapple Plantation

All in all the Dole Pineapple Plantation is a massive tourist trap, however it is still a fun place to spend a couple of hours checking out.  I highly recommend taking a ride on the train and enjoying the scenery and fresh air.  If you have kids they will definitely love riding on the train.

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