'Ainahou Ranch is in the National Register of Historic Places due to the history and architecture of the house and property. The original ranch was built in 1941 by the Shipman family. Herbert Shipman was a local businessman who was descended from the original missionaries that came to Hawai'i. Shipman was very interested in wildlife conservation and one of the uses for the ranch was to provide protection for the endangered Nēnē Goose. Shipman was also an avid cattle rancher and the original property was over 64,000 acres of pristine native forests and grasslands.
One of the rumored reasons that the Shipman's built the ranch was as a remote place of refuge for the family should a Japanese invasion occur. After the war the ranch became a popular get-away for friends of the Shipman's and many famous people have visited and stayed at the ranch.
The property of the ranch itself is beautifully landscaped and has hundreds of varieties of flowers, fruit trees and herbs. Picnic tables are available for a picnic lunch amid the beautiful surroundings; nearby trails lead off to native plantings.
The property is currently maintained by a local volunteer organization that catalogs the plants and keeps the property maintained. The property is still home to Nēnē and is not open to the public during the breeding season if Nēnē are found to be nesting in the area - so do check the signs before taking the walk.
The Shipman family still owns large amounts of land on the Big Island, especially in Puna, and, among other activities, maintains Nēnē breeding programs to help increase the bird population.
To find 'Ainahou Ranch take Highway 11 to Volcano and enter the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Once you pass the park gatehouse make the first left onto Crater Rim Drive. Continue on Crater Rim Drive 3 miles until the intersection with Chain of Craters Road. Turn left onto Chain of Craters Road and proceed approximately 4.2 miles where you will see a sign and a right hand turn for the ranch. Make the right turn and you will come to a locked gate. Park off the road as much as you can.
Click here to view a map
The road goes between paved and unpaved sections, but it is a fairly easy downhill walk. Most of the time you are going through wooded areas with occasional patches of open meadows. You really don't need any supplies for this trail other than water and perhaps sunscreen, but the property makes a perfect place for a picnic so bringing a snack or lunch would be ideal.
Things To Be Careful Of
The following are general cautions and warnings for this trail:
Because the ranch is often used by Nēnē for breeding it will be closed to the public if any birds are found nesting in the area. For this reason, consult the signs to see if the trail is open.
You will almost certainly see Nēnē on this walk - we saw over 15 birds on the two hikes we took to the ranch. Nēnē are protected and it is illegal to approach them or feed them.
Other than the sign on Chain of Craters Road showing the turnoff for the ranch, the ranch itself is not marked on the trail. We've done the hard work for you as it took us two attempts to find the ranch and on the 2nd attempt we missed a turnoff and ended up going 3 miles out of our way and had to backtrack (and got nasty sunburns) - so follow our instructions below and you will easily find the ranch.
What You Will See
After you have parked your car, walk around the gate and simply go down the road. This is an easy walk and we would really be surprised if it was actually 2 miles to the ranch (the HVNP site says it is 2.7 miles one way - but that must be outdated information from when the road was longer - there is no way this walk is that long).
As you walk you will note that this is a combination of wooded area and open meadows. The start of the walk is through mostly wooded area consisting of 'Ōhi'a Lehua and Koa trees. A variety of imported and native grasses and sedge can also be seen, especially in the more open areas.
As you are walking you may see some narrow trails, mostly on the left side of the road but occasionally on the right hand side as well. These trails are pig trails and the area does have a wild pig population. If you should see a pig be careful, especially if they are youngsters, as the overly protective mother maybe nearby. On the two occasions we have done this walk, we did not see any pigs - but we did see plenty of pig trails and indications that pigs had been around.
As you descend you might also see some tall metal poles with netting on the left side. These are used in bird counting and they catch the birds in specially designed nets that do not harm the bird - which are then removed, inspected and counted by volunteers before being released. When not being used the poles stay up but the netting is removed.
After approximately a mile and a half you will encounter a side road on your right. This is an interesting and short diversion. Take the side road about 100 yards up to the catchment systems. These are incredibly huge sheds with metal roofs, attached to utterly huge tanks that are as long and tall as the sheds. There is more than one of these sheds and it is a fairly impressive sight. This is the remnant of the water irrigation system that was used to water the ranch land and cattle, as well as provide water to the ranch itself. These huge catchment systems collected rainwater on the roofs that drained into the tanks. The impressive plumbing that comes out of each tank has many valves to control the feeds to the various areas of the 64,000 acre ranch.
On our first walk to find the ranch we encountered five Nēnē on this little side road, and another three were watching us near the catchments. On our second hike there were no Nēnē in this area.
After walking around the catchment systems simply return to the main road by going back down the way you came. Continue down the main road. After another 1/2 mile or so you will encounter a split in the road. Here is where it gets important... a trail sign tells you to take the left fork - that is WRONG - do NOT take the left fork, instead, take the right fork.
If you take the left fork you walk another 3 or so miles to a junction where the Kipuka Nēnē trail comes down from Hilina Pali and merges with the Keauhou trail which continues down to Keauhou Landing on the coast (approximately 5 miles from the junction). While this is an interesting hike, it is hot, with little coverage and it does NOT take you to the ranch.
Ok... assuming you took the RIGHT FORK in the road, you are now headed towards the ranch which is still not visible. You will notice that in front and to the right of you are tall fir trees - the trees mark the start of the ranch itself. Keep walking along this road and in about 40 feet or so you will see another road branching to the right. Take it to the right and keep going. You are now entering the fir tree area and soon you will be walking on a soft carpet of fir needles. Once you round a small curve you will spot the ranch nestled in the trees.
The ranch house itself is pretty large, probably 3,000 to 4,000 square feet. The house is a combination of Japanese architecture along side more traditional designs. The house is multi-story in parts, and a beautiful balcony overlooks much of the landscaping. Many of the windows in the house are the original thick ripple style glass and in them themselves are interesting to look at.
There are a number of nearby buildings including a quaint two-stall outhouse, small greenhouse and shed and a large solar array and generator. Behind the solar panels, at the edge of the tree line is a short trail (1/2 mile) that leads you through native plantings (follow the water pipe). The picnic tables are behind the house, near the solar array and outhouse.
The landscaping is spectacular - and this is not counting the side trail. Just wandering around the house you will note a huge variety of plants. Near the balcony, towards the front of the house is a delicious smelling garden of herbs including fennel, rosemary and thyme (VERY healthy plants). There are peach and pear trees, and a variety of citrus including huge lemons. Grape vines and olive trees as well as persimmons are throughout the area.
Flowers are everywhere as well, including azaleas, camellias, magnolias, iris, plumerias and holly. There are just as many impressive varieties of trees including different types of pines and fir, white ash, kukui, sandalwood and oaks.
We counted a lot of Nēnē around the house including a group of five Nēnē who were harassing a nearby group of three Nēnē. Many of the lava rocks in the area are coated in Nēnē droppings so this is a very popular spot for the birds.
Once you have enjoyed the property simply return to your car back the same way you got to the ranch.