The great Hawaiian sugar rush started in the 1830’s when tons of the sweet stuff was first sent by steamship to America. By the 1850’s Hawaiian sugar was fueling California gold rush miners and an upgrade was needed for the mules, horses and people who were moving raw sugar cane to the mills. The answer was the sugar cane trains. Hundreds of miles of track were laid all over the Hawaiian Islands, starting in 1881 in Kauai. Although most trains were abandoned in the 1950’s, a few keep chugging along to the delight of kids and railway buffs of all ages. Here’s where to find them.
Short and Sweet – Dole Pineapple Plantation, Oahu
A train ride is just one of many fun activities for kids at the Dole Pineapple Plantation. A half hour drive from Honolulu, the plantation is a nice stopover if you’re headed to the North Shore. The cheery red and yellow replica trains run on a 20-minute loop along a 3.2 km track surrounded by tropical plants and trees. The audio narration will fill you in on the history of the pineapple in Hawaii.
After the train ride, check out their huge gift shop dedicated to all things pineapple. You’ll find pineapple souvenirs in all shapes and sizes, an abundance of pineapple snacks and even pineapple-flavoured lip balm and dog treats. Visit the small ornamental garden that holds rare species of pineapples (who knew they came in pink?), or let the kids explore the huge 3-acre Garden Maze. There are also tours of eight other gardens on the property. Explore Hawaii’s exotic flowers and fruits, like the cacao pods used in Waialua’s signature chocolate. Admission to the grounds is free. Train ride fares are: adults $10.50, children 4-12 $8.50. Garden tours and maze entry fees are extra.
Serious Fun on Oahu – Hawaiian Railroad Society Railway and Museum
Jump on board the open-air cars of this historic narrow gauge 914 mm (3 foot) railway line and feel the love. Rescued from a rusty fate in the 1970’s, the restored 1940’s train glides along a 10.5 km stretch of track that passes through the suburbs of Honolulu before heading for the coast at Kahe Point. The upbeat narration tells the story of how Hawaii’s trains brought sugar to the world. You’ll get some sugar too, if you take the 3 p.m. “Ice Cream” rides that stop at Two Scoops in Ko’Olina. Tickets are first-come, first-served and go on sale 2 hours in advance. The 90-minute ride runs every Saturday at 3 and Sunday at 1 and 3 p.m. ($12 adults; $8 seniors and children 2-12).
For true restoration buffs, the 14 seat, ornate Parlor Car No. 64, built for the owner of the Oahu Railway and Land Co., runs the second Sunday of every month. Reserve your tickets in advance for the Dillingham Parlor Car online at Hawaiian Railway Society ($25).
Choo Choo to the Petting Zoo – Kauai Plantation Railway, Kauai
Kids and parents alike will be charmed by this Disney-style ride through 105 acres of tropical hardwoods and fields of papaya, citrus, and banana. Each ride is led a guide who mixes farm facts and fun on the 40- minute ride. About halfway through, you can jump off and hand feed a small herd of piglets, goats and sheep. For a more in-depth look at farming in Kauai, there’s a 4-hour Orchard Adventure tour that includes the train ride, a guided walk through the fields and forests and lunch.
The plantation is located on the grounds of former sugar baron Gaylord Wilcox’s mansion. Drop in for one of the free rum tastings at the Koloa Rum Company, just outside the train station. There’s also an evening luau with a massive buffet. Sample fruit from the fields at Gaylord’s Restaurant or wander through the 1500 sq. meter heritage home. It’s filled with vintage Hawaiiana and galleries. Train ride: $19 adults; $14 children 3 – 12. Orchard tour: $75 adults; $60 kids 3 – 12.
The Sugar Cane Train Rides Again – Sugar Cane Train, Maui
Maui residents and visitors alike were glad to hear that the original, much beloved Sugar Cane Train, will be back on the tracks later this year. Anaka and Myrtle, the two steam engines, are being renovated. Christmas, 2016 was made merrier when the Holiday Express Sugar Cane Train lit up the rails. Expect it back again in December 2017, complete with elves distributing toys, milk and cookies at Santa’s depot in Puukoli’i. The big guy himself will be available for photos too. If all goes well, look for more rides in the fall of 2017 with a regular schedule to follow. Check the website for current details: Sugar Cane Train