#CatTravels: Planting koa trees in Honokaa


The coolest part about my job is getting to travel to interesting places to do interesting things.

That was basically my assignment for this trip to the Big Island.

I was going to visit the operation of Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods, a company that’s looking at the timber business and sustainable reforestation in a new and innovative way. Here’s what happens: you can buy a legacy tree for $60 and plant it on the 1,200 acres fenced off for this project. For every four trees that are planted, three are legacy trees that will never be harvested. (The other trees are available for purchase as sustainable timber investments — meaning, they will be cut down. Trees must be ordered in lots of 100. The current pre-planting price is $9,950 per 100 trees for koa.)

In addition, the company offers eco-tours, too, that help fund its mission. These tours — which cost $110 for a 1.5-hour tour or $180 for three hours (adult pricing) — offer a complete experience, from driving around the forest reserve to planting koa trees to feasting on a meal prepared by the co-founder’s wife, Diana Fox.

That’s what we were going to do. Tour around, plant a tree, eat.

Here’s what our Saturday looked like:

We left Volcano at around 6:30 a.m., the roads empty and quiet. We had to drive back through Hilo and up the Hamakua Coast to the Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods headquarters on the 10,200-acre Kukaiau Ranch adjacent to the Mauna Kea Forest Reserve.

Driving through Kukaiau Ranch to the remote village of Umikoa, where HLH is located — and the start of our eco-tour. We were going to plant koa trees on the 1,200 acres here that have been fenced off specifically for this project. Already, more than 220,000 of these native trees have been planted here in the last four years, many of which are legacy trees that will never be harvested.

Here’s the company’s headquarters, a cozy house in Umikoa village.

Our tour started off the right way: with homemade cinnamon scones, fresh out of the oven.

Before you head into the forest to plant a tree, you get to pick one out first. You can browse the more than 350 trees in the nursery just outside to find the tree that “speaks” to you.

We drove via ATV through the forest reserve, stopping at various spots to look at koa trees in different life stages and learn more about the importance of reforestation.

One of our stops was this grove of old koa trees called the Tanglewood. These six or seven trees are literally tangled up, creating a very beautiful weave of branches and leaves that got me to take about two dozens photos of it.

The area on the slopes of Mauna Kea is stunning and spiritual. It’s hard to believe the Islands were once blanketed in koa forests with the largest trees being sought out for dugout canoes.

We got to one of the forests — where the company is planning to put in a man-made pond surrounded by picnic tables and benches, maybe in the next two years — to plant our trees. Our knowledgable guide, Rich Lindberg, dug out the hole where we were going to place our little trees and will them to grow.

This family from Japan came all the way to Honokaa after seeing a program about HLH on TV two years ago. The woman was pregnant at the time and named her son Koa in honor of the tree. (That’s him about to plant his tree.)

Last stop: Lunch by Diana Fox. She made chicken salad wraps with peppers, cheese and a homemade bacon jam that was so good, I could have died in the kitchen and been totally OK with it.

These pickled cucumbers and onions were stellar, too. (And yes, I got the recipe!)

While the entire tour took about three hours — including lunch — it was well spent in the forest, learning about the importance of sustainable reforestation, looking at beautiful koa trees, and listening to the native birds like apapane and elepaio singing in a habitat that is slowly, but effectively, being restored.

Easily one of the best experiences I’ve had on the Big Island. And since our trees have GPS chips in them, it’s one I can experience again — either on Google Earth or in two years when the pond is completed.

I plan to return with a bottle of Riesling, for sure.

If you want to learn more about Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods or interested in planting a koa tree — either for yourself or a loved one — call 877-707-TREE or click here.

Follow me on my #CatTravel adventures on Twitter @thedailydish and Instagram @catherinetoth.

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13 Responses to “#CatTravels: Planting koa trees in Honokaa”

  1. Dennis February 26, 2014 at 5:58 am #

    Great legacy! A must to keep our islands unique history for our children and children’s children. Thanks for sharing!

    • Catherine Toth February 26, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

      Thanks for your message! A lot of folks buy these trees in memory of someone who’s passed away. You can even bury the ashes with the tree. Great way to memorialize someone you love!

  2. Milt February 26, 2014 at 6:18 am #

    Pickle recipe, please, please!

  3. Annoddah Dave February 26, 2014 at 7:10 am #

    Cat: Is sandal wood a legacy tree as well?

    • Catherine Toth February 26, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

      I don’t think the company is growing sandalwood as legacy trees…

  4. Shelly K. February 26, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    Yay! Glad you went to plant your Koa tree, it’s such an amazing experience! LOVE all your pics too! Let’s go back and visit our trees in a few years! :)

    • Catherine Toth February 26, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

      I’m down! In two years, my tree should be 25 feet tall! WOOT!

  5. J February 26, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

    Thanks for this post. Might want to plant a tree in honor of a friend who just passed away.

  6. dbjack February 26, 2014 at 3:29 pm #

    I love this installment, now I know what I want to do to leave a part of me in Hawaii. Plant a tree there and one for my son too. Of course, when kick the bucket time comes roast me on an open fire and spread my ashes in my beloved Kaneohe Bay.

  7. expat jen February 27, 2014 at 3:06 am #

    this is so awesome! :) I love this idea and will definitely want to be a part of this project in some way – hope to take my son to visit, too!

  8. M February 27, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

    Hello Cat,

    I can still see you behind that koa tree. :lol:

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