I was one of those little girls with posters of horses on her walls and a very well-worn copy of “Black Beauty” by her bedside.
Yes, I had a fascination with horses, even back then.
And while I had always wanted to ride on, the chance never really came up.
Until this weekend, when my sweet husband surprised me with a horseback tour at Kualoa Ranch.
Maybe this will come as a surprise to many of you, but I hadn’t even been to Kualoa Ranch, either. So this was going to be quite an adventure!
Established in 1850 on the northeastern side of O‘ahu, Kualoa is a 4,000-acre working cattle ranch, stretching from the Ko‘olau Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The terrain varies from dense rainforest to lush gaping valleys to white sandy beaches.
There’s a ton of activities here, from ATV tours through its scenic valleys to catamaran rides of picturesque Kāneʻohe Bay with views of Mokoli‘i Island (Chinaman’s Hat) to a glass-bottom boat ride to the secluded Secret Island.
But one of the most popular ways to explore the ranch is by horseback — and that’s what we had come to do.
We checked in at the Ticket Office, where you can, for $3, rent a locker for your belongings. (You can’t bring along anything that can’t fit in your pocket, so bags and large cameras had to be stowed.)
Then you waited by a horse pen for the tour to start.
I won’t lie, I was a bit nervous. I had climbed onto a horse before — back in Vegas a few years ago — and the height was a bit daunting. You can definitely feel the strength of these animals, and you know, at any given moment, they can decide whether they want you on their backs or not. So it was a bit intimidating.
We met our guide (above photo), Kyle, a 2011 graduate of Kahuku High School, who grew up on her family’s ranch on the North Shore. Knowing — and seeing — how comfortable she was with these horses put my fears at ease.
She handed me a 10-year-old horse named Ace. He was once a guide horse, so he was really familiar with the trails on the ranch. “He’s super mellow,” she told me. “And he totally knows what to do.”
My husband opted for the two-hour tour ($99 per person), which took us deep into Ka‘a‘awa Valley, where films such as “Godzilla,” “Jurassic Park” and “50 First Dates” were filmed. We started off along the highway, through groves of kiawe trees with stunning ocean views (above).
There were just a few of us — maybe 10 — on the tour, led by a guide. We rode single file and never went faster than a quick walk. That’s it. In fact, trotting or galloping would result in you — and I’m assuming your horse — getting kicked off the tour with no refund. They were THAT serious about safety.
I got used to being on a horse pretty quickly. (Maybe it’s my Portuguese heritage coming out.) At first, I was a bit nervous, gripping onto the reigns a little too much. But after a few minutes, I started to relax into the gait, using the reigns only when I needed to and truly enjoying the scenery. (It helped that my horse, Ace, lived up to his name.)
We made our way toward Ka‘a‘awa, past freshwater ponds and grazing cattle. The verdant cliffs, the depth of the valley itself — it was all so breathtaking. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much had I been walking or biking.
There’s something rustic and exhilarating about riding a horse through this terrain. Like it’s the way you were supposed to experience it. On horseback. And with an iPhone. (smile)
Two-hour rides cost $99 per person, one-hour rides (to the southern half of Kualoa and the ranch’s 800-year-old Hawaiian fishpond) are $69 per person. To book a horseback tour, call 1-800-231-7321 or 808-237-7321 or visit here.