Hawaii isn't best known for amusement parks. But the Dole Plantation offers one that, like many things in Hawaii, is a little bit different. That, and a dozen other fascinating things to see and do here make this attraction one of the state's continuing best.
Dole is known worldwide for producing and selling pineapple. James Drummond Dole arrived in Hawaii in 1899 to do just that. But, ironically, the fruit is not a native species. It is believed to be an import from Brazil or Paraguay, carried here in the 16th century by Spanish traders who arrived on the islands during one of their many voyages.
But native or not, grow pineapple here Dole did. An entire island's worth. At one point, the company owned the entire land mass of Lanai and employed thousands of workers to grow, harvest and process pineapple from 20,000 acres.
But there is much more to the Dole Plantation for visitors to see than a history of the great agricultural entrepreneur.
The Dole Plantation offers the world's largest maze to travel through. The Pineapple Garden Maze, officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, covers three acres. It provides a series of twists and turns formed from 11,400 Hawaiian plants stretching over 3 miles. That's if you don't get lost and retrace your steps!
There is also an outstanding train ride unlike any you'll find elsewhere, The Pineapple Express. This 20-minute ride across the plantation is lovely, fun and educational - and it would be hard to decide where one aspect ends and the other begins.
Knowledgeable and entertaining guides fill riders in on the history of the Dole Plantation and company as they provide information about the whole agricultural industry in Hawaii. Those businesses continue to employ over 40,000 people and generate $3 billion in revenue yearly.
Among other fascinating tidbits, visitors will learn that each pineapple plant continues to be planted by hand, using the leafy crown from a previous pineapple. Harvesting is also still done by hand, an unusual practice in this era of machine agriculture. Along the 2-mile ride, visitors can see some of Oahu's finest sights including the Waianae Mountains and the ocean beyond.
The Dole Plantation also houses several gardens that will make any lover of botanical exhibits swoon.
There are thousands of Ti Leaf plants, a member of the lily family that can grow 10 feet high. There are over 3,000 species related to pineapples called the bromeliad family and the Dole Plantation offers a wide variety of them to view. Many sport delicate pink and white flowers that resemble orchids.
The state's official flower, the yellow hibiscus, is here in abundance along with other varieties in pink, red and white. There are other beautiful native species, as well, such as the Koa and the Ohia Lehua, a flower made of fine tendrils.
Of course, the lei flower or garland makes up a significant part of the gardens. Leis were once made of shells, bones and other objects. The lovely pink and white flowers that comprise the contemporary offering make it clear why the practice evolved to use these instead.
Come visit the Dole Plantation and enjoy one of Hawaii's finest attractions. It is located in Central Oahu near Wahiawa about 40 minutes from Waikiki.