The ahupuaʻa of Honuaʻula is primarily on Maui, but it also includes the entire island of Kahoʻolawe. Located in the “rain shadow” of Maui’s Haleakalā, a “cloud bridge” connects Kahoʻolawe to the slopes of Haleakalā. Nineteenth century forestry reports mentioned a “dense forest” at the top of Kahoʻolawe.
On Maui, the upper areas were in Sandalwood and Koa forests. Prior to European contact, early Hawaiians farmed sweet potatoes, dry land taro and harvested wood, birds and pigs from these forested areas.
The areas below the west and south slopes of Haleakalā (Kula, Honua‘ula, Kahikinui and Kaupo) in old Hawaiian times were typically planted in sweet potato. The leeward flanks of Haleakalā were not as favorable for dry or upland taro. However, some upland taro was grown, up to an altitude of 3,000 feet.
Modern agriculture began on the slopes of Haleakalā in 1845 when Linton L. Torbert, an active member of the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society, farmed potatoes and corn, primarily to supply island merchant ships and California’s ’gold rush’ era. He later planted sugar. (The 2,300-acres had first been leased from King Kamehameha III in 1841.)
On January 23, 1856, “Kapena Ki” (Captain James Makee) purchased at auction Torbert’s plantation. He sold his Nuʻuanu residence. (He was active in Oʻahu business and, later, was the Kapiʻolani Park Association’s first president (they even named the large island in the Park’s waterways after him.))
But with the purchase, Makee moved to Maui and raised his family on what he called ‘Rose Ranch’ after his wife Catherine’s favorite flower.
For three decades (1856-1886), the former whaling captain farmed sugar, cattle and other crops. This early entrepreneur even planted cotton to take advantage of the Union blockade of southern ports during the Civil War.
Makee was one of the first to import, on a large scale, purebred stock. He also went in for dairying and his “sweet butter” found a fine market. In 1858 he began the rehabilitation of Torbert’s cane and the crop of 1861 was marketed in Honolulu.
He solved the area’s major problem – water. “Makee has built a wooden house and deep reservoir on the side of the house. The troubles of the men and women are now ended by this work, they are now truly well supplied with water. This land, in ancient times, was a barren open place, a rocky, scorched land, where water could not be gotten.”
“The water of this land in times before, was from the stumps of the banana trees (pūmaiʻa), and from the leaves of the kākonakona grass; but now there is water where moss can grow. The problem is resolved.” Nupepa Kuokoa, Iulai 7, 1866, [Maly, translator])
“Makee’s Plantation or Rose Ranch, as it is more generally termed by the proprietor and his friends, is situated on the south eastern part of the Island of Maui, in the district of Honuaula. … The estate contains about 6,500 acres, 1,200 of which are capable of producing cane.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, September 19, 1861 [Maly])
The estate grew to be famous for its beauty, hospitality, and agricultural productivity. Catherine Makee’s gardens were the pride of the household with their profusion of roses, flowers, rare plants and shrubs. Visitors today can still admire Catherine’s circular garden beds with their flowering bounty, tended year-round.
“For one arriving by the steamer and dumped on the beach or the rocks at the landing, it is a difficult task to comprehend that above the barren waste he looks upon, there is a beautiful and busy scene…awaiting him.”
“Not until he surmounts the last hill and the panorama of cultivated fields, busy works, and easy dwelling, lying before him, does he realize it; and not until he has viewed it from Prospect Hill [Pu‘u Ka‘eo], can he fully appreciate the value of the picture…” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, September 19, 1861 [Maly])
“The nature of this land is like that of a rose garden filled with blossoms. The beautiful home of J. Makee, Esq., has no equal. … The things grown there are like nothing else seen, there are beautiful flowers, and trees of all kinds.”
“The road passes through the gardens, and to the large reservoir within the arboretum, it looks like a pond. When he finished showing us around the gardens, he took us to meet his lady (his wife), the one about whom visitors say, ‘She is the queen of the rose garden.’” (Kuokoa, November 14th, 1868 [Maly])
Rose Ranch was also famous over the years for its hospitality. Newspaper accounts from that time period describe unforgettable parties at which guests danced until the wee hours, lauding the “generous hospitality of the worthy host and hostess” [Pacific Commercial Advertiser, July 14, 1866].
In 1874, King Kalākaua brought Queen Kapiʻolani to the ranch, and was so enthralled that he became a frequent visitor.
“The main entrance to the grounds surrounding the mansion, was surmounted with an illumination bearing the words – “Welcome to the King,” in red letters, bordered with sprays of pine-leaves. …”
“A neat but roomy cottage was set apart for the use of their Majesties, and here the party remained in the enjoyment of the liveral hospitality of Capt. Makee. In the interim, a large feast in the native style was spread under the shade of the noble trees near the mansion”. (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, April 1874)
From Torbert, then the decades of ownership by Makee, then Dowsett, Raymond and Baldwin, in 1963, the property was acquired by the Erdman family.
The property is now known as ʻUlupalakua Ranch and it remains a cattle ranch with 5,000-head of cattle, as well as a winery, a country store and grill, and horseback riding and clay shooting.
Today, ʻUlupalakua Ranch operates approximately 18,000 acres, 16,000 acres of fee simple land and 2,000 acres leased from the State of Hawaiʻi and private individuals.
In 2009, two-thirds of ʻUlupalakua Ranch was placed under a conservation easement assuring that over 11,000-acres will forever remain as agricultural lands. The land extends from coastline property a mile south of Makena to the 6,000-foot elevation, up to the boundary of Polipoli State Park.
The easement allows flexibility to pursue a variety of agricultural options, such as growing lumber, exotic vegetables and fruits and pursuing more renewable energy sources. Maui’s Winery is on the property, too.