Saturday | August 19, 2017
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Fodor’s: Puakea Ranch the place to be

Puakea Ranch in Hawi has been hailed by a well-known travel guide publisher as one of its top hotels “to book right now.”

The ranch, owned by Waimea couple Christie Cash and Jay Nelson, was the only Hawaii resort to make the second annual Fodor’s 100 Hotel Awards. It was also among the 13 hotels selected for the Local Experience category, which is for properties that “deliver a deep local connection, with accommodations and perks that reflect their surroundings,” according to Fodor’s website.

“Dating to the 1870s, Puakea Ranch recalls the island’s upcountry ‘paniolo’ cowboy heritage, back when the island was a major exporter of cattle,” Fodor’s noted. “Bungalows are individually designed with modern and island motifs, and guests have run of the property. That means lounging on hammocks, riding horses, raiding the organic vegetable garden and orchard, and gathering eggs from the chicken coop for a morning omelet. Sure, there’s TV and Wi-Fi, but who needs them?”

Cash was “shocked, pleased and grateful” upon learning the ranch had made Fodor’s prestigious list, calling it “a tremendous honor.” She said it’s a testament not only to the special experience guests have, but also to the love, passion and hard work they put into restoring the ranch.

Transforming the 30-acre property originally deemed beyond repair into a low-key, luxury guest-ranch vacation retreat has been “an incredible, worthwhile journey,” she said.

Prior to moving to the island in August 2007, the couple had vacationed regularly in Hawaii. They also had a fondness for the Big Island, believing this place is closest to what Hawaii used to be like before huge resorts, cookie-cutter condos and sprawl. Though they had stayed in many wonderful vacation rentals and resorts, Cash said they craved something “more down-to-earth, unique and still authentic.”

When the couple couldn’t find exactly what they were looking for, they decided to create it. Their original vision was to create a luxury camping spot that allowed guests to get in touch with the land. However after conversations with attorneys and those dealing with land use, it was deemed a nonviable option. So, they began looking at rustic properties.

As soon as Cash arrived at Puakea Ranch, she was “over the moon” for the property. Though it was in “rough shape, desperately needing lots of love and attention,” Cash said she “couldn’t bear the thought of the buildings possibly being torn down and all the stories heard by the walls lost.” The property has a rich history, and although other families lived here, the Kawamoto family is the one they most associate with the ranch. Here, the multiethnic paniolo heritage is told and honored.

Since purchasing the property in May 2006, the couple has restored four aging cottages, homes and bunkhouses on Puakea Ranch board by board. The ranch’s first guest stayed in the Miles Away cottage in 2009, and it has proven to be “a magical place” as many guests returning, Cash said.

Fodor’s seemed to agree as it evaluated more than 4,000 nominations to create its 100 Hotel Awards. The list, available at, spans 41 countries and nine categories that reflect the hottest hotel trends. The other categories were new and noteworthy; global icon; trendsetter; trip of a lifetime; city chic; royal pedigree; best all-inclusive and fun for all ages.

Fodor’s spokeswoman Katherine Fleming could not be reached for comment as of press time.

For more information about the ranch, visit