Destinations

Ziplines and Farms are Fertile Ground for Adventure Travel

Jun 15, 2014 3:00 pm

Skift Take

Ziplines are a growing activity for travelers who want to get out there and experience the natural wonders of the destination, whether it is a national park or a decades-old farm in Hawaii.

— Dennis Schaal

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 / Piiholo Ranch Zipline

The Piiholo Ranch Zipline in Maui is part of the zipline boom in Hawaii. / Piiholo Ranch Zipline


An Arizona entrepreneur has opened a zip-line course on farmland in Kahuku, Hawaii, becoming the latest entrant in an expanding Hawaii industry that has led operators to be more creative in locating the popular and lucrative rides.

Koha Hui LLC, led by entrepreneur Robb Horlacher, opened the Keana Farms zip line Monday.

The attraction features seven pairs of zip lines running from an inland hill toward Kamehameha Highway on 6 acres of a 453-acre site zoned for agriculture.

Koha Hui obtained a conditional use permit from the city Department of Planning and Permitting last year for the zip line as an “agribusiness activity” allowed as an accessory to crop production.

The company said in its permit application that the zip line is necessary to sustain farming on the property.

Keana Farms offers a guided educational tour that includes information about ancient and modern Hawaii farming practices during the roughly 2 1/2-hour activity priced at $149.

“What we’re trying to do is make it more an educational tour,” said Zach Farmer, office manager for the attraction built and operated by Tennessee-based CLIMB Works.

George Atta, DPP director, agreed that the zip line is an allowed use as an accessory to a farm and will help promote and sustain farming.

“The agribusiness activity will help promote the economic viability of the agricultural industry,” he said in an order granting the permit.

The Kahuku zip line is the latest in an industry that started in Hawaii in 2002.

A 2012 state auditor’s report that examined the largely unregulated industry said the first zip-line course in the nation was built in Hawaii in 2002 and has hosted more than 250,000 riders over a decade.

The audit cited Attractions and Activities Association of Hawaii statistics that there were 22 known zip-line tour operations in the state in 2012, with most of them on Maui and Hawaii island.

Only one commercial zip line operates on Oahu, a 400-foot-long ride from a tree over a miniature golf course at Bayview Golf Course in Kaneohe. At least two more are planned: one at Kualoa Ranch and one in Aiea on conservation land above the Royal Summit neighborhood.

The audit estimated that more than 700,000 people a year take zip-line rides in Hawaii, and that it is a lucrative business.

Based on common advertised prices — which the audit said range from $30 to $200 per ride — annual industry revenue in Hawaii could be $21 million to $140 million.

Most of the Hawaii zip-line operations are in undeveloped areas, including a few that zip by waterfalls on Hawaii island such as Skyline Eco-Adventures at Akaka Falls.

Increasingly, zip lines are also being installed in conjunction with agricultural operations.

On Hawaii island, Pa’ani Ranch & ATV Adventures LLC offers a $125 zip-line ride on its 220-acre cattle ranch.

On Maui, Piiholo Ranch opened a zip-line course in 2008 and added a second course in 2011 as a way to get into ecotourism and share the beauty of the ranch land, according to the company’s website. Piiholo Ranch zip-line rides cost $140 to $190.

Also on the Valley Isle, Maui Dragon Fruit Farm LLC offers a $100 zip-line ride over its organic farm as part of a farm tour.

“Our family friendly tours start with a sharing of the ‘story’ behind the farm, the magical health characteristics of dragon fruit, Hawaii’s other major commercial agricultural crops and West Maui’s agricultural history,” the company says on its website. “We believe by combining Hawaii’s two biggest industries together (agriculture and tourism), by focusing on and promoting ecotourism and sustainable organic agriculture, it will nurture and inspire a new generation of farmers to strive for economic prosperity in a very responsible and sustainable way.”

Though not on farmland, the proposed Aiea zip line has raised complaints from area residents over traffic impacts and establishing a commercial business on land zoned for conservation.

Conservation land is restricted to largely noncommercial uses but allows nature parks. The Aiea zip-line developer, an affiliate of Towne Development of Hawaii Inc., plans to include a nature center in a 1,200-square-foot building and educate customers about the ecosystem as part of the thrill-ride adventure featuring seven pairs of zip lines zigzagging between two ridges.

Towne needs a conservation district use permit from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to proceed with its plan. The developer has applied for such a permit, though DLNR has requested an environmental impact statement be produced before considering the permit request.

In Kahuku a company affiliated with Horlacher now known as Malaekahana Hui West LLC bought 453 acres from an affiliate of the James Campbell Co. in 2006 for $7.7 million, according to property records.

Horlacher, an experienced real estate developer and manager, maintains a travel and tour company, PPF Hawaii LLC, with an office in Laie.

The Kahuku farmland has been producing crops for many decades and is leased to about 11 farmers using 245 acres and generates more than a million pounds of produce for local markets annually, according to Keana Farms and a written decision approving the zip-line permit.

Crops grown on the farm include taro, tomatoes, bananas, bitter melon, papayas and peppers, among others.

Part of the property is also proposed to be the site for several wind turbines planned by California-based Champlin GEI Wind Holdings as part of a 14-turbine wind farm called Na Pua Makani that also would occupy adjacent state-owned land.

Keana Farms anticipates bringing 96 visitors a day by van Monday through Saturday to ride the zip line, and teaching visitors about farming at eight stops that include zip-line platform towers serving as learning stations with hands-on educational activities, the permit order said.

“Using this unique landscape and the rich history of Oahu, our mission is to give people a fun, safe, educational, and unique way to experience a working commercial farm without the dangers of direct interaction,” the company said on its website.

Keana Farms anticipates that its educational program will employ more than 20 people from the local community.

As part of the conditional use permit, Keana Farms will dedicate at least half the property for crop production for at least 10 years or the duration of the zip-line operation, and submit an annual report verifying that farming continues to be the primary use of the property.

“The accessory agribusiness activity shall not be operated in any way as an independent use, separate or distinct from the overall operation of the agricultural use,” the permit order said. ___

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