Island tour

Hawaii’s sugar history makes this a sweet tour of the island

A new visit to Oahu takes visitors back to Hawaii’s sweetest century. From 1850 to 1950, sugar was king, a crop that brought thousands of workers from several Asian countries, as well as Puerto Rico and Portugal, to the state’s cane fields and mills.

Roberts Hawaii, the state’s largest tour operator, takes Waikiki visitors to Hawaii’s Plantation Village near the town of Waipahu, which features restored buildings and replicas of buildings that once housed workers. Guides tell the story of the sugar years and show visitors a small sugar cane stand that still stands.

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Malasadas are a Portuguese-style donut introduced to Hawaii by immigrants who came to work in the sugar cane fields.

(Tor Johnson/Hawaii Tourism Authority)

And then there are tasting stops, too: first at the Malasadamobile, operated by Leonard’s, an iconic Honolulu bakery, for a sweet treat. Since 1953, the bakery has specialized in malasadas, known as Portuguese donuts. The donut recipes – fried without a hole and then covered in sugar – were brought to the islands by immigrants who worked in the sugar cane fields.

Sugarcane, seen here after harvest, was Hawaii’s biggest export for about 100 years until cheaper sources of sugar killed the islands’ industry in the mid-20th century.

(John Hook / Hawaii Tourism Authority)

The last stop is at KoHana Rum near the village of Kunia, where visitors learn how sugar cane is used to make rum.

A worker stands next to the large tanks in which sugar cane juice is distilled into rum at KoHana Rum on the island of Oahu.

(Roberts Hawaii)

The tour includes the tasting room, where adults can taste agricultural rum, as it’s called, made from freshly squeezed sugarcane juice instead of molasses.

A small patch of sugar cane towers over visitors on a tour of Hawaii’s Plantation Village, where sugar has been grown for about 100 years.

(Roberts Hawaii)

Oahu Sugar Tours, offered Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, picks up visitors from Waikiki hotels beginning at 8 a.m. Tickets are $118 for adults and children 12 and older and $89 for children 4-11.

Even after the sugar cane fields fell fallow in the 20th century, thanks to cheaper sources of sugar elsewhere, many descendants of early immigrants still live in the same communities as their ancestors.

One such town, Haleiwa, on the island’s north coast, has reinvented itself as a popular tourist destination, with surfers and sun-seekers alike drawn to its wide beaches. Others, like Honokaa, an hour’s drive north of Hilo on the island of Hawaii, retain a sleepier vibe than when sugar reigned supreme.

Information: Roberts Hawaii