The Cowboys of Lana‘i

Real life paniolo, or Hawaiian cowboys, round up adventure on Lāna‘i.

Text by Sonny Ganaden | Images by John Hook

The view from the gate of Lanai Grand Adventures isn’t what one expects from an authentic Hawaiian outdoors adventure. With only a few fences in sight, a stable of prize competition horses, and trails that run off into distant pines and ironwoods, a visitor wouldn’t be remiss to think the hotel shuttle somehow teleported him or her from the beach to a scene in western Montana. The few fences that are on Lāna‘i are rarely respected by axis deer, mouflon sheep, turkeys, or the hunters that pursue them, often on foot or mounted on a horse. “We can do almost anything you want on horseback,” says Bobby Farias, who runs Lanai Grand Adventures as, among other things, a paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy). “The whole island is nearly open. You can ride right up to the highest peaks on a horse. And we don’t dude string our tours. By that I mean we don’t guide them nose to tail. We can take horses off the beaten path pretty easily.”


Farias isn’t all hat and no cattle. He has the belt buckles, awards, and herds to prove his skills. Lately, he sports a buckle that boasts the 5th place award he and his son won at the 2013 U.S. Team Roping Championships held in Las Vegas. It’s an event with big cash prizes, one that puts Farias and his team in the international spotlight. The Farias ‘ohana’s skills are deeply rooted in the history of Hawai‘i and are part of a long tradition in the islands; the paniolo preceded their counterparts in the American West by half a century. After initial European contact with the Hawaiian Islands, George Vancouver, a captain in the British Navy, gave longhorn cattle to King Kamehameha the Great in the 1790s. A generation later, the rampant longhorn needed taming, so Kamehameha III brought in skilled Spanish horsemen from Mexico called vaqueros to teach centuries-old skills of horsemanship and ranch management to Hawaiians. “Paniolo,” in fact, may be a Hawaiian transliteration of what their teachers called themselves: españoles (Spaniards).  The traditions continued and intertwined with those of the American West. Ranches remain on all the main populated islands of Hawai‘i.

Ranches have also become part of the conversation to keep most of the land in Hawai‘i open, agricultural, and verdant. As the owner of a property consulting firm, a cattle company with 700 head of Angus cattle, and several thousand acres of land, Farias is a leader in sustainable land management in Lānai’s post-pineapple era. “Ranchers know all about conservation and water management,” he explains. “We live off this land. And the grids they put on the plantations seem to work really well for ranching.” At his ranch on Kaua‘i, non-potable water is used (which is sourced from rainwater, reclaimed or recycled water, and gray water), there is no electricity on site, and the feedbags are recycled by local farmers. These efforts earned him a Green Business Initiative Award in 2008 for implementing conservation practices.

Thankfully, one does not need to be a roping champion or know a cow patty from a hamburger to go adventuring with Farias and his crew. “We’re set up for all experience levels, for people that have never been on a horse all the way to those who want to go to the World Series,” says Farias. “All of us who work here compete in rodeo, so the tours are an offshoot of that. These animals aren’t like cars; they need to be ready, taken care of, limber, and exercised. He’s a tool: Prepare him on the days you don’t need him.” The pleasant year-round riding weather and isolation certainly assist the competitive ropers, but the adventures aren’t confined to horses. Patrons can fly along trails on UTV 4x4s, try archery and 3-D archery (in which bowmen shoot at stationary faux animals), amble around on carriage rides, and play a host of ranch games concocted by the working paniolo. If requested, one can even hunt with Cody Bradford, a name in the world of international roping.

There are a few misconceptions Farias would like to clear up. “This is not a private club; matter of fact we’re not closed off at all. We’re open seven days a week and can take you on an almost unlimited number of adventures. Lots of people who come to Hawai‘i don’t want to hang out on the beach,” he says with a laugh. “I mean, most people actually have very little interaction with the ocean. And as paniolo, we’re a big part of this place’s history, so we’re trying to let people know more about Lāna‘i.”

Connected to Farias’ adventure operation is the Lanai Pine Shooting Clays, which has hosted Olympic competitors, massive private engagements, royalty, and gun-shy locals for 18 years. Sid Alejado, who lives and hunts on island with his family, regularly gives tours of the range’s 14 wooden shooting stations, which meander under a canopy of ironwood trees along a cart path. “It’s like golfing, but less stressful,” Alejado says. “You don’t have to go looking for the ball. Just shoot and move on. I even got married here at station 14.” Pulling up to the last station in a golf cart, it’s easy to see why. A wooden walkway juts out like a pier over an expansive gully where the wind blows clear, and where shot-down clays, made of compressed fertilizer, slowly fade into the soil.

To book your own personal adventure, contact Lanai Grand Adventures by Hawaii Western Adventures 808-563-9385 or visit

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