Because there are so many areas in the Hawaiian Islands known by the name "Waimea,'' the United States Postal Service had to come up with a unique term for the upland community of Waimea in the County of Hawaii. The name that was chosen was Kamuela, which means "Samuel'' in the Hawaiian language. It was selected in honor of a prominent resident, Samuel M. Spencer, who was the chairman and executive officer of the Hawaii County Board of Supervisors in the early 20th century.
Although all local mail is directed to addresses in Kamuela, Hawaii, residents still prefer to call their town and its surroundings by the original name. "Waimea'' means reddish water, and in this part of the Big Island, it refers to the color of the streams that filter down through the hapu forests in the Kohala Mountains.
For more than a century before the name Kamuela was ever heard here, Waimea was an ahupua'a - a slice of the Big Island between ten and twenty miles long and four to nine miles wide that stretched from today's Lakeland district all the way to the ocean shore. This watershed area once supported as many as 10,000 Hawaiians, and the expanse is now referred to as Kohala, both North and South.
Prior to World War Two, the census-designated population of Waimea was just 1,352, but by 1990 it stood at 5,972 residents and ten years later it reached 7,028. Growth has been spurred by expanded ranching and farming jobs, as well as the addition of new resorts, schools, golf courses, religious organizations and medical facilities, such as the North Hawaii Community Hospital and the Lucy Henriques Medical Center. It has become the Big Island's largest inland municipality.
Confusing though the naming may be, Kamuela nee Waimea is a spectacular part of the Big Island scene, with plenty of attractions to draw the interest of visitors and locals alike. Perhaps its best known site is Parker Ranch, noted as the largest privately-owned cattle ranch in the United States. It is the venue for an annual Fourth of July rodeo that pulls in crowds by the thousands.
Waimea is also home to two important astronomical observatories based atop the Mauna Kea volcano - the W. M. Keck Observatory and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. Meanwhile, on the Kohala Coast, two luxury resorts - the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and is sister property, the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel - occupy prime oceanfront real estate.
The county's ongoing improvement of local roads has helped establish commuting routes to Hilo and Kailua-Kona. Also serving the growing transportation needs of Kamuela is the Waimea-Kohala Airport. It handles primarily charters and private planes, rather than regularly scheduled flights. Currently, only interisland passenger service is available from the Waimea-Kohala Airport, although WestJet Airlines of Canada recently expanded its seasonal service to Honolulu with onward service to the Big Island via Mokulele Airlines.
Kamuela is easy to reach via State Highway 19 northwest from Hilo or by taking State Route 190 northeast from Kailua-Kona. The two-stoplight town is home to three shopping centers, cultural facilities and numerous dining establishments, including fast food restaurants as well as gourmet-level establishments.
Read about other Waimea tourist attractions:
- Mauna Kea Beach Hotel - Kamuela, Big Island, Hawaii - Luxury Resort on the Kohala Coast
- Mauna Lani Resort Golf Club - Kamuela, Big Island, Hawaii - Championship Golf on the Kohala Coast
- The Fairmont Orchid - Waimea, Big Island, Hawaii - Upscale Resort on the Kohala Coast
- Parker Ranch - Kamuela, Big Island, Hawaii - The Largest Cattle Ranch in America
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