Native Intelligence: O‘ahu

View from the Top

Story by Eve Glover. Photo by Dana Edmunds.

Perched high on a mountain above Mānoa valley, on the edge of a rainforest in Pu‘u ‘Ualaka‘a Wayside Park, the Nutridge Estate is surrounded by twenty-two acres of fruit and nut trees and a sweet potato garden. The estate feels secluded even though it’s only fifteen minutes from Waikīkī and downtown Honolulu. And though most aren’t aware of it, the Nutridge Estate was the first macadamia plantation in Hawai‘i.

When businessman Ernest Van Tassel sampled mac nuts at a party in 1916, they left an impression on him—so much so that in 1922 he leased land and hired workers to plant the Australian trees for what would become the Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Co. Macadamias from the Nutridge Estate were the first mac nuts to be dipped in chocolate, thanks to the Hawaiian Host candy company’s novel idea. (Little-known confectionery fact: The chocolate-covered mac nut debuted in 1927, almost thirty years before the peanut M&M.) At its peak the plantation had some nine thousand trees and produced eight thousand tons of nuts annually. Luminaries like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Clark Gable and Frank Sinatra all took in the panoramic views of O‘ahu’s south shore from the charming Nutridge House, designed by architect Hart Wood. Over the years, the house fell into disrepair and the jungle reclaimed the mac nut groves until Rick Ralston, who founded local clothing retailer Crazy Shirts and who had been caretaking the property since the 1980s, restored it.

Today this hidden gem is open to the public as a premier venue for weddings and other events. But you don’t have to be attending a wedding to see it: A lū‘au and tour, Experience Nutridge, offers guests the opportunity to chop down bananas, make soursop smoothies and dig an imu (earth oven) for cooking pūlehu chicken with sweet potatoes wrapped in ti leaf. Homemade desserts feature mac nuts from the estate’s original trees. Nutridge also offers traditional Hawaiian games; guests can try their hand at throwing spears and competing at ‘ulu maika, a lawn bowling game. More relaxing activities include weaving baskets with ti and coconut husks and decorating kapa (bark cloth).