Mary Adamski

Hawaii’s Back yard

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

You may start out clean but dress to get dirty on an ATV tour.

Maui company offers
rare views on ATVs

Forget the vitamins, face creams and trendy clothes. If you want to feel younger, hop in an all-terrain vehicle and hit the back roads of Hawaii. In a few minutes you'll be filled with the energy and bravado of your youth, zipping over potholes and tree roots with the confidence of Hell's Angels.

Never mind that an equally enthusiastic rider in front of you is stirring up a big cloud of dust and half of it is landing on your helmet, goggles, clothes and face. When you go exploring in an ATV, expect to get dirty. That's half the fun!

You'll also be able to enjoy incredible views rarely seen by the public. Maui ATV Tours, for example, operates on privately owned Ulupalakua Ranch. Says partner Zig Graham, "The only way you can have access to this beautiful land is through us."

Ulupalakua Ranch stretches over 20,000 acres on the flanks of Haleakala Volcano. Its name means "breadfruit ripened on the back." Long ago, so the story goes, ulu was favored by a Hawaiian chief from the area. He would regularly send runners to Hana, some 40 miles away, to gather enough to satisfy his craving. When they returned, their precious load would be ripe.

In 1845, King Kamehameha III leased 2,000 acres of what we now know as Ulupalakua to L.L. Torbert for growing and processing sugar cane. Eleven years later, American sea captain James Makee acquired the Torbert plantation and dubbed it Rose Ranch, after his wife Catherine's favorite flower.

The ranch quickly became a showplace on Maui, famed not only for its success with agriculture, but as a center of hospitality. King Kalakaua was a frequent guest.

Rose Ranch processed its last sugar crop in 1883 and turned its attention to cattle. Over the next 80 years, the property changed hands several times. In 1963 it was purchased by C. Pardee Erdman, who named it Ulupalakua Ranch and began diversifying into other ventures, including raising elk. The ranch currently supplies elk meat, considered a gourmet specialty item, to its store in Ulupalakua, as well as upscale Maui restaurants.

Riders have access to some of Ulupalakua Ranch's 20,000 acres that few have the opportunity to see.

Maui ATV's two-hour expedition stops at the elks' large breeding pasture. From there it ascends to the cool 3,000-foot elevation where a spectacular panorama of South Maui unfolds, including Molokini, Kahoolawe, Wailea, Kihei, Maalaea, the West Maui Mountains and, on a clear day, the island of Lanai. You also may be treated to close-up encounters with cattle, deer, pigs and a variety of wild fowl. Many tour-goers come from cities and suburbs, so the trip is a real eye-opener, providing a fascinating introduction to the many wonders that thrive in the wilderness.

ACCORDING TO Graham, Maui ATV's oldest participant to date was an 82-year-old man. She recalls he had a great time and handled his bike like a pro.

"Our ATVs are stable and user-friendly," she says. "No prior experience is required. They're automatic; you don't have to use a clutch or manually shift. Plus, they have very comfortable full-length floorboards instead of just a foot peg."

New in Maui ATV's stable is a bright yellow Pinzgauer, a nine-passenger off-road vehicle made in Austria to transport army troops. Its canvas sides roll up, allowing for unobstructed views. On a Pinzgauer tour, you can climb to the 5,200-foot elevation or descend to the coastline, where you can wander through tide pools, walk an ancient footpath known as the King's Trail, and observe green sea turtles and -- if you're lucky -- endangered monk seals on the beach.

Your ATV may lead you to a coastline where green sea turtles and seals can be viewed. This guy was spotted on Tuesday.

"Companies on the mainland have been using Pinzgauers for about two years," Graham notes. "We started our Pinzgauer tours to accommodate large families, people who exceed the 300-pound ATV weight limit, and others who don't want to drive an ATV but who want to go on our tour."

Children as young as 5 are welcome aboard the Pinzgauer. "It's our 'Extreme Machine,'" says Graham. "It can go places even ATVs can't go, like over large rocks and up almost vertical inclines. The new 'Terminator III' movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger is using three Pinzgauers. When we bought ours, the company was delivering three for the filming of that movie."

Graham and her partner, Scott Mercier, first thought about launching Maui ATV Tours two years ago. "It took time to find the perfect location and get the legalities worked out," she says. "We started Oct. 1, 2001, and are looking forward to our first anniversary."

She credits the company's success to the guides, all of whom "are experienced riders and have a lot of knowledge about Maui and Ulupalakua Ranch."

"We love to show people Maui from a different perspective," she says. "The island is not just coconuts and bikinis!"

Maui ATV Tour

Place: On Route 37 next to Tedeschi Vineyards in Ulupalakua
Time: Tour 2 to 4 p.m. daily; meet 30 minutes before tour's departure
Cost: $90 per adult, $75 for children ages 7 to 15. Includes instruction, practice session, beverages and snacks. A four-hour ATV tour, 3 1/2-hour Pinzgauer tour and private tours also are available. Call for rates.
Restrictions: Riders must be at least 16 to operate their own ATV. Minimum weight is 100 pounds; maximum is 300 pounds. Pregnant women and people with heart, neck or back problems are not allowed to participate. Long pants and closed-toe shoes are required; sunscreen, a long-sleeve shirt and a light jacket are recommended. If you don't want to soil your clothes, you can rent them from Maui ATV Tours for $5. A three-passenger ATV driven by a guide is available to transport children at least 7 years old and adults who want to go on the tour but cannot or do not want to operate their own ATV. Routes vary, depending on weather conditions.
Call: 878-2889
Web site:

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer
and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.

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