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So Much More Behind the Jar

Big Island Bees, the largest honey producer in Hawai'i

Our beautiful Kona Coast offers a lot of activities for families. Yet, even the most enthusiastic keiki quickly gets tired of doing the same things. When our routine is going from the beach to the park, and then back to the beach, it becomes a challenge for us, the adults, to find new options to keep the younger ones engaged. Even more so, when we try weaving entertainment with a learning experience.

Though my family and I have been living on the Big Island for almost a decade now, it was a surprise to learn about the hidden adventure waiting for us in the Captain Cook area. Besides the preferred destinations of Two Steps Beach and the City of Refuge, there is one more thing I recommend you add to your trip. And the best of all, it is just a few minutes away from the Painted Church! 

Established in 1972, Big Island Bees is the largest honey producer in the state of Hawai’i, with more than two thousand hives around the Big Island. The Puett family has worked as beekeepers for four generations, always caring for both their honey and their bees. 

But though honey has been produced for decades on the Big Island, it was not until 2004 that the label Big Island Bees was born. Prior to that time, most of the company’s production was shipped to the mainland, where unfortunately the honey was diluted and mixed with other ingredients during packing. For this reason, Whendi Grad, wife of Garnett Puett, started their packing facility in Captain Cook to make sure their honey would remain completely pure. 

Then, to serve the community, she also opened the museum to allow people to learn about the process that occurs from flower to jar. In the beginning, it was just a place to read, but throughout the years she kept adding artifacts and unique art pieces for people to enjoy. 

“We receive families with young children, homeschoolers, the girl scouts, and even groups of kupuna. All ages can enjoy this,” Whendi says.

Upon arrival at Big Island Bees, you will be greeted with warm smiles from the staff team. Some of them have been with the company long enough that they can flex to any role. They can work in the packing area, or distribution warehouse, or guide your next tour. They are so knowledgeable and familiar with the process of harvesting honey, that any question you or your kids might have will be well received. 

“We’re pretty much like a bee hive. We all do what we have to do to help each other out and ensure the quality of our honey and the health of our bees is the best," Whendi Grad says.

The tour starts with a short educational video about the importance of bees, the history of the company, and how their hives are moved around the Big Island throughout the year. Do not worry, you will not get any spoilers here. You will have to go and experience the tour for yourself. 

Then, you have the opportunity of seeing the bees at work, going in and out of an outdoor live hive. There you learn about how the bees operate and the needed relationship between them and the beekeepers. The demonstration is all behind a safe screen area that separates the audience from all the action, as well as being stroller and wheelchair accessible. 

After that, the tour continues with a visit to the honey museum, where you will find incredible beeswax sculptures and historical pieces. But that is not all, you will also get a honey-tasting experience that will enchant the whole family. Macadamia nut blossom, wilelaiki blossom, and the unique to Hawai'i, ohia lehua blossom, are a few of the honey varieties you will try. I must say, keep your expectations high because you will not be disappointed!

Finally, as the perfect souvenir, the one-hour tour ends with the opportunity to handcraft your own candle out of beeswax. It is a rich experience that appeals to your senses of tact and smell, making it a perfect craft time for the young ones.

Once the activity is done, you are welcome to visit their gift shop and find some things to take home. Their handcrafted Hawaiian body care products are made with ingredients from their own hives. You can also find balms, soaps, and even beeswax play dough!

My family and I took the tour and can not be more thankful. It was a meaningful experience because my four-year-old son was actually terrified of bees. He had been stung a couple of months ago in our garden and since then, he would run away as soon as he spotted one nearby.

We asked him if he wanted to come with us and he said yes. So, though cautious at first and holding my wife’s hand at all times, he dared to follow the guided tour. Surprisingly, seeing how bees are not aggressive creatures by nature, he became more and more comfortable. Since then, his anxiety has decreased and instead of seeing bees as a threat, he now understands how much we owe them. He even explained to me a few days later how important bees are for us to have food. 

“My desire is for people to know about this place, so they can come and learn that there’s so much more behind the jar!” Whendi says.

If you want your ohana to know where the honey in your pantry came from, consider visiting Big Island Bees next time you are in Kealakekua. Its historical legacy awaits you.

If you want to arrange a private tour or event, contact them at 808-328-1315 or tours@bigislandbees.com

Learn more about tour hours and pricing at bigislandbees.com

“We receive families with young children, homeschoolers, the girl scouts, and even groups of kupuna. All ages can enjoy this.”

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