On a recent sojourn to Hawai‘i Island, on a whim I took the long drive to the cool, mauka town of Waimea, past green pasture and ranch style houses with a pinching cold belaying blue skies. Dominated by a 1910 residence, the historic home of Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske, Hawai‘i’s “First Lady of Ranching,” immediately intrigued me. When I finally made time for a tour, I learned it was imbued with more depth than I’d ever guessed driving past it on the main road.
The 110-acre property is one of the state’s earliest ranches. It came into Anna’s family in 1848 and remains home to 50 head of cattle. The expansive grounds, which include a grassy volcanic pu‘u, are so picturesque. White cows remaining from Anna’s herd dotted the apple-green pasture under a crisp sky. Delicate white flowers quietly bloomed in manicured gardens. A yellow cat curled around a post near the entrance. And then there were Anna’s white ranch house and outbuildings, frozen in time to reflect the eras of both Anna, who died in 1995 at age 95, and her parents.
“Anna wanted everything white,” said Kay Kammerzell, the dynamic former ranch director, after I nabbed a seat inside with a small group at Anna’s gleaming koa table, hewn from one complete wood slab. “She had a white house, white cats, and white cattle.” Her ornate rodeo suits by Nudie Cohn, who made Elvis’ gold lamé suit, screamed that this lady was the real deal. But as the one-hour tour unfolded, Anna’s eccentricities didn’t stand out as much as her unrelenting self-confidence and vigor.
A fifth-generation rancher, Anna learned the arts of riding, roping, and tending cattle from a young age, all while being raised as a proper lady of the time. Her accomplishments as a horsewoman, jockey, and cowgirl are undeniable, but her 56-year tenure as manager of her father’s ranch, thriving in a male-dominated business and lifestyle, impressed me even more.
“Anna was an innovative cross-breeder,” Kammerzell told us while detailing Anna’s era of management and referring to the white French breed of cows visible in the pasture. “She was the first rancher to bring Charolais cattle to Hawai‘i.” Anna was also one of the first women in Hawai‘i to earn her butcher’s license. She raced horses against men, and was an award-winning pā‘ū rider.
Each room in the house, from Anna’s childhood bedroom to her adult office, is as it was at the time of Anna’s death, with belongings that further reveal her individuality and story. I wanted to linger and gaze at prized koa furniture, including an 1800s cleft bench; her lilting Regina music box; turquoise Holoku ball gown; and even a lava rock balancing ball found on property of the sort used to train Hawaiian warriors. But I was especially mesmerized by the saddle room, heaving with old tack and saddles—11 of them vintage—ready to tell the story of countless rides, and the saddle-making workshop, next to the blacksmith shop in the historic barn, where I learned about the ka noho li‘o, the Hawaiian tree saddle.
“We want to revive this dying art,” said Kammerzell about crafting this now-rare saddle, originating from the early 1900s and made from wood covered with rawhide. It’s just one way she and the Anna Ranch staff are diligently realizing Anna’s dream of transforming her home into a center for reviving ranching arts and educating younger generations. I knew then that I’d return here with my nieces, who could learn from her remarkable example.
More than anything, what stood out as I left is how they’ve ensured Anna lives on in every corner, which means she won’t be forgotten by me or anyone else who takes the time to experience her life and legacy.
Visiting Anna Ranch and its grounds, gardens, self-guided Discovery Trail with 20 educational displays, and blacksmith shop is free, Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. One-hour guided tours ($10) of Anna’s home run are given at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. 65-1480 Kawaihae Road, Kamuela; (808) 885-4426; annaranch.org.
Just to the east on Highway 19, the equally picturesque Jacaranda Inn offers another window into ranching history with rooms in former Parker Ranch bunkhouses and a three-bedroom streamside ranch manager’s cottage built in 1897. (808) 557-5068; jacarandainn.com. Forty minutes away, a peaceful hideaway awaits at Hawaii Island Retreat, just outside Häwï. Indulge in their spa, private yoga and meditation studio, and hiking trails on 50 private coastal acres. (808) 889-6336; hawaiiislandretreat.com.
For a casual post-tour bite, park your taste buds at Parker Ranch Center’s locally-sourced, gourmet burger joint, Village Burger, run by former Mauna Lani executive chef Edwin Goto. (808) 885-7319; villageburgerwaimea.com. Mexican fare is augmented with several varieties of house-brewed craft beers at Big Island Brewhaus & Tako Taco Taqueria. (808) 887-1717; bigislandbrewhaus.com. Go upscale with global cuisine at nearby Red Water Café (formerly Fujimamas). (808) 885-9299; redwatercafe.com.