In 1881, an Australian plant collector and sugar cane plantation manager named William Purvis came to the Big Island of Hawai‘i and brought with him Hawai’i’s first macadamia nut tree. He planted it in Kapulena on the Hamakua Coast, and many believe the tree is still growing there today.
The macadamia was named for John Macadam, a scientist, philosopher, and good friend of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens director who first classified and described the tree 33 years earlier. A subtropical evergreen of the Proteaceae family, the macadamia tree can grow up to 40 feet tall, with dark green, holly-like leaves, first used as an ornamental.
Commercial production started in the 1920’s on the western side of Hawai‘i Island in Keauhou-Kona, and in the east, near Honoka‘a. By 1950 Honoka‘a Sugar Company was the largest mac nut producer in the Territory of Hawai‘i, with 450 acres of trees. For the next 20 years the industry “went nuts,” growing exponentially as farming and production methods evolved, until Hawai‘i Island was the world’s largest producer of what was marketed as “the Perfect Nut.”
Today, about 570 growers farm 17,000 acres of macadamia trees, producing 40 million pounds of in-shell nuts, valued at over $30 million. Additionally, nuts are imported from South Africa and Australia, who currently lead the world market, with Hawai‘i at #3. Here on the Island, most macadamia nut growers are small, independent orchards, and that’s where we come in!
Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company
Located in historic Kawaihae, near Pu‘ukohola Heiau in South Kohala, Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company grows, processes, and markets 100 percent Hawai‘i-grown macadamia nuts. This means that all macadamia nuts come from Hawai‘i Island farms, including from orchards owned and managed by Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company and other Olson Trust subsidiaries. Receiving mac nuts from about 200 island farms of varying size, Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company works to improve the wellbeing of Hawai‘i’s agricultural workers and their families while keeping Hawai‘i green. It currently employs about 60 people full-time and is about to generate nearly all of its electricity via solar and biomass energy. Inspired new products continue to emerge from the factory, with roasted macadamia nuts currently including the inimitably perfect Original Wasabi and SPAM flavor.
Since 2009, the Trust shares ownership of Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company with its former President, Richard Schnitzler. The company has garnered an Export Achievement Certificate from the United States Department of Agriculture and is proud to display its Seal of Quality in partnership with the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture, distinguishing that its product is wholly grown and made in Hawai’i. Please stop by the Visitors Center gift shop, open daily (except major holidays), for an array of mac nut and coffee samples for tasting. On weekdays, visitors may observe the cannery at work processing and packaging Hawai’i Islands’ finest macadamia nuts. (Due to reduced operation during COVID, we cannot guarantee that our cannery will be operating each weekday. Please call in advance to inquire 808-882-1690, if that is of specific interest.)