The volcanic island chain of Hawaii is a paradise for holidaymakers, surfers and geologists. And for railway enthusiasts! A trip aboard the Kauai Plantation Railway on the Kauai island guarantees great narrow-gauge fun in the exotic paradise.
Kauai is the oldest and the fourth biggest of the 137 Hawaiian islands. It developed approx. six million years ago by volcanic activity. The huge lava colossus has become a tropical paradise with luxuriant vegetation. Therefore, Kauai is also fondly called garden island. In the course of time, the rocks were crushed by water, wind and the sun. A thin soil layer developed on the rocks. This soil is loose, permeable and very rich in minerals. Since minerals belong to the plants‘ food, they found ideal living conditions there.
At the beginning of the 19th century, missionaries introduced the cultivation of sugar canes. In the course of time, big plantations evolved. While the sweet grass species grew magnificently, the sugar planters encountered big transport problems. The sugar cane had to be transported on dirt roads from the fields to the mills for further processing and than to the harbours where it was shipped. In 1882, the first plantation had its small freight railway with a route length of almost five kilometres put into service. The small type 0-4-2 Fowler steam locomotive pulled up to ten fully laden wagons on a track gauge of two feet, which is approx. 61 centimetres. The result of the success was that more and more plantations had their own track system. However, those had a track width of 30 inch, which corresponds to about 76 centimetres.
The expansion and modernisation of the infrastructure on Kauai signalled the end of the sugar trains in 1959. Transport was shifted the track to the road. The Wilcox family, big landowners of several plantations on Kauai, cared very deeply about the history of railway traffic on the island. In this way, the Grove Farm Museum with four historic steam locomotives emerged. The gem in the collection is the steam locomotive Paulo built in 1887 by the Hohenzollern Works in Düsseldorf. It was the third steam locomotive in Hawaii, when it was delivered to a plantation for 4,000 US dollars in 1888.
The idea of making railway history on Kauai experienceable, gave birth to the Kauai Plantation Railway. In 2004, the construction works for the route on the Kilohana plantation with a track width of three feet, approximately 91 centimetres, was launched. Mostly original historic railway sleepers, nails and tracks were used. In January 2007, it was inaugurated as the first railway built in Hawaii in 100 years. Today, instead of sugar cane, fruit and vegetables the trains transport tourists across the four-kilometre, eightshape route. The fleet features six passenger carriages with a length of eleven metres each. The wagons featuring historic undercarriages from the 1941 are pulled by two diesel locomotives and two Baldwin 0-6-2 steam locomotives.
The trip with tour guide leads across the dense tropical rainforest, past plantation houses towards the large cultivation areas. Here, more than 50 exotic types of fruit and vegetables, as for example pineapples, papaya, mango and rambutan. The train stops halfway so that the passengers can encounter boars, sheep, goats, horses and donkeys. Feeding is highly welcome! Additionally, the passengers will get to know a lot of interesting facts about the history and the future of tropical farming in Hawaii.