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Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory

July 23, 2014

There are two things that I remember vividly about my first trip to the Big Island of Hawaii over a decade ago: visiting Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and seeing the Kilauea crater and walking through Thurston Lava Tube and visiting the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory.  I remember driving through the macadamia nut farm and the thousands and thousands of trees that were planted and seeing the blow up macadamia nut mascot out front of the visitor’s center.  Over the years, I’ve seen the photo that my dad took of me standing next to the blow up macadamia nut  mascot and it’s always made me smile, bringing back good memories of that trip to Hawaii.  In planning out our day on the Big Island with our rental car, I knew that we’d have to make a return trip to the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory so that I could re-live my memories and so that I could show my husband the visitor’s center.

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As my parents had been to the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory twice since the time I was last there in 2003, I knew that things had changed from what my memories were.  First off, in 2004, Mauna Loa Macadamia was purchased by Hershey Foods Corp. to add to their portfolio of consumer products.  As I’ve visited Hershey’s Chocolate World in Hershey, PA before, I knew that even though Mauna Loa was being operated as an independent company, I’d see some of the Hershey marketing and influence at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory, so I was prepared for it to be a bit more “touristy” than it already was.  And as you drive through 3 miles of macadamia nut orchards to get to the visitor’s center, you definitely see the Hershey influence.  When I first visited, I remember the road being one lane in each direction, and while paved, still gave you the feeling of driving into some far off place to visit the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  Today, the 3 mile drive is on nicely paved and maintained, 2 lanes in each direction, road with informative signs along the drive that give you little tidbits of information on the process of growing and cultivating macadamia nuts.  Also, when you reach the end of the road, not only can you go into the visitor’s center, but you can also take a self-guided walk through the attached production center to learn a little bit more about the production of the various macadamia nut treats that are produced here and then distributed worldwide.

Inside the visitor’s center you can sample a multitude of different macadamia nut products, including certain products that are only sold here at the visitor’s center.  While Mauna Loa’s chocolate covered macadamia nuts are quite popular, their flavor-roasted varieties still remain a huge hit.  With flavors such as dry roasted, wasabi & teriyaki, Maui onion & garlic, honey roasted, and Kona coffee glaze just to name a few, this is a great place to grab treats for friends and family back home.  They even had a chocolate covered macadamia nut that was actually cookies & cream!  Out back of the visitor’s center are the beautifully manicured gardens of Mauna Loa which you can explore on a self-guided nature walk.  There’s also an outdoor snack bar where you can quench your thirst and your hunger from a day spent wandering around Hilo, or at least time spent wandering around the visitor’s center.

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As we’d already been on what seemed like a food tour for the day, we weren’t interested in any of the sandwiches, or hot dogs the snack bar offered.  However, a little refreshment in the form of ice cream would go down nice and smooth on this warm, tropical Hawaiian day.  Of course, being Mauna Loa, and being in Hawaii, the ice cream that was offered wasn’t your normal chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, butter pecan, etc.  But rather, a limited range of various Mauna Loa and Hawaiian inspired flavors such as vanilla macadamia, chocolate macadamia, coconut macadamia, mango and Kona coffee.

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My husband, who is a fan of coconut-flavored anything opted for a single scoop of the coconut macadamia ice cream.  Sitting at the outdoor snack bar, staring out at the beautiful gardens eating coconut macadamia nut ice cream, was a great way to end our food journey for the day.  You can’t tell by looking at this picture, but this ice cream was stuffed full of macadamia nuts.  You’d think that perhaps there would be a few token bits of macadamia nuts in one scoop of ice cream, but this ice cream literally had macadamia nuts in every single spoonful.  My husband enjoyed his ice cream enough that he proudly announced, upon finishing his scoop before I finished mine, “I win!”  Creamy, and coconut-y, this scoop of ice cream incorporates all of the tropical flavors of Hawaii.

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Of course, my chocolate sweet tooth dictated that I order a scoop of the chocolate macadamia nut ice cream.  Perhaps being on vacation makes you do things you would normally not do.  I am not a lover of nuts at all, and while I can stand peanuts, I almost never really eat any kind of nut, or try to minimize the eating of nuts.  But yet, here I am in Hawaii, land of the macadamia nut, and voluntarily ordering this chocolate macadamia nut ice cream is not the first time on this trip I find myself ordering something with macadamia nuts in it.  In fact, I even bought a bag of the cookies & cream macadamia nuts from the store.  But, I guess, as they say, when in Rome… Honestly, if I had to eat a nut, macadamia nuts aren’t half bad.  Again, surprisingly, this ice cream had tons and tons of macadamia nuts in it and strangely, it didn’t turn me off.

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A sweet treat to end our food journey around the Big Island of Hawaii.  Ok, so the day wasn’t designed to be a food journey, it was supposed to be a scenic tour around the north and eastern side of the island, and that’s exactly what it was, with a little bit of a food tour sprinkled in with it!  Having a cool, sweet, and delicious ice cream treat at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory while sitting outside looking out at their beautiful manicured garden was the perfect way to put an exclamation point on the day.  While the food tour of the day may be over, that doesn’t mean that the adventure of touring the island for the day was over as we had 2 more adventures ahead of us – visiting the lava-covered town of Kalapana and driving the gorgeous, and yet dangerous, Saddle Road from Hilo back to Kona.

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