Of the two roads to Kipahulu (and onwards to Hana), the lava-strewn, golden cattle country of the southern route does not inspire faith that you are headed toward durian country. It’s just so dry.
And yet so beautiful.
Really, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed the landscape of a drive as much as cruising along the narrow highway watching the glittering blue, blue, blue of the ocean beneath all that tawny scrub and rusty basalt.
The road still isn’t paved the whole way, and it’s narrow — only a single lane track for most of the way — and you have to share with roving herds of cattle.
Halfway there, we had to wait for about 15 minutes while some Hawaiian cowboys — called Paniolo here — herded their charges up the road and into a new pasture.
It was a nice reminder that Hawaii isn’t all lush, tropical fauna fit for an Avatar sequel; part of what makes the island chain so magical is that in just a few hours you can switch biomes a dozen times: from desert to coastal swamp to grasslands to rainforest to even icy tundras if you climb high enough on the volcanoes.
Because the road is narrow and devolves to gravel here and there, some car rental companies still recommend you avoid taking the Pi’ilani Highway, but I’m telling you: this is an amazing way to set the scene for your fruit tastings in Kipahalu.
It’s like magic: you’re cruising through a lava field, turn the corner around this rock, and suddenly you’re driving under huge mango trees. Signs point to waterfalls and pools and the temperature drops several degrees.
The transition is so abrupt — from rocky, volcanic oceanside to verdant lushness — I was blinking in surprise like Harry Potter on his first visit to Diagon Alley.
Laulima Farms Fruit Stand in Kipahulu
As you enter the very tiny town of Kipahulu, the first fruit destination you’ll see is the Laulima Farm Stand on the left.
We’d been in the car about an hour since our cattle stop, so it was the perfect spot to get some refreshment and stretch. Plus Jason says they have the best homegrown, fresh-brewed coffee on Maui, especially when mixed with coconut cream.
Personally I rarely say no to anything that involves coconut cream (in a stroke of lucky coincidence, coconut cream things tend to be vegan).
We parked in front of the jackfruit tree, and I felt even more like we had been transported into a jungle paradise from another planet.
We each ordered a coffee for $3 a cup. They were out of the coconut cream, but it was pleasant and light like a coffee-flavored tea. With coconut milk, it would have been like a dessert. Jason told me that coffee is typically served weak and sweet on the Islands, which made me suddenly more interested in tasting Hawaiian coffee.
I took a minute to browse through their 100% organic fruits grown on their 13-acre property. I was tempted by the coconuts, as well as the Williams bananas and papayas. I’m not sure I’d ever tasted a Williams banana.
But, Ono Farms was just a mile down the road. I had already booked my fruit tasting, so I decided to save my appetite for the farm that may at last be making my durian dreams come true in America.
I hoped they had just a little bit of durian to try, even if it wasn’t their season.
The Fruit Tasting at Ono Organic Farm
The fruit tasting takes place up a short but steep driveway made of rutted cement. Jason dropped me at the bottom of the drive, but others in rental cars made it up without incident.
It was 1 PM when I arrived, and the sun was really hot. It was a relief to duck into the shade of the open farm shade where my fellow fruit tasters were already waiting. The tour doesn’t usually start until 1:30, but since we were all present and eager we started early.
In that way it’s a pretty relaxed, flexible place. But it’s still a fully functional, serious commercial farm.
Our tasting guide for the afternoon was Maria, one of the farm’s Wwoofers who liked it there so much she was back for another stint.
WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) connects volunteers to farms who can provide food, shelter and education in return for labor. The Woofing program on Ono is famous for being one of the most rigorous and demanding in Hawaii, in both time and commitment. You need to stay at least three months and work 40 hours a week, like a full time job.
Fruit growing is serious business.
We start with a platter of papaya that Maria passes around with lime and passionfruit halves.
She doesn’t know the name of the papaya variety, but she says its a non-GMO variety. The farm is 50-acres, and without any other large farms nearby it seems likely this papaya isn’t even cross-pollinated with the contentious Hawaiian GMOs.
Maria encourages us to try combining the sweet, base papaya with the tart refreshing juice of either a lime or a passionfruit. The sour citrus tones really make the sweet papaya creaminess pop.
But contrarian me likes to eat things separately, so I enjoy my passionfruit half with a spoon.
Passionfruits are something I may never get enough of. Sweet, sour, and heavily floral, passionfruits taste like tropical paradise.
But I’ve had a lot of passionfruits, so I was excited to move on to something novel. Like four varieties of guava, side by side.
Guava is sort of a weed in Hawaii. It grows wild along the highways and byways but I hadn’t yet seen any sold at the farmers markets.
I realize that’s a problem, but I can’t imagine being too upset over guavas sprouting all over my yard. They smell amazing, like the best sweet perfume.
The four varieties we tasted were pink, white, pineapple, and strawberry.
My favorite was probably the pineapple.
When she brought out the chocolate sapote, I got really excited.
“It doesn’t taste like chocolate,” she warned us. “It kind of tastes like nothing.”
Maybe they’re mild, but Chocolate Sapotes are one of my favorite fruits. I love how creamy, supple and smooth a good chocolate sapote can be, with that density and richness that is very reminiscent of chocolate pudding, at least in texture.
A genius idea I may be blending chocolate sapote with durian. If you’ve tried this, leave me a comment below!
This is a list of all the fruits we tasted:
- Ice Cream Banana
- Apple Banana
- A GMO-free papaya (Maria didn’t know the name)
- Wi Apple (Spondias dulcis)
- Chocolate Sapote
- Star fruit
- White-fleshed guava
- Pink-fleshed guava
- Pineapple guava
- Strawberry guava
- Maui Gold Pineapple
That’s right. Durian.
Even though it wasn’t the season for durian, Ono Farm cleverly froze some of their durians from the September 2015 season to share with visiting fruit lovers.
None of the people in my group had ever tasted durian before, and after chatting with me about this blog, they were actually pretty excited. It was cool to see.
Maria brought out the white lumps and chopped them up into bite sized pieces. I took a piece slightly larger than bite size. How rude of me.
I asked permission to take a photo of the group’s first durian experience, then popped my own chunk in my mouth.
They sniffed hesitantly. They nibbled. They exclaimed. They unanimously liked it.
In one swoop, Ono Farm had just converted four new durian friends.
So I kept my big snobby mouth shut. I didn’t want to spoil the moment, even if to be perfectly honest the durian wasn’t very good. Even for frozen durian. It tasted like the durian had never ripened properly and was lacking most of its sweetness.
I guessed that maybe it was an end of season durian, or maybe they purposefully froze a poor quality durian rather than sell it fresh at the market.
But the moment was exciting. “Let’s go durian hunting!” someone suggested, so we spilled out into the brilliant sunlight to look for a durian tree.
The Durian Hunt/Farm Tour
The normal fruit tour doesn’t usually include a durian tree, but since I was there and the group was excited, Maria got permission to make a durian deviation.
On the way we swung by a Bilimbi tree that was just loaded with super sour, pickle-like fruit.
We saw bananas, and star apples, and then we wandered past the kitchen into the Wwoofer’s little tent village, and there was the durian tree.
Maria admitted she had climbed the durian tree that morning to get cell reception.
The trees were just beginning to flower, pushing out little nubby brown blooms along the larger branches.
If all goes well with the weather, Ono should start selling durians again in late April and May this year (2016).
About Ono Farm Durian
Chuck Boerner planted the dozen durian trees at Ono Farm 22 years ago, when he received the seeds from Cape Tribulation Australia.
He isn’t sure if the parent trees were originally from Thailand or Malaysia, and due to the great Australian durian mix-up, we may never know exactly what varieties they came from. He thinks maybe a descendent of Monthong.
Whatever they are, the durians are happy, healthy, and extremely productive. Last year they got 4,000 pounds of durian in one season. That’s a lot of durian.
They sell the durians both at the farm and at the Kahului Swap Meet on Saturdays, as well as online.
How to Order Durian from Ono Organic Farm
As of 2021, Ono Durians are available at Farmers Markets (when in season) around Maui. Look for them at:
- Tuesday in Wailea
- Wednesdays at Mokawao
- Fridays in Central Maui
- Saturday in Pukalani
Even in a low fruiting season, Ono Fruit Tasting managed to provide an impressively abundant diversity of fruit. My fellow fruit tourists were really blown away.
“This is just so cool. Where else can you taste all of this in one sitting?” one woman exclaimed.
The truth is, not very many places. Ono Farms is still pretty unique in the opportunity it gives people to taste a wide variety of fruits they may never have tasted before. It was exciting to watch my group get excited as they realized that the world is much larger and more diverse than they ever imagined.
And, they all liked the durian. 100%, first try.
That said, the selection was pretty basic for the tropics, and if you’ve already been lucky enough to delve into the delicious world of fruit, you may be disappointed that the volunteer tour guides couldn’t provide much information about what we were tasting. For example, our guide didn’t know the name of the variety of papaya she was serving us.
But for the price, at only $35 for two hours of relaxed eating and wandering, it’s a good value-for-money experience, especially when they have fresh durian to taste. You can call to find out when the durians are in season.
How to Go To Ono Farm
There is a sign, but it’s not obvious — just a sticker plastered on the side of a mailbox. It’s easy to miss, or at least worry you’re in the wrong spot, but if you’ve found the mailbox just turn up the cement driveway. The road turns into two narrow tracks wide enough for your tires, but rental cars have no trouble with it.
The Fruit Tasting Tours take place Monday to Friday at 1:30 PM. They harvest on Mondays and Thursdays, so for best diversity and freshness of fruits book those days. You can book online here.
Contact Chuck Boerner:
Tel: (808) 248-7779
Email: [email protected]