Zip into the future

Mike Atherton’s employees call him “Coach” for good reason. Since he bought Maui Tropical Plantation in 2006, the affable entrepreneur has been overseeing a comprehensive game plan to re-energize the 26-year-old attraction.

“We’ve painted the buildings, pruned the trees, spruced up the landscaping, basically given the grounds a complete makeover,” Atherton said. “I’m an outdoors, hands-on guy; I get as dirty as my gardeners do, and I love it!”

A native of Stockton, Calif., Atherton comes from a distinguished family. His maternal great-grandfather was Benjamin Holt, founder of the Caterpillar equipment company. His paternal great-grandfather, the Rev. Isaac Warren Atherton, was a missionary in the Hawi-North Kohala area of the Big Island from 1878 to 1880. His paternal grandfather, Warren Atherton, was an attorney, judge and politician who’s best known for authoring the G.I. Bill.

Atherton and two partners have owned and operated Jesus Mountain Coffee Co. in Nicaragua for 30 years. They acquired the Coffees of Hawaii plantation on Molokai in 2002, and Atherton came to Maui three years later, seeking land to start a similar venture there.

“At the time, C. Brewer & Co. was shutting down and selling all its assets, including Maui Tropical Plantation,” Atherton recalled. “The plantation was an agri-tourism attraction that had been open since 1984, so it had a lot of established growth. It also had a big parking lot, a store, a restaurant, dedicated employees and a good reputation. It was perfect; it just needed some tender loving care.”

Armed with enthusiasm and fresh ideas, Atherton and his hui bought the 60-acre plantation and the surrounding 1,940 acres. Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. grows sugar cane on 1,600 acres of the parcel. Horses, goats, sheep and 125 head of cattle roam on the remaining land.

Maui Tropical Plantation, the property’s centerpiece, is an Eden in bloom year-round with 40 varieties of fruits and flowers. Visitors enjoy close-up looks at the crops during a narrated 35-minute tram tour that includes a coconut-husking demonstration.

New at the plantation are five zip lines ranging from 300 to 900 feet in length. On two tours offered by Maui Zipline, participants glide over the gardens and orchards and marvel at spectacular views of Maui’s north and south shores, Haleakala Volcano, the West Maui Mountains and the Central Maui isthmus. The finale of the five-line Tropical Adventure tour takes them through a stand of palm trees, over a lagoon and into a treehouse overlooking the water.

Atherton hopes to add more zip lines to the course, “including the longest one in the world, going from the top of the West Maui Mountains all the way down to the plantation.” He also would like to introduce new cultural activities, including one revolving around taro.

“We’ll talk about taro’s importance in ancient times and how it’s cultivated,” Atherton said. “We’ll have a poi-pounding demonstration and sell fresh poi and taro in the store. I’m excited about all the possibilities that will bring people to the plantation to learn about and enjoy the beauty of Maui. I’m lucky; I have a pickup truck for an office and a job that keeps me in touch with nature every day. I’d love to share that experience with visitors, even if it’s just for a few hours.”

» Address: 1670 Honoapiilani Highway, Wailuku, Maui

» Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily

Tram tour: $14 for adults and $5 for children ages 3-12. Kamaaina pay
$5 and $2.50, respectively. You must take the tram tour to see the
orchards and flower fields. You don’t have to pay a fee to browse in the
gift shop, dine at the restaurant or stroll through the flower gardens.

» Phone: 244-7643 or toll-free 800-451-6805 from the other islands

» E-mail:

» Website:

Notes: Maui Tropical Plantation offers several sites for private
functions, including weddings, birthday parties and corporate meetings.
Call for details.

» Tours: Daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

» Cost:
$90 for the five-line, 90-minute Tropical Adventure; $60 for the
three-line, 45-minute Wiki Wiki tour. Kamaaina receive a 10 percent

» Call: 633-2464

» E-mail:

» Website:

» Notes: Participants must be at least 5 years old and weigh between 50 and 250 pounds. Wear sunscreen and closed-toe shoes.

Special public events are held at Maui Tropical Plantation. Here are some of the highlights.

Farmers’ Market

» When: Sundays and Mondays year-round, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

» Admission: Free

» Call: 446-4128

KPOA by Moonlight

Food vendors, a beer garden and a concert by Willie K

» When: Dec. 4, 6 p.m.

» Admission: $20 in advance, $25 at the gate (children 12 and under free)

» Call: 870-5171

KPOA by Moonlight

Food vendors, a beer garden and a concert by the Makaha Sons

» When: Feb. 26, 6 p.m.

» Admission: $20 in advance, $25 at the gate (children 12 and under are free)

» Call: 870-5171

Maui County Agriculture Festival

Grown-on-Maui farmers market, educational displays, cooking demonstrations, livestock exhibit and culinary contests. At Taste Education, meet local farmers, ranchers and chefs who are creating menus using local products. You can also enjoy samples from more than 12 restaurants, and watch chefs and farmers demonstrate ways to grow and prepare ingredients. Ticket information will be available after Jan. 1 at

» When: April 2, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

» Admission: Free

» Call: 243-2290

Maui Academy of Performing Arts

This birthday bash for William Shakespeare features a multicourse dinner and performances of scenes from the playwright’s most famous plays.

» When: April 16

» Call: 244-8760

» Admission: To be announced

Spam Jam

Hawaiian entertainment, Spam cooking contest, food booths, inflatable bouncers for the kids and more. A benefit for the Maui Food Bank.

» When: July 23, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

» Admission: Free

» Call: 870-5171

Maui Academy of Performing Arts

Following the success of “West Side Story” in 2008 and “South Pacific” in 2010, MAPA will again present a large-scale musical production under the stars. Dinner and drinks will be available for purchase, and seating will be “festival style” (i.e., bring blankets and beach chairs).

» When: Aug. 5-7, 12-14, 19-21, 7:30 p.m.

» Admission: Ticket prices to be announced

» Call: 244-8760

Zip into the future – Hawaii News –

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