Sunday | November 19, 2017
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‘Ghost Tours’ feature island’s spookiest legends

It’s fitting Zach Royer first started to build his business on Halloween two years ago. What day could be better for kick-starting Big Island Ghost Tours?

Tapping into the supernatural side of Hawaii to share spooky tales and mysteries seemed like a no-brainer given the islands’ countless legends, and Royer remembers being surprised nobody had done it yet on the Big Island.

“This place is alive with spirits,” said ghost tour guide Barry Gitelson. “You hear so many stories; it just made me want to learn more.”

Tours take place in Hilo and Kona, with Banyan Drive and Alii Drive, respectively, the focal points.

“We’re out at night, and it’s kind of a different scene,” Royer said.

The tours were a natural offshoot of paranormal research work he’d been doing with friends since moving to Hawaii — “taking it to the next level,” Royer said.

“We were really interested in all the ghost stories and the spooky legends that you hear,” he said. “Night Marchers and sightings of Pele and Saddle Road … Waipio Valley.”

The friends pored over Hawaiiana books at the library, soaking up the stories, and started the Kahuna Research Group. In January, the group and its investigations were featured on the Travel Channel’s “Legends of Hawaii” program.

It was after Royer heard from people interested in joining the investigations he decided to start the tours. He partnered with Oahu Ghost Tours in his first year, but ultimately got a separate business license and struck out on his own.

“I knew the spots on Alii Drive that have had (paranormal) activity,” Royer said. “That’s when I decided to do the walking tour.”

Though the basic outline of the tours are the same, there’s no guarantee of what sort of activity might present itself while exploring. (Participants on the Kona tour receive a free copy of Royer’s “Kona Haunted Hele Guidebook” to help set the scene.)

“I usually start with the history, and then we follow up with the mystery,” Royer said.

“We’ve had some interesting sightings and occurrences on the tour — gates opening, owls flying around, circling us,” he said. “Just these little signs.”

Fellow tour guide Grace Vallez is a certified paranormal investigator who also is part of the Kahuna Research Group.

“When we first arrived here in Hawaii, a lot of our friends always talked about ghost stories and things like that,” she said. She brings her equipment along on tours to give participants “a little bit more extra knowledge.”

“I get really excited when we get hits on our instruments,” Vallez said. “When something goes on, or if they feel something or they feel coldness … I think it’s a surprise. It’s something that’s never happened to them before.”

“I know some people don’t believe it, and some people do believe it,” she said. “We’ve had those times (with couples on the tour), but for the most part, either the partner is a skeptic and the other had an experience themselves. It’s out of your own experience, what’s happening to you.”

“It just happens,” Gitelson said. “You know how it is, when you’re walking at night and you just get a feeling about a pile of rocks. That’s happened to me so many times. Who knows if those piles are old burial sites?”

The ghost tours themselves mesh the guides’ historical knowledge of the locations with unanswered questions.

“Everyone enjoys listening to the stories,” Royer said. “Visitors and even people who live here. I’ve had residents say they’ve learned things.”

“Just being able to teach about this history — to keep the history alive, you have to talk about it and share it,” he said. Otherwise, he continued, “it’s in a book somewhere, on a shelf.”

For more information about Big Island Ghost Tours, visit

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