Business Monday: Big Island Ghost Tours takes guests on haunted — and historic — otherworldly adventures
October 30, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
A nearly full moon lit up the partly cloudy late night sky at Kailua Pier last Thursday as a gentle breeze rustled fronds of nearby palm trees and provided relief from the unusually muggy Kona air.
On the beach fronting Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, Zach Royer stood holding his “spirit box” mere feet away from where the resort’s namesake — the first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi — died in May 1819, before his bones were hidden.
It was the final stop on the Kona Haunted Pub Crawl offered by Royer’s business — Big Island Ghost Tours. And, the 38-year-old Royer definitely saved the best for last.
Behind the tour group, it was quiet at the historic Ahu‘ena Heiau, the religious temple that served the king inside his royal compound Kamakahonu that spanned Kailua Bay, as Royer called out to seemingly nothing in the dark.
His spirit box, a paranormal research tool that scans AM and FM radio frequencies to communicate with spirits by detecting electronic voice phenomenon, squelched most of the time. But one or two faint disembodied — and unintelligible — voices eventually came through.
At the same time, two electromagnetic field, or EMF, detectors held by guests Adam Kendrix and his new fiancée Taylor Perschka, both of Norfolk, Va., blinked different shades of green and yellow to let the group know something — or someone — paranormal was there.
The moment sent a thrilling chill down your spine and gave you chicken skin at the realization the group wasn’t alone.
“The more you look, the more you see,” Royer told his guests.
Royer and his team, which includes three other tour guides, have taken groups of 4 to 15 people on nightly tours of some of the most historic — and haunted — locations around the Big Island since re-launching in February 2021.
He originally opened Big Island Ghost Tours on Halloween 2015, but took an unplanned break after meeting his wife in 2017 during the Ironman World Championship and then moving to Europe for three years.
Royer opened his storefront location at Kona Inn Shopping Village on June 1, 2021.
Big Island Ghost Tours offers several options for guests to explore “Paranormal Paradise,” including multiple ghost tours to places in Kona including Kona Inn, Hulihe‘e Palace, Mokuaikaua Church, Kuamo‘o Burial Ground and Banyan Drive in Hilo. There also are treks that go to South Point, Keauhou, Maunakea, Mauna Loa and Kīlauea.
The tour company offers three vortex tours as well, delving into Hawai‘i’s healing vortex energy, and the world’s first Hawai‘i UFO tour.
Prices range from just $29 up to $399, depending on which experience guests choose.
Royer sees an uptick in business during the Halloween season when guests seek spooky ways to celebrate, but he said: “Our tours are totally unique and a thrill for the entire family year-round.”
The ghost tours are a mix of a traditional guided tour and paranormal investigation. It’s never known how much supernatural activity one will experience, but all tours showcase the legends and stories of ancient spirits, warriors and kings mixed with modern day sightings to give guests a better understanding of the culture and traditions of Hawai‘i.
The tour company is an extension of Royer’s paranormal investigation team the Kahuna Research Group, which he and a group of friends started in 2011 after he moved to the Big Island from Seattle, where he was doing website design, book publishing, yard care and maintenance through his company Zach of all Trades.
A son of one of his client’s living on the Big Island invited Royer here on vacation and the rest is history. Zach of all Trades has since evolved into ZOAT International, based on O‘ahu, and is the parent company of Big Island Ghost Tours.
He wasn’t particularly interested in the paranormal when he moved, but pouring over Hawaiian books and hearing stories about Night Marchers, a legendary group of warriors said to march in death in a haunted procession, and sightings of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, and other legends piqued his interest.
He also had several supernatural experiences of his own, including one outside the Ahu’ena Heiau when the gate, which was locked at the time, mysteriously swung open while he was walking away as if something was inviting him and the group he was with inside.
That was one of his first and most thrilling paranormal experiences on the island. On another night, he and a tour group actually saw — and captured on film — the Lady in White who haunts Hulihe‘e Palace, a former vacation home of Hawaiian royalty and now a museum.
He and tour guests have experienced objects moving by themselves and a multitude of other supernatural activity throughout the years.
After the research team was featured on the Travel Channel’s “Legends of Hawai‘i,” he started having fans request to go on investigations, so he started Big Island Ghost Tours to provide a safe and respectful way for people to experience the history and mystery of Kona and Hilo.
Most of his guests are visitors to the island, accounting for about 80% of all sales.
“I’ve had nothing but positive experiences since starting my paranormal team in 2011 and the tours in 2015,” Royer said.
He added that his tours have been vetted by priests of traditional Hawaiian religion called kahuna.
The tours are perfect for thrill-seekers, history buffs and anyone looking for a one-of-a-kind adventure.
On Thursday’s Kona Haunted Pub Crawl, Royer and two of his guides, Jenna Lacy and Eric Robertson, escorted their guests to several spots on Ali‘i Drive, including:
- Abandoned portions of the Kona Inn, a former hotel where a banyan tree grows on top of a supposed gravesite with ancient petroglyphs and a little girl was killed while swimming in a saltwater swimming pool.
- Mokuaikaua Church, where human remains were used in the construction of a rock wall and former sacrificial altar stones were used as church cornerstones.
- The site of the first Catholic service on the island, where the EMF detector Robertson was holding flashed brightly indicated something paranormal was around.
- And of course Ahu‘ena Heiau and the surrounding area, which includes Kailua Bay, where bodies used to be buried in the beach sand and left to eventually be washed out to sea. Royer told a story about how two human skeletons washed into the King Kamehameha hotel during the 2011 tsunami caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan.
Along the way, the group stopped to have a few spirits of their own at the Kona Inn Restaurant, Cheeky Tiki and Pancho and Lefty’s Cantina & Restaurant.
The group was regaled with ghostly stories at each of those locales, too. In one story, nighttime cleaners at Kona Inn Restaurant discovered smudges and the name of a former deceased co-worker on a mirror about two months ago. In another story, a fan at the front of Pancho and Lefty’s is always on whether the power is on or not; and there is a persistent, unexplained cold spot.
“There’s something about this place you can’t really put into words,” Royer said about downtown Kona. “This is a very spiritual place.”
Kendrix and Perschka have been on several haunted hikes in the past on the mainland and what really gets them into it is learning a lot about the history of each place.
“Tonight, we learned about Kamehameha and colonialism and people coming over and the first introduction of European ideology and culture. You’re not gonna get that in a lot of places,” Kendrix said. “Being able to do that, plus drinks, plus a little paranormal, like it’s the best of all the worlds put together.”
They thought the tour was the most personable and fun paranormal trek they’ve experienced and that Royer was the right man for the job.
“I’ve never met anybody here, but it felt like we’re all good friends within 5 minutes,” Kendrix said. “Just learning the history from him, that’s what counts. You can tell he knows what he’s talking about it. He cares about it. It means a lot to him. So, it makes me want to know more.”
For more information about Big Island Ghost Tours or to book a ghostly trip of your own, visit the company’s website or call 808-238-2264.