By Janice Strong
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts
I have to admit, I’m not much of a beach person. I sunburn too easily, the sand gets into everything…. You get it. So when I was planning my trip to Maui I was looking to get beyond the beach, lovely though it may be. I wanted to find out about the Hawaiian culture, to learn about the traditions, music, foods and customs – and I wanted to do it in style.
And what I discovered is that Maui’s beachfront resorts are the perfect place to enjoy those famous Maui sunsets and dive into the cultural side of Island living.
My base of operations for the first half of my stay was the Fairmont Kea Lani on the Wailea coast. A perfect choice it turns out, as the resort was recently voted as having the “Best Hawaiian Cultural Program” on Maui by the readers of the Maui News.
And with good reason. The resort offers complimentary cultural activities like The Hawaiian Canoe Experience that teaches guests Hawaiian traditions along with the basics of paddling, the history of the canoe and its importance to Hawaiian heritage; Hawaiian Cultural Tour that includes information about the many uses of native and non-native plants by the Hawaiian people, as well as Hawaii’s rich history; and ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Sessions where guests learn about the history of the Hawaiian language and how to pronounce words they see around the islands.
But it’s the Kea Lani’s full-time Cultural Coach, Jonelle Kamai, who leads the way. Along with developing the resort’s cultural programs, she also trains the hotel staff on Hawaiian history, language and culture. A culture that believes we need to be conscious and grateful of all the things around us; our health, our family and nature; a culture based on the fundamental principles of love, support, hospitality and giving without the expectation of receiving.
Down the Wailea coastal path sits the Grand Wailea, where you can find Hawaiian traditions in the Spa Grande, which has been voted one of the “Top 10 Spas In the United States” by Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure magazines. Its Terme Hydrotherapy Circuit, a series of five aromatic baths, uses salts created by a salt master, based on Kauai salts, and the product of on-property beehives finds its way into spa treatments. Spa Grande also offers a line of signature products that feature local ingredients.
Jonelle’s Top Hawaiian Cultural Experiences
• Bailey House Museum: a preserved mission home built in 1833 on the compound of the last ruling chief of Maui.
• Olowalu Petroglyphs Hike: hike into see rock art thought to represent a royal family, commoners, animals, canoes and tools.
• Noho’ana Farm: visit a working taro farm and learn all about this Hawaiian food staple.
• Maui Arts & Cultural Center: hosts performances and exhibitions by Hawaiian artists.
• Historical Lahaina Town: stroll the streets and learn about Maui’s cultural and whaling history.
• Pi’ilani Heiau in Hana: discover ancient rituals at the largest temple (heiau) in all of Polynesia.
• Ulalena: multi-media performance spectacle that explores relationships between people, nature and mythology.
• The Baldwin Sugar Museum: preserves and presents Maui’s sugar heritage.
After a few days I left South Maui and headed over to West Maui and settled into the Westin Maui Resort & Spa. My first night was an entertaining introduction to several of the cultures of Polynesia at the Wailele Polynesian Luau. Dinner and drinks are just the beginning of an evening of music and dance from Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa and New Zealand, that ended with Maui’s most extreme fire knife dance, performed by Chief Tavita, a third generation fire knife dancer and his troupe of five fire knife dancers. There is also a market featuring the wares of local crafters including tiki carving, henna tattoos and weaving.
Right next door to the Westin, Whalers Village Fine Shops & Restaurants offers 90 stores, three restaurants, a food court and a whole host of free shows and activities that introduce Hawaiian ways to even the most reluctant cultural explorer. Daily activities include coconut husking, hula lessons, lei-making classes, while Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays see a Polynesian and Tahitian dance show in the evening. www.whalersvillage.com
Down the road, The Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas shares Hawaiian culture through a program of henna tattoos, coconut leaf weaving, ukulele lessons, lei making, hula lessons, stellar navigation and mapping. Some activities are free and some have a cost. I shopped the Aloha Friday Craft Fair, held on a beachside lawn.
A good walk down the beach path from the Westin Maui Resort & Spa, the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa offers a chance to go star-gazing through its Tour of the Stars rooftop experience. Led by the resort’s Director of Astronomy, the evening features a look at the stars, planets, galaxies and nebulae that guided voyaging Polynesians to the Hawaiian Islands more than a thousand years ago. During the daytime there are hula demonstrations and lei-making classes.
A Whale Of A Tale
Winter is whale-watching season in Hawaii, particularly off the shores of Maui where they can often be seen from beach paths. The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is jointly managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the State of Hawaii and covers the shallow warm waters surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands.
Head to the Whalers Museum in Whalers Village Fine Shops & Restaurants to learn about the heyday of whaling in Lahaina (1825-1860). Examine the largest collection of harpoons, sea chests, sailor journals, and ship logs in Hawaii, plus photos and movies depicting the sailors’ dangerous lives. Special exhibits include 19th-century artifacts and a scale model of a whaling ship – one of the largest in the world. Take in one of the Whale Talks held Thursdays and Fridays.
Self-guided audio tours are available. Open daily.