Experience Maui - Fodor's Maui (2016)

Fodor's Maui (2016)

Experience Maui

Main Table of Contents

What’s Where

Maui & Hawaii Today

Maui Planner

Maui Top Attractions

When to Go to Maui

Maui’s Top Beaches

The History of Hawaii

The Hawaiian Islands

Hawaiian People and Their Culture

Top 10 Hawaiian Foods to Try

Sustainability in Hawaii

Traditional Hawaiian Souvenirs

Maui with Kids

Weddings and Honeymoons

Cruising the Hawaiian Islands

What’s Where

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West Maui. This sunny leeward area with excellent beaches is ringed by upscale resorts and condominiums in areas such as Kaanapali and, farther north, Kapalua. Also on the coast is the busy, tourist-oriented town of Lahaina, a former whaling center with plenty of shops and good restaurants that’s a base for snorkel and other tours.

South Shore. The leeward side of Maui’s eastern half is what most people mean when they say “South Shore.” This popular area is sunny and warm year-round; Kihei, a fast-growing town, and Wailea, a luxurious resort area with some outstanding hotels, are here. Notable beaches include Makena, mostly undeveloped and spectacular, and Wailea, fronting the resorts.

Central Maui. Between Maui’s two mountain areas is Central Maui, home to the county seat of Wailuku and the commercial center of Kahului. Kahului Airport, Maui’s main terminal, is here, along with convenient shopping malls and a good selection of reasonably priced restaurants. In addition, local museums such as the Bailey House provide good background on Maui’s history.

Upcountry. Island residents have a name they use affectionately to describe the regions climbing up the slope of Haleakala Crater: Upcountry. A visit to Haleakala National Park to see the volcanic crater is a must-do. The town of Makawao retains its country charm but also has interesting shopping and dining. Upcountry is a great place for agricultural tours, too—you can visit a lavender farm or a winery, for example.

North Shore. The North Shore has no large resorts, just plenty of picturesque, laid-back small towns like Paia and Haiku—and great windsurfing action at Hookipa Beach. Baldwin Beach is a local favorite just off the highway. The towns are good spots for a break if you’re heading out along the Road to Hana. Inland, this part of Maui is lush and wild.

Road to Hana. The island’s windward northeastern side is largely one great rain forest, traversed by the stunning Road to Hana. Exploring this iconic, winding road with its dramatic coastal views can be the highlight of a trip. The tiny town of Hana preserves the slow pace of the past—if you want to escape from it all, consider an overnight stay here.

When you experience Maui firsthand, it’s hard not to gush about the long, perfect beaches, dramatic cliffs, greener-than-green rain forests, and the fragrance of plumeria that hangs over it all. Add to that the amazing marine life and the culture and history of the Hawaiian people, and it’s easy to see why Maui is so popular. Today the threat of overdevelopment is a concern, which may help protect this special place. The island has very different areas, from the resorts of sunny West Maui and the South Shore to the funky small towns of the North Shore, the ranches and farms of Upcountry, and the remote village of Hana in unspoiled East Maui. TIP Directions on the island are often given as mauka (toward the mountains) and makai (toward the ocean).

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Maui & Hawaii Today

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Hawaiian culture and tradition here have experienced a renaissance over the last few decades. There’s a real effort to revive traditions and to respect history as the Islands go through major changes. New developments often have a Hawaiian cultural expert on staff to ensure cultural sensitivity and to educate newcomers.

Nonetheless, development remains a huge issue for all Islanders—land prices are still skyrocketing, putting many areas out of reach for locals. Traffic is becoming a problem on roads that were not designed to accommodate all the new drivers, and the Islands’ limited natural resources are being seriously tapped. The government, although sluggish to respond at first, is trying to make development in Hawaii as sustainable as possible.


Although sustainability is an effective buzzword and authentic direction for the Islands’ dining establishments, 90% of Hawaii’s food and energy is imported.

Most of the land was used for monocropping of pineapple or sugarcane, both of which have all but vanished. Sugarcane is now produced only on Maui, while pineapple production has dropped precipitously. Dole, once the largest pineapple company in Hawaii, closed its plants in 1991, and after 90 years, Del Monte stopped pineapple production in 2008. The next year, Maui Land and Pineapple Company also ceased its Maui Gold pineapple operation, although in early 2010 a group of executives took over one-third of the land and created a new company. The low costs of labor and transportation from Latin American and Southeast Asian pineapple producers are factors contributing to the industry’s demise in Hawaii. But the Islands have perfected a sugar pineapple that is way less acidic than the usual ones. Although the imports have proved daunting, they have also set the stage for great agricultural change to be explored.


Emulating how the Hawaiian ancestors lived and returning to their simple ways of growing and sharing a variety of foods have become statewide initiatives. Hawaii has the natural conditions and talent to produce far more diversity in agriculture than it currently does.

The seed of this movement thrives through various farmers’ markets and partnerships between restaurants and local farmers. Localized efforts such as the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation are collectively aiding the organic and sustainable agricultural renaissance. From home-cooked meals to casual plate lunches to fine-dining cuisine, these sustainable trailblazers enrich the culinary tapestry of Hawaii and uplift the Islands’ overall quality of life.


The $10 billion tourism industry represents a third of Hawaii’s state income. Naturally, this dependency caused economic hardship when the financial meltdown of recent years affected tourists’ ability to visit and spend. But the tourism industry has bounced back strong once again.

One way the industry has changed has been to adopt more eco-conscious practices, as many Hawaii residents feel that development shouldn’t happen without regard for impact to local communities and their natural environment.

Belief that an industry based on the Hawaiians’ aloha should protect, promote, and empower local culture and provide more entrepreneurial opportunities for local people has become more important to tourism businesses. More companies are incorporating authentic Hawaiiana in their programs and aim not only to provide a commercially viable tour but also to ensure that the visitor leaves feeling connected to his or her host.

The concept of kuleana , a word for both privilege and responsibility, is upheld. Having the privilege to live in such a sublime place comes with the responsibility to protect it.


Political issues of sovereignty continue to divide Native Hawaiians, who have formed myriad organizations, each operating with a separate agenda and lacking one collectively defined goal. Ranging from achieving complete independence to solidifying a nation within a nation, existing sovereignty models remain fractured and their future unresolved.

The introduction of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009 attempts to set up a legal framework in which Native Hawaiians can attain federal recognition and coexist as a self-governed entity. Also known as the Akaka Bill after former Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, this bill has been presented before Congress and is still pending.


After the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893, a process of Americanization began. Traditions were duly silenced in the name of citizenship. Teaching the Hawaiian language was banned from schools, and children were distanced from their local customs.

But Hawaiians are resilient people, and with the rise of the civil rights movement they began to reflect on their own national identity, bringing an astonishing renaissance of the Hawaiian culture to fruition.

The people rediscovered language, hula, chanting, and even the traditional Polynesian arts of canoe building and wayfinding (navigation by the stars without use of instruments). This cultural resurrection is now firmly established in today’s Hawaiian culture, with a palpable pride that exudes from Hawaiians young and old.

The election of President Barack Obama increased Hawaiian pride. The president’s strong connection and commitment to Hawaiian values of diversity, spirituality, family, and conservation have restored confidence that Hawaii can inspire a more peaceful, tolerant, and environmentally conscious world.


The Hawaiian Islands have inspired artistic expression from the time they were first inhabited. From ancient hula to digital filmmaking, the arts are alive and well. Honolulu is the artistic hub of the state. The Honolulu Museum of Art has an impressive permanent collection and hosts major exhibitions throughout the year. It comprises four locations including the spectacular Shangri La, the former home of heiress Doris Duke, filled with Islamic treasures. The Hawaii Theater in Honolulu—a restored art deco palace—stages theatrical productions, concerts, and films. The Maui Arts & Cultural Center (MACC) has a 1,200-seat theater for concerts, theatrical productions, and film, as well as an amphitheater and art gallery. Numerous art galleries thrive on the Islands.

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Maui Planner

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Most visitors arrive at Kahului Airport in Central Maui. A rental car is the best way to get from the airport to your destination. The major car-rental companies have desks at the airport and can provide a map and directions to your hotel. TIP Flights from the mainland tend to arrive around the same time, leading to long lines at car-rental windows. If possible, send one person to pick up the car while the others wait for the baggage.


The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) has general and vacation-planning information for Maui and all the Islands, and offers a free official vacation planner. The Maui Visitors & Convention Bureau website includes information on accommodations, sights, events, and itineraries.

Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.
| 2270 Kalakaua Ave., Suite 801 | Honolulu | 800/464-2924 | www.gohawaii.com .


If you want to travel around on your own schedule, a rental car is a must on Maui. It’s also one of your biggest trip expenses, especially given the price of gasoline—higher on Maui than on Oahu or the mainland. If you need to ask for directions, try your best to pronounce the multivowel road names. Locals don’t use (or know) highway route numbers and will respond with looks as blank as yours. Also, they will give you directions by the time it takes to get somewhere rather than by the mileage.


Driving from one point on Maui to another can take longer than the mileage indicates. It’s 52 miles from Kahului Airport to Hana, but the drive will take you about three hours if you stop to smell the flowers, which you certainly should do. As for driving to Haleakala, the 38-mile drive from sea level to the summit will take about two hours. The roads are narrow and winding; you must travel slowly. Kahului is the transportation hub—the main airport and largest harbor are here. Traffic on Maui’s roads can be heavy, especially from 6 am-8:30 am and 3:30 pm-6:30 pm. Here are average driving times.


If you have a week or more on Maui, you may want to set aside a day or two for a trip to Molokai or Lanai. Tour operators such as Trilogy offer day-trip packages to Lanai, which include snorkeling and a van tour of the island. Ferries are available to both islands and have room for your golf clubs and mountain bike. (The Molokai channel can be rough, so avoid ferry travel on a blustery day.)

If you prefer to travel to Molokai or Lanai by air, and you’re not averse to flying on smaller prop planes, book with Mokulele Airlines for flights to Hana, Maui, and Molokai, or with Island Air for flights to Lanai (via Honolulu).


Hawaii is a melting pot of cultures, and nowhere is this more apparent than in its cuisines. From luau and plate lunches to sushi and teriyaki steak, there’s no shortage of interesting flavors and presentations. Restaurant atmosphere varies, too, from casual local spots to elegantly decorated resort restaurants.

Whether you’re looking for a quick snack or a multicourse meal, we can help you find the best eating experiences the island has to offer. Jump in and enjoy!

Choosing lodging is a tough decision, but fret not: our expert writers and editors have done most of the legwork.

To help narrow your choices, consider what type of property you’d like to stay at (big resort, quiet bed-and-breakfast, or condo rental) and what type of island climate you’re looking for (beachfront strand or remote rain forest). We give you all the details you need to book a place that suits your style.

TIP Reserve your room well in advance, and ask about discounts and packages. Hotel websites often have Internet-only deals.


There are ways to travel to paradise even on a budget.

Accommodations: No matter what the season, ask about deals—a free night after three or four or five paid nights, kids stay free, meal credits. Condos are less expensive and bigger than hotel rooms and are perfect for families or groups of friends. If you pass up the ocean view, you’ll save money. In September, October, and May, many hotels offer reduced rates.

Food: Eat a big breakfast and skip lunch. You’ll probably be sightseeing or at the beach anyway. It’s easy to get by with a smoothie or fruit and yogurt. If you eat lunch out, go to that high-end restaurant. Lunch will be less expensive. Early evening “happy hour” deals are a great way to save money while sampling the chef’s specialties. If you’re staying in a condo, eat in or pack a picnic when you can.

Activities: Pick up free publications at the airport and at racks all over the island; many of them are filled with money-saving coupons. Activity desks—there are dozens around Kaanapali and Wailea as well as in Lahaina and Kihei—are good places to check on discounts if you’re not booking in advance. However, advance booking will ensure you get the activity you want; sometimes you can save 10% or more if you book on outfitters’ websites.

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Maui Top Attractions

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Take time to trek down one of the trails into Haleakala National Park’s massive bowl and see proof, at this dormant volcano, of how powerful the earth’s exhalations can be. The cinder cones have beautiful swirls of subtle colors that can sparkle in the sunlight. You won’t see a landscape like this anywhere, outside of visiting the moon. The barren terrain is deceptive, however—many of the world’s rarest plants, birds, and insects live here.


Spectacular views of waterfalls, sheer cliffs, lush forests, and the sparkling ocean are part of the pleasure of the twisting drive along the North Shore to tiny, timeless Hana in East Maui. The journey is the destination, but once you arrive, kick back and enjoy. Wave to pedestrians, “talk story” with locals in line at the Hasegawa store, and explore the multicolor beaches. An overnight stay here allows for the most relaxed experience, though; a day trip is a big push. You may decide to drive just part of the way as an alternative.


Snorkeling is a must, either on your own with a buddy or on a snorkel cruise. Maui has snorkel boats of all sizes to take you to spots such as the Molokini Crater. Wherever you duck under, you’ll be inducted into a mesmerizing world underwater. Slow down and keep your eyes open; even fish dressed in camouflage can be spotted when they snatch at food passing by. Some great spots to try right near the shore are Honolua Bay and Kekaa (known as Black Rock, it’s in front of the Sheraton Maui) in West Maui; there are also good spots on the rocky fringes of Wailea’s beaches on the South Shore.


This South Shore beauty is the sand dreams are made of: deep, golden, and pillowy. Don’t be discouraged by the crammed parking lots; there’s more than enough room. Makena (Oneloa in Hawaiian) is still relatively wild. There are no hotels, minimarts, or public restrooms nearby—instead there’s crystal-clear water, the occasional pod of dolphins, and drop-dead-gorgeous scenery (including the sunbathers). You can grab a fish taco and a drink at a nearby truck for a tasty lunch.


Your first taste of ripe guava or mango is something to remember. Delicious lychee, mangoes, star fruit, bananas, passion fruit, pineapple, and papaya can be bought on the side of the road with the change in your pocket. Go on, let the juice run down your chin. Farmers’ markets are another place to seek out taste treats—just be sure to ask if what you crave is indeed local.


Indulge your inner rock star at the posh, pampering resorts and spas around the island. Even if you don’t stay the night, you can enjoy the opulent gardens, restaurants, art collections, and perfectly cordial staff. For pure relaxation, book a spa treatment from the extensive menus.


Being a shut-in isn’t so bad at a secluded B&B. It’s a sure way to get a taste of what it’s like to live in paradise: trees hanging with ripe fruit outside your door, late-night tropical rainstorms, a wild chicken or two. Rather than blasting the air-conditioning in a hotel room, relax with the windows open in a plantation house designed to capture sea breezes.


Maui is the cradle for hundreds of humpback whales that return every year from late November through April to frolic in the warm waters and give birth. Watch a mama whale teach her 1-ton calf how to tail-wave. You can eavesdrop on them, too: book a tour boat with a hydrophone or just plunk your head underwater to hear the strange squeaks, groans, and chortles of the cetaceans. Tours are good, but you can also easily watch whales from the beach.


Before his untimely death in 1997, Israel Kamakawiwoole, or “IZ,” woke the world to the sound of modern Hawaiian music. Don’t leave without hearing it live. The Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului has top Hawaiian entertainers regularly, and so do many island bars and restaurants. George Kahumoku Jr.’s Slack Key Show: Masters of Hawaiian Music concert series on Wednesday and Thursday night at the Napili Kai Beach Resort in West Maui is excellent. The Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival ( www.slackkeyfestival.com ) features guest performers who play Hawaii’s signature style.


Feel the thrill of a wave rushing beneath your feet at any one of the beginner’s breaks along Honoapiilani Highway. Ask local surf schools about the best locations for beginners and consider taking a lesson or two. You can bring surf wax home as a souvenir. Stand-up paddle surfing is popular now, too.


The Old Lahaina Luau has a warm heart—and seriously good poke (cubed raw tuna tossed with herbs and other seasonings). Tuck a flower behind your ear, mix a dab of poi (taro-root paste) with your lomilomi salmon (rubbed with onions and herbs), and you’ll be living like a local. Different styles of hula are part of the performance; the fire dancers are not traditional, but they are thrilling. Reserve well in advance.


Spectacular views, great weather year-round, and challenging courses created by the game’s top designers make Maui an inspiring place to play golf. The Kapalua Resort on West Maui and the Wailea resort courses on the South Shore offer memorable rounds. Ask about twilight fees to save some money.


Beach lovers might need some arm-twisting to head up the mountain for a day, but the views and the fresh-smelling countryside are ample reward. On the roads winding through ranchlands, crisp, high-altitude air is scented with eucalyptus and the fragrances of the forest. Stop for an agricultural tour and learn about where the island’s bounty comes from; you can sample it, too.


“Ono kine grinds” is local slang for the delicious food you’ll find at dozens of restaurants islandwide. Maui chefs take their work seriously, and they have good material to start with: sun-ripened produce and seafood caught the very same morning. Try a plate lunch—that reminder of the state’s cultural mix—at a casual spot. Sample as many types of fish as you can and don’t be shy: try it raw. And cool off with shave ice flavored with tropical fruit syrups.


You might not be a water-sports legend, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give it a try. In the early morning, this renowned windsurfing spot by Kahului Airport is safe for beginners. Don’t settle for the pond in front of your hotel—book a lesson at Kanaha and impress yourself by hanging tough where the action is.

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When to Go to Maui

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Long days of sunshine and fairly mild year-round temperatures make Hawaii, including Maui, an all-season destination. Most resort areas are at sea level, with average afternoon temperatures of 75°F-80°F during the coldest months of December and January; during the hottest months of August and September the temperature often reaches 90°F. Higher Upcountry elevations have cooler and often misty conditions. Only at mountain summits does it reach freezing.

Typically the weather on Maui is drier in summer (more guaranteed beach days) and rainier in winter (greener foliage, better waterfalls). Throughout the year, West Maui and the South Shore (the leeward areas) are the driest, sunniest areas on the island—that’s why the resorts are there. The North Shore and East Maui and Hana (the windward areas) get the most rain, are densely forested, and abound with waterfalls and rainbows.

Many travelers head to the Islands in winter, especially during Christmas and spring break; room rates average 10%-15% higher during these times than the rest of the year. The best months for bargains are May, September, and October.


In winter Maui is the spot for whale-watching. Humpback whales start arriving in November, are in full force by February, and are gone by early May. The biggest North Shore waves show up in winter: kiteboarders and windsurfers get their thrills in the windy, late summer months.


Hawaiians appreciate any occasion to celebrate; not only are Hawaiian holidays honored, so are those of the state’s immigrant cultures. If you happen to be in the Islands on March 26 or June 11, you’ll notice light traffic and busy beaches—these are state holidays. March 26 recognizes the birthday of Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole, a member of the royal line who spearheaded the effort to set aside homelands for Hawaiian people. June 11 honors the first islandwide monarch, Kamehameha the Great; locals drape his statues with lei and stage elaborate parades. May 1 isn’t an official holiday, but it’s Lei Day in Hawaii, when schools and civic groups celebrate the flower lei with lei-making contests and pageants. Statehood Day is celebrated on the third Friday in August (Admission Day was August 21, 1959). Most Japanese and Chinese holidays are widely observed. On Chinese New Year, in winter, homes and businesses sprout red good-luck mottoes and everybody eats gau (steamed pudding) and jai (vegetarian stew). Good Friday is a state holiday in spring, a favorite for picnics. Summertime is for Obon festivals at Buddhist temples and the July 4 Rodeo; the Maui County Fair and Aloha Festivals are in fall.

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Maui’s Top Beaches

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Ah, Maui’s beaches: it’s hard to single out just a few, because the island’s strands are so varied. The leeward shores of West and South Maui have calm beaches and some great snorkeling, but experienced surfers and windsurfers gravitate to the windward (North Shore and East Maui) beaches that face the open ocean. Here are some favorites for different interests from around the island.


Baldwin Beach, the North Shore. The long, shallow, calm end closest to Kahului is safe even for toddlers—with adult supervision, of course.

Kamaole III, the South Shore. Sand, gentle surf, a playground, a volleyball net, and barbecues all add up to great family fun.

Napili Beach, West Maui. Kids will love the turtles that snack on the limu (seaweed) growing on the lava rocks. This sometimes crowded crescent-shape beach offers sunbathing, snorkeling, swimming, bodysurfing, and startling sunsets.


Olowalu, West Maui. The water remains shallow far offshore, and there’s plenty to see.

Ulua, the South Shore. It’s beautiful and the kids can enjoy the tide pools while the adults experience the excellent snorkeling.


Honolua Bay, West Maui. One bay over from Slaughterhouse (Mokuleia) Beach north of Kapalua you can find one of the best surf breaks in Hawaii.

Hookipa, the North Shore. This is the place to see great surfers and windsurfers: it’s not for beginners or for swimmers, but Hookipa is great for experienced wave riders and also for anyone who wants to take in the North Shore scene.


Kapalua Bay, West Maui. The ambience here is as stunning as the sunset.

Keawakapu, the South Shore. Most active beachgoers enjoy this gorgeous spot before midafternoon, when the wind picks up, so it’s never crowded at sunset.


Kaanapali Beach, West Maui. Backed by resorts, condos, and restaurants, this is not the beach for solitude. But the sand is soft, the waters are gentle, and the action varies from good snorkeling at Black Rock (Kekaa) to people-watching in front of Whalers Village—not for nothing is this section called “Dig Me Beach.”

Wailea Beach, the South Shore. At this beach fronting the ultraluxurious Four Seasons and Grand Wailea resorts, you never know who might be hiding in that private cabana.


Makena (Oneloa), South Shore. Don’t forget the camera for this beauty, a state park away from the Wailea resort area. Finding this long, wide stretch of golden sand and translucent offshore water is worth the effort. The icing on the cake is that this long beach is never crowded. Use caution for swimming, because the steep onshore break can get big.

Waianapanapa State Park, East Maui. This rustic black-sand beach will capture your heart—it’s framed by lava cliffs and backed by bright-green beach naupaka bushes. Ocean currents can be strong, so enjoy the views and cool off in one of two freshwater pools. Get an early start, because your day’s destination is just shy of Hana.

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The History of Hawaii

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Hawaiian history is long and complex; a brief survey can put into context the ongoing renaissance of native arts and culture.


Long before both Christopher Columbus and the Vikings, Polynesian seafarers set out to explore the vast stretches of the open ocean in double-hulled canoes. From western Polynesia, they traveled back and forth between Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti, the Marquesas, and the Society Isles, settling on the outer reaches of the Pacific, Hawaii, and Easter Island, as early as AD 300. The golden era of Polynesian voyaging peaked around AD 1200, after which the distant Hawaiian Islands were left to develop their own unique cultural practices and subsistence in relative isolation.

The Islands’ symbiotic society was deeply intertwined with religion, mythology, science, and artistry. Ruled by an alii, or chief, each settlement was nestled in an ahupuaa, a pie-shaped land division from the uplands where the alii lived, through the valleys and down to the shores where the commoners resided. Everyone contributed, whether it was by building canoes, catching fish, making tools, or farming land.


When the British explorer Captain James Cook arrived in 1778, he was revered as a god. With guns and ammunition purchased from Cook, the Big Island chief, Kamehameha the Great, gained a significant advantage over the other alii. He united Hawaii into one kingdom in 1810, bringing an end to the frequent interisland battles that dominated Hawaiian life.

Tragically, the new kingdom was beset with troubles. Native religion was abandoned, and kapu (laws and regulations) were eventually abolished. The European explorers brought foreign diseases with them, and within a few short decades the Native Hawaiian population was decimated.

New laws regarding land ownership and religious practices eroded the underpinnings of precontact Hawaii. Each successor to the Hawaiian throne sacrificed more control over the island kingdom. As Westerners permeated Hawaiian culture, Hawaii became more riddled with layers of racial issues, injustice, and social unrest.


In 1893, the last Hawaiian monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, was overthrown by a group of Americans and European businessmen and government officials, aided by an armed militia. This led to the creation of the Republic of Hawaii, and it became a U.S. territory for the next 60 years. The loss of Hawaiian sovereignty and the conditions of annexation have haunted the Hawaiian people since the monarchy was deposed.

Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, which pulled the United States immediately into World War II. Tourism, from its beginnings in the early 1900s, flourished after the war and naturally inspired rapid real estate development in Waikiki. In 1959, Hawaii officially became the 50th state. Statehood paved the way for Hawaiians to participate in the American democratic process, which was not universally embraced by all Hawaiians. With the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Hawaiians began to reclaim their own identity, from language to hula.

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The Hawaiian Islands

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Oahu. The state’s capital, Honolulu, is on Oahu; this is the center of Hawaii’s economy and by far the most populated island in the chain—its roughly 1 million residents add up to more than 70% of the state’s population. At 597 square miles, Oahu is the third largest island in the chain; the majority of residents live in or around Honolulu, so the rest of the island still fits neatly into the tropical, untouched vision of Hawaii. Situated southeast of Kauai and northwest of Maui, Oahu is a central location for island-hopping. Pearl Harbor, iconic Waikiki Beach, and surfing contests on the legendary North Shore are all here.

Maui. The second largest island in the chain, Maui is northwest of the Big Island and close enough to be visible from its beaches on a clear day. The island’s 729 square miles are home to about 150,000 people but host more than 2 million tourists every year. With its restaurants and lively nightlife, Maui is the only island that competes with Oahu in terms of entertainment; its charm lies in the fact that although entertainment is available, Maui’s towns still feel like island villages compared to the heaving modern city of Honolulu.

The Big Island . The Big Island has the second-largest population of the Islands (almost 190,000) but feels sparsely settled due to its size. It’s 4,038 square miles and growing—all the other Islands could fit onto the Big Island and there would still be room left over. The southernmost island in the chain (slightly southeast of Maui), the Big Island is home to Kilauea, the most active volcano on the planet; it percolates within Volcanoes National Park, which draws nearly 3 million visitors every year.

Kauai. The northernmost island in the chain (northwest of Oahu), Kauai is, at approximately 622 square miles, the fourth-largest of all the Islands and the least populated of the larger Islands, with about 70,000 residents. Known as the Garden Isle, this island is home to lush botanical gardens as well as the stunning Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon. The island is a favorite with honeymooners and others wanting to get away from it all—lush and peaceful, it’s the perfect escape from the modern world.

Molokai. North of Lanai and Maui, and east of Oahu, Molokai is Hawaii’s fifth-largest island, encompassing 260 square miles. On a clear night, the lights of Honolulu are visible from Molokai’s western shore. Molokai is sparsely populated, with about 7,300 residents, the majority of whom are Native Hawaiians. Most of the island’s 79,000 annual visitors travel from Maui or Oahu to spend the day exploring its beaches, cliffs, and former leper colony on Kalaupapa Peninsula.

Lanai. Lying just off Maui’s western coast, Lanai looks nothing like its sister Islands, with pine trees and deserts in place of palm trees and beaches. Still, the tiny 140-square-mile island is home to about 3,200 residents and draws an average of 75,000 visitors each year to two resorts (one in the mountains and one at the shore), both operated by Four Seasons, and the small, 11-room Hotel Lanai.


The Hawaiian Islands comprise more than just the islands inhabited and visited by humans. A total of 19 islands and atolls constitute the State of Hawaii, with a total landmass of 6,423.4 square miles.

The Islands are actually exposed peaks of a submersed mountain range called the Hawaiian Ridge-Emperor Seamounts chain. The range was formed as the Pacific plate moves very slowly (around 32 miles every million years, or about as fast as your fingernails grow) over a hot spot in the Earth’s mantle. Because the plate moves northwestwardly, the Islands in the northwest portion of the archipelago are older, which is also why they’re smaller—they have been eroding longer and have actually sunk back into the sea floor.

The Big Island is the youngest, and thus the largest, island in the chain. It is built from five different volcanoes, including Mauna Loa, which is the largest mountain on the planet (when measured from the bottom of the sea floor). Mauna Loa and Kilauea are the only Hawaiian volcanoes still erupting with any sort of frequency. Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984; Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983.

Mauna Kea (Big Island), Hualalai (Big Island), and Haleakala (Maui) are all in what’s called the post-shield-building stage of volcanic development—eruptions decrease steadily for up to a million years before ceasing entirely. Kohala (Big Island), Lanai (Lanai), and Waianae (Oahu) are considered extinct volcanoes, in the erosional stage of development; Koolau (Oahu) and West Maui (Maui) volcanoes are extinct volcanoes in the rejuvenation stage—after lying dormant for hundreds of thousands of years, they began erupting again, but only once every several thousand years.

There is currently an active undersea volcano to the south and east of the Big Island called Kamaehu that has been erupting regularly. If it continues its current pattern, it should breach the ocean’s surface in tens of thousands of years.


More than 90% of native Hawaiian flora and fauna are endemic (they evolved into unique species here), like the koa tree and the yellow hibiscus. Long-dormant volcanic craters are perfect hiding places for rare native plants. The silversword, a rare cousin of the sunflower, grows on Hawaii’s three tallest peaks: Haleakala, Mauna Kea, and Mauna Loa, and nowhere else on Earth. Ohia trees—thought to be the favorite of Pele, the volcano goddess—bury their roots in fields of once-molten lava, and one variety sprouts ruby pom-pom-like lehua blossoms. The deep yellow petals of ilima (once reserved for royalty) are tiny discs, which make elegant lei.

But most of the plants you see while walking around aren’t Hawaiian at all, and came from Tahitian, Samoan, or European visitors. Plumeria is ubiquitous; alien orchids run rampant on the Big Island; bright orange relatives of the ilima light up the mountains of Oahu. Although these flowers are not native, they give the Hawaiian lei their color and fragrance.

Hawaii’s state bird, the nene goose, is making a comeback from its former endangered status. It roams freely in parts of Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. Rare Hawaiian monk seals breed in the northwestern Islands. With only 1,500 left in the wild, you probably won’t catch many lounging on the beaches, although they have been spotted on the shores of Kauai in recent years. Spinner dolphins and sea turtles can be found off the coast of all the Islands; and every year from November to April, the humpback whales migrate past Hawaii in droves.

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Hawaiian People and Their Culture

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By 2013, Hawaii’s population was more than 1.3 million with the majority of residents living on Oahu. Ten percent are Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, almost 40% are Asian American, 9% are Latino, and about 26% Caucasian. Nearly a fifth of the population lists two or more races, making Hawaii the most diverse state in the United States.

Among individuals 18 and older, about 89% finished high school, half attained some college, and 29% completed a bachelor’s degree or higher.


The kingdom of Hawaii was ruled by a spiritual class system. Although the alii, or chief, was believed to be the direct descendent of a deity or god, high priests (kahuna ) presided over every aspect of life, including kapu (taboos), which strictly governed the commoners.

Each part of nature and ritual was connected to a deity: Kane was the highest of all deities, symbolizing sunlight and creation; Ku was the god of war; Lono represented fertility, rainfall, music, and peace; Kanaloa was the god of the underworld or darker spirits. Probably the most well known by outsiders is Pele, the goddess of fire.

The kapu not only provided social order, they also swayed the people to act with reverence for the environment. Any abuse was met with extreme punishment—often death—as it put the land and people’s mana, or spiritual power, in peril.

Ancient deities play a huge role in Hawaiian life today—not just in daily rituals, but in the Hawaiians’ reverence for their land. Gods and goddesses tend to be associated with particular parts of the land, and most of them are connected with many places, thanks to the body of stories built up around each.

One of the most important ways the ancient Hawaiians showed respect for their gods and goddesses was through the hula. Various forms of the hula were performed as prayers to the gods and as praise to the chiefs. Performances were taken very seriously, as a mistake was thought to invalidate the prayer, or even to offend the god or chief in question. Hula is still performed both as entertainment and as prayer; it is not uncommon for a hula performance to be included in an official government ceremony.


To define the Hawaiians in a page, let alone a paragraph, is nearly impossible. Those considered to be indigenous Hawaiians are descendants of the ancient Polynesians who crossed the vast ocean and settled Hawaii. According to the government, there are Native Hawaiians or native Hawaiians (note the change in capitalization), depending on a person’s background.

Federal and state agencies apply different methods to determine Hawaiian lineage, from measuring blood percentage to mapping genealogy. This has caused turmoil within the community, because it excludes many who claim Hawaiian heritage. It almost guarantees that, as races intermingle, even those considered Native Hawaiian now will eventually disappear on paper, displacing generations to come.


Perfect weather aside, Hawaii might be the warmest place anyone can visit. The Hawaii experience begins and ends with aloha, a word that envelops love, affection, and mercy, and has become a salutation for hello and good-bye. Broken down, alo means “presence” and ha means “breath”—the presence of breath. It’s to live with love and respect for self and others with every breath. Past the manicured resorts and tour buses, aloha is a moral compass that binds all of Hawaii’s people.

Hawaii is blessed with some of the most unspoiled natural wonders, and aloha extends to the land, or aina. Hawaiians are raised outdoors and have strong ties to nature. They realize as children that the ocean and land are the delicate sources of all life. Even ancient gods were embodied by nature, and this reverence has been passed down to present generations who believe in kuleana, their privilege and responsibility.

Hawaii’s diverse cultures unfold in a beautiful montage of customs and arts—from music, to dance, to food. Musical genres range from slack key to Jawaiian (Hawaiian reggae) to hapa-haole(Hawaiian music with English words). From George Kahumoku’s Grammy-worthy laid-back strumming to the late Iz Kamakawiwoole’s “Somewhere over the Rainbow” to Jack Johnson’s more mainstream tunes, contemporary Hawaiian music has definitely carved its ever-evolving niche.

The Merrie Monarch Festival celebrates more than 50 years of worldwide hula competition and education. The fine-dining culinary scene, especially in Honolulu, has a rich tapestry of ethnic influences and talent. But the real gems are the humble hole-in-the-wall eateries that serve authentic cuisines of many ethnic origins in one plate, a deliciously mixed plate indeed.

And perhaps the most striking quality in today’s Hawaiian culture is the sense of family, or ohana . Sooner or later, almost everyone you meet becomes an uncle or auntie, and it is not uncommon for near-strangers to be welcomed into a home as a member of the family.

Until the last century, the practice of hanai, in which a family essentially adopts a child, usually a grandchild, without formalities, was still prevalent. While still practiced to a somewhat lesser degree, the hanai, which means to feed or nourish, still resonates within most families and communities.


Adopting local customs is a firsthand introduction to the Islands’ unique culture. So live in T-shirts and shorts. Wear cheap rubber flip-flops, but call them slippers. Wave people into your lane on the highway, and, when someone lets you in, give them a wave of thanks in return. Never, ever blow your horn, even when the pickup truck in front of you is stopped for a long session of “talk story” right in the middle of the road.

Holoholo means to go out for the fun of it—an aimless stroll, ride, or drive. “Wheah you goin’, braddah?” “Oh, holoholo. ” It’s local speak for Sunday drive, no plan, it’s not the destination but the journey. Try setting out without an itinerary. Learn to shaka : pinky and thumb extended, middle fingers curled in, waggle sideways. Eat white rice with everything. When someone says, “Aloha!” answer, “Aloha no!” (“And a real big aloha back to you”). And, as the locals say, “No make big body” (“Try not to act like you own the place”).

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Top 10 Hawaiian Foods to Try

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Food in Hawaii is a reflection of the state’s diverse cultural makeup and tropical location. Fresh seafood, organic fruits and vegetables, free-range beef, and locally grown products are the hallmarks of Hawaii regional cuisine. Its preparations are drawn from across the Pacific Rim, including Japan, the Philippines, Korea, and Thailand—and “local food” is a cuisine in its own right. Don’t miss Hawaiian-grown coffee either, whether it’s smooth Kona from the Big Island or coffee grown on other Islands.


The bento box gained popularity back in the plantation days, when workers toiled in the sugarcane fields. No one brought sandwiches to work then. Instead it was a lunch box with the ever-present steamed white rice, pickled ume (plum) to preserve the rice, and meats such as fried chicken or fish. Today, many stores sell prepackaged bentos or you may go to an okazuya (Japanese deli) with a hot buffet counter and create your own.


There are dozens of varieties of crack seed in dwindling specialty shops and at the drugstores. Chinese call the preserved fruits and nuts see mui, but somehow the Pidgin English version is what Hawaiians prefer. Those who like hard candy and salty foods will love li hing mangoes and rock-salt plums, and those with an itchy throat will feel relief from the lemon strips. Peruse large glass jars of crack seed sold in bulk or smaller hanging bags—the latter make good gifts to give to friends back home.


There’s nothing like fresh ahi or tako (octopus) poke to break the ice at a backyard party, except, of course, the cold beer handed to you from the cooler. The perfect pupu, poke (pronounced “poh-kay”) is basically raw seafood cut into bite-sized chunks and mixed with everything from green onions to roasted and ground kukui nuts. Other variations include mixing the fish with chopped round onion, sesame oil, seaweed, and chili pepper water. Shoyu (the “local” name for soy sauce) is the constant. These days, grocery stores sell endless poke varieties such as kimchi crab; anything goes, from adding mayonnaise to tobiko (caviar). Fish lovers who want to take it to the next level order sashimi, the best cuts of ahi sliced and dipped in a mixture of shoyu and wasabi.


Another savory snack is manapua, fist-size dough balls fashioned after Chinese bao (a traditional Chinese bun) and stuffed with fillings such as char siu (Chinese roast pork) and then steamed. Many mom-and-pop stores sell them in commercial steamer display cases along with pork hash and other dim sum. Modern-day fillings include curry chicken.


The Portuguese have contributed much to Hawaii cuisine in the form of sausage, soup, and sweetbread. But their most revered food is malasadas, hot, deep-fried doughnuts rolled in sugar. Malasadas are crowd-pleasers—buy them by the dozen, hot from the fryer, placed in brown paper bags to absorb the grease, or bite into gourmet malasadas at restaurants, filled with vanilla or chocolate cream.


It would be remiss not to mention the plate lunch as one of the most beloved dishes in Hawaii. It generally includes two scoops of sticky white rice, a scoop of macaroni or macaroni-potato salad, heavy on the mayo, and perhaps kimchi or koko (salted cabbage). There are countless choices of main protein such as chicken katsu (fried cutlet), fried mahimahi, and tomato. The king of all plate lunches is the Hawaiian plate. The main item is laulau (pork or fish wrapped in taro leaf) or kalua pig (cooked in an underground oven, or imu ) and cabbage along with poi, lomilomi salmon (salmon-and-tomato salad), chicken long rice, and sticky white rice.


The ultimate hangover cure and the perfect comfort food during Hawaii’s mild winters, saimin ranks at the top of the list of local favorites. In fact, it’s one of the few dishes deemed truly local, having been highlighted in cookbooks since the 1930s. Saimin is an Asian-style noodle soup so ubiquitous it’s even on McDonald’s menus statewide. In mom-and-pop shops, a large melamine bowl is filled with homemade dashi, or broth, and wheat-flour noodles and then topped off with strips of omelet, green onions, bright pink fish cake, and char siu or canned luncheon meat, such as SPAM. Add shoyu and chili pepper water, lift your chopsticks, and slurp away.


Much more than just a snow cone, shave ice is what locals crave after a blazing day at the beach or a hot-as-Hades game of soccer. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a neighborhood store that hand-shaves the ice, but it’s rare. Either way, the counter person will ask you first if you’d like ice cream and/or adzuki beans scooped into the bottom of the cone or cup. Then they shape the ice into a giant mound and add colorful fruit syrups. First-timers should order the rainbow, of course.


Speaking of SPAM, Hawaii’s most prevalent grab-and-go snack is SPAM musubi . Often displayed next to cash registers at groceries and convenience stores, the glorified rice ball is rectangular, topped with a slice of fried SPAM and wrapped in nori (seaweed). Musubi is a bite-size meal in itself. But just like sushi, the rice part hardens when refrigerated. So it’s best to gobble it up right after purchase.

Hormel Company’s SPAM actually deserves its own recognition—way beyond as a mere musubi topping. About 5 million cans are sold per year in Hawaii, and the Aloha State even hosts a festival in its honor. It’s inexpensive protein and goes a long way when mixed with rice, scrambled eggs, noodles or, well, anything. The spiced luncheon meat gained popularity in World War II days, when fish was rationed. Gourmets and those with aversions to salt, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure may cringe at the thought of eating it, but SPAM in Hawaii is here to stay.


Tropical fruits such as apple banana and strawberry papaya are plucked from trees in island neighborhoods and eaten for breakfast—plain or with a squeeze of fresh lime. Give them a try; the apple banana tastes somewhat like an apple, and the strawberry papaya’s rosy flesh explains its name. Locals also love to add their own creative touches to exotic fruits. Green mangoes are pickled with Chinese five spice, and Maui Gold pineapples are topped with li hing mui (salty dried plum) powder (heck, even margarita glasses are rimmed with it). Green papaya is tossed in a Vietnamese salad with fish paste and fresh prawns.

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Sustainability in Hawaii

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Sustainability —it’s a word rolling off everyone’s tongues these days. In a place known as the most remote island chain in the world (check your globe), Hawaii relies heavily on the outside world for food and material goods—estimates put the percentage of food arriving on container ships as high as 90. Like many places, though, efforts are afoot to change that. And you can help.


From Kauai to the Big Island, farmers’ markets are cropping up, providing a place for growers to sell fresh fruits and vegetables. There is no reason to buy imported mangoes, papayas, avocadoes, and bananas at grocery stores, when the ones you’ll find at farmers’ markets are not only fresher but tastier, too. Some markets allow the sale of fresh-packaged foods—salsa, say, or smoothies—and the on-site preparation of food—like laulau (pork, beef, and fish or chicken with taro, or luau, leaves wrapped and steamed in ti leaves) or roasted corn on the cob—so you can make your run to the market a dining experience.

Not only is the locavore movement vibrantly alive at farmers’ markets, but Hawaii’s top chefs are sourcing more of their produce—and fish, beef, chicken, and cheese—from local providers as well. You’ll notice this movement on restaurant menus featuring Kilauea greens or Hamakua tomatoes or locally caught mahimahi.

And although most people are familiar with Kona coffee farm tours on the Big Island, if you’re interested in the growing Slow Food movement in Hawaii, you’ll be heartened to know many farmers are opening up their operations for tours—as well as sumptuous meals.


Food isn’t the only sustainable effort in Hawaii. Buying local goods like art and jewelry, Hawaiian heritage products, crafts, music, and apparel is another way to “green up” the local economy. The County of Kauai helps make it easy with a program called Kauai Made ( www.kauaimade.net ), which showcases products made on Kauai, by Kauai people, using Kauai materials. Think of it as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for locally made goods.

Then there are the crafty entrepreneurs who are diverting items from the trash heap by repurposing garbage. Take Oahu’s Muumuu Heaven ( www.muumuuheaven.com ). They got their start by reincarnating vintage aloha apparel into hip new fashions.


Conscious decisions when it comes to island activities go a long way to protecting Hawaii’s natural world. The Hawaii Ecotourism Association ( www.hawaiiecotourism.org ) recognizes tour operators for, among other things, their environmental stewardship. The Hawaii Tourism Authority ( www.hawaiitourismauthority.org ) recognizes outfitters for their cultural sensitivity. Winners of these awards are good choices when it comes to guided tours and activities.

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Traditional Hawaiian Souvenirs

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Traveling to Hawaii is as close as an American can get to visiting another country while staying within the United States. There’s much to learn and understand about the state’s indigenous culture, the hundred years of immigration that resulted in today’s blended society, and the tradition of aloha that has welcomed millions of visitors over the years.


To go to Hawaii without taking an aloha shirt home is almost sacrilege. The first aloha shirts from the 1920s and 1930s—called “silkies”—were classic canvases of art and tailored for the tourists. Popular culture caught on in the 1950s, and they became a fashion craze. With the 1960s came more subdued designs, Aloha Friday was born, and the shirt became appropriate clothing for work, play, and formal occasions. Because of its soaring popularity, cheaper and mass-produced versions became available.


Although ancient Hawaiians were already known to produce fine kapa (bark) cloth, the actual art of quilting originated from the missionaries. Hawaiians have created designs to reflect their own aesthetic, and bold patterns evolved over time. They can be pricey, because the quilts are intricately made by hand and can take years to finish. These masterpieces are considered precious heirlooms that reflect the history and beauty of Hawaii.


“Hula is the language of the heart, therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people.” —Kalakaua, the Merrie Monarch.

Thousands—from tots to seniors—devote hours each week to hula classes. All of these dancers need some place to show off their stuff, and the result is a network of hula competitions (generally free or very inexpensive) and free performances in malls and other public spaces. Many resorts offer hula instruction.


The luau’s origin, which was a celebratory feast, can be traced back to the earliest Hawaiian civilizations. In the traditional luau, the taboo or kapu laws were very strict, requiring men and women to eat separately. Nevertheless, in 1819 King Kamehameha II broke the great taboo and shared a feast with women and commoners, ushering in the modern-era luau. Today, traditional luau usually commemorate a child’s first birthday, graduation, wedding, or other family occasion. They also are a Hawaiian experience that most visitors enjoy, and resorts and other companies have incorporated the fire-knife dance and other Polynesian dances into their elaborate presentations.


The nose flute is an instrument used in ancient times to serenade a lover. For the Hawaiians, the nose is romantic, sacred, and pure. The Hawaiian word for kiss is honi . Similar to an Eskimo’s kiss, the noses touch on each side sharing one’s spiritual energy or breath. The Hawaiian term ohe hano ihu simply translates to “bamboo,” from which the instrument is made; “breathe,” because one has to gently breathe through it to make soothing music; and “nose,” as it is made for the nose and not the mouth.


Souvenir shopping can be intimidating. There’s a sea of island-inspired and often kitschy merchandise, so we’d like to give you a breakdown of popular and fun gifts that you might encounter and consider bringing home. If authenticity is important to you, be sure to check labels and ask shopkeepers. Museum shops are good places for authentic, Hawaiian-made souvenirs.

Fabrics. Purchased by the yard or already made into everything from napkins to bedspreads, modern Hawaiian fabrics make wonderful keepsakes.

Home accessories. Deck out your kitchen or dining room in festive luau style with bottle openers, pineapple mugs, tiki glasses, shot glasses, slipper and surfboard magnets, and salt-and-pepper shakers.

Lauhala products. Lauhala weaving is a traditional Hawaiian art. The leaves come from the hala, or pandanus, tree and are handwoven to create lovely gift boxes, baskets, bags, and picture frames.

Lei and shell necklaces. From silk or polyester flower lei to kukui or puka shell necklaces, lei have been traditionally used as a welcome offering to guests (although the artificial ones are more for fun, since real flowers are always preferable).

Spa products. Relive your spa treatment at home with Hawaiian bath and body products, many of them manufactured with ingredients found only on the Islands.

Vintage Hawaii. You can find vintage photos, reproductions of vintage postcards or paintings, heirloom jewelry, and vintage aloha wear in many specialty stores.


Kihoalu, or slack-key music, evolved in the early 1800s when King Kamehameha III brought in Mexican and Spanish vaqueros to manage the overpopulated cattle that had run wild on the Islands. The vaqueros brought their guitars and would play music around the campfire after work. When they left, supposedly leaving their guitars to their new friends, the Hawaiian paniolo, or cowboys, began to infuse what they learned from the vaqueros with their native music and chants, and so the art of slack-key music was born. Today, the paniolo culture thrives where ranchers have settled.


Hawaii’s ancestors voyaged across 2,500 miles from Polynesia on board a double-hulled canoe with the help of the stars, the ocean swells, and the flight pattern of birds. The creation of a canoe spanned months and involved many religious ceremonies by the kahuna kalai waa, or high priest canoe builder. In 1973, the Polynesian Voyaging Society was founded to rediscover and preserve this ancestral tradition. Since 1975, the group has built and launched the majestic Hokulea and Hawaiiloa , which regularly travel throughout the South Pacific. In 2014, Hokulea began a historic, three-year, around-the-world voyage.


The word ukulele literally translates to “the jumping flea” and came to Hawaii in the 1880s by way of the Portuguese and Spanish. Once a fading art form, today it brings international kudos as a solo instrument, thanks to tireless musicians and teachers who have worked hard to keep it by our fingertips.

One such teacher is Roy Sakuma. Founder of four ukulele schools and a legend in his own right, Sakuma and his wife, Kathy, produced Oahu’s first Ukulele Festival in 1971. Since then, they’ve brought the tradition to the Big Island, Kauai, and Maui. The free event annually draws thousands of artists and fans from all over the globe.

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Maui with Kids

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With dozens of adventures to take, discoveries to make, and loads of kid-friendly beaches, Maui is a blast for families with children. The entire family, parents included, will enjoy surfing, discovering a waterfall in the rain forest, and snorkeling with sea turtles. And there are organized activities for kids that will free parents’ time for a few romantic beach strolls.


Resorts. All the big resorts make kids’ programs a priority. When booking your room, ask about “kids eat free” deals and the number of kids’ pools at the resort. Also check out the ages and sizes of groups in the children’s programs and find out whether the cost of the programs includes lunch, equipment, and activities.

On the South Shore, the best bet for families is the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui, where the accommodations are spacious suites. Kids will love the beach right in front of the Mana Kai Maui on the island’s south side. The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, with its long list of activity programs for kids and adults, is a good choice in the Kaanapali Resort. Also in West Maui, Napili Kai Beach Resort sits on a protected crescent of white-sand beach that is perfect for body boarding, playing in the water, and sunbathing.

Condos. Condo and vacation rentals are a fantastic value for families vacationing in Hawaii. You can cook your own food, which is much less expensive than eating out, and often easier, and you’ll get twice the space of a hotel room for about a quarter of the price.

If you decide to go the condo route, be sure to ask about the size of the complex’s pool (some try to pawn off a tiny soaking tub as a pool) and whether barbecues are available. One of the best parts of staying in your own place is having a sunset family barbecue by the pool or overlooking the ocean.

In West Maui all the Aston Hotels & Resorts properties, like Papakea Resort, offer children’s packages, such as “Kids Stay, Play and Eat Free,” and have a keiki (child) activity program that ranges from sand-castle building to sightseeing excursions.

On the South Shore, Kamaole Sands is a family favorite, with an excellent location right across from three beach parks that are good for swimming and have grassy fields for games and picnics.


Hawaii is all about getting your kids outside—away from video games. And who could resist the turquoise water, the promise of spotting dolphins or whales, and the fun of body boarding or surfing?

On the Beach. Most people like being in the water, but toddlers and school-age kids are often completely captivated. The swimming pool at your condo or hotel is always an option, but don’t be afraid to hit the beach with a little one in tow. Certain beaches in Hawaii are nearly as safe as a pool—completely protected bays with pleasant white-sand beaches. As always, use your judgment, and heed all posted signs and lifeguard warnings.

The leeward side of Maui has many calm beaches to try. Good ones include Wailea Beach in front of the Grand Wailea and Four Seasons resorts and Kamaole beach parks on the South Shore. Napili Bay in West Maui is great for kids and also for body boarding. On the North Shore, at the Kahului end of Baldwin Beach Park, check out the shallow pool known as Baby Beach.

On the Waves. Surf lessons are a great idea for older kids, especially if Mom and Dad want a little quiet time. Beginner lessons are always on safe and easy waves and last anywhere from two to four hours.

The world-class waves of Maui’s North Shore are best left to the pros. The gentle swells off West and South Maui are where several respected operators provides lessons designed for beginners. Big Kahuna Adventures will show you how to ride the waves in Kihei on the South Shore.

The Underwater World. If your kids are ready to try snorkeling, Hawaii is a great place to introduce them to the underwater world. Even without a mask and snorkel, they’ll be able to see colorful fish, and they may also spot turtles and dolphins at many of the island’s beaches.

It’s easy (and inexpensive) to learn the basics and see amazing underwater life immediately at Kaanapali Beach in front of the Sheraton Maui on the island’s west side. For guided snorkel tours that offer beginner instruction, try Trilogy Excursions’ family-oriented day trip from Lahaina to Lanai, or Maui Classic Charters’ half-day Molokini visits out of Maalaea Harbor.


In addition to beach experiences, Hawaii has rain forests, botanical gardens, an aquarium, and even petting zoos and even farms with hands-on activities that will keep your kids entertained and out of the sun for a day. Older kids (over 10) may be interested in a zipline adventure.

Central Maui abounds with activities for children, including the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum with its interactive displays and the Maui Tropical Plantation’s farm tram, historic locomotive engine, and introductory zipline course.

If the weather’s not great for seeing marine life in the ocean, see it at the excellent Maui Ocean Center in Maalaea on the South Shore, where all manner of live marine creatures—including reef fish, sea turtles, manta rays, and sharks—swim behind glass. It’s expensive, but kids (and adults) can learn a lot from the displays.

To discover all there is to know about Maui’s biggest annual visitor, the humpback whale, children will enjoy the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary on the South Shore and the worthwhile free museum at Whalers Village shopping center in Kaanapali in West Maui.


At nighttime, younger kids get a kick out of luau, and many of the shows incorporate young audience members, adding to the fun. Older kids might find it all a bit lame, but there are a handful of new shows in the Islands that are more modern, incorporating acrobatics and lively music.

We think the best luau is the Old Lahaina Luau, which takes place nightly on the oceanfront at the north end of Lahaina. The show is traditional, lively, and colorful; it will keep the whole family entertained. Book in advance to avoid disappointment; this is extremely popular.

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Weddings and Honeymoons

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There’s no question that Hawaii is one of the country’s foremost honeymoon destinations. Romance is in the air here, and the white, sandy beaches, turquoise water, swaying palm trees, balmy tropical breezes, and perpetual sunshine put people in the mood for love. It’s easy to understand why Hawaii is fast becoming a popular wedding destination as well, especially as the cost of airfare is often discounted, new resorts and hotels entice visitors, and same-sex marriage is now legal in the state. A destination wedding is no longer exclusive to celebrities and the superrich. You can plan a traditional ceremony in a place of worship followed by a reception at an elegant resort, or you can go barefoot on the beach and celebrate at a luau. There are almost as many wedding planners in the Islands as real estate agents, which makes it oh-so-easy to wed in paradise, and then, once the knot is tied, stay and honeymoon as well.


Choosing the Perfect Place. When choosing a location, remember that you really have two choices to make: the ceremony location and where to have the reception, if you’re having one. For the former, there are beaches, bluffs overlooking beaches, gardens, private residences, resort lawns, and, of course, places of worship. As for the reception, there are these same choices, as well as restaurants and even luau. If you decide to go outdoors, remember the seasons—yes, Hawaii has seasons. If you’re planning a winter wedding outdoors, be sure you have a backup plan (such as a tent), in case it rains. Also, if you’re planning an outdoor wedding at sunset—which is very popular—be sure you match the time of your ceremony to the time the sun sets at that time of year. If you choose an indoor spot, be sure to ask for pictures of the location when you’re planning. You don’t want to plan a pink wedding, say, and wind up in a room that’s predominantly red. Or maybe you do. The point is, it should be your choice.

Finding a Wedding Planner. If you’re planning to invite more than an officiant and your loved one to your wedding ceremony, seriously consider an on-island wedding planner who can help select a location, help design the floral scheme and recommend a florist as well as a photographer, help plan the menu and choose a restaurant, caterer, or resort, and suggest any Hawaiian traditions to incorporate into your ceremony. And more: Will you need tents, a cake, music? Maybe transportation and lodging? Many planners have relationships with vendors, providing packages—which mean savings.

If you’re planning a resort wedding, most have on-site wedding coordinators; however, there are many independents around the Islands and even those who specialize in certain types of ceremonies—by locale, size, religious affiliation, and so on. A simple “Hawaii weddings” Google search will reveal dozens. What’s important is that you feel comfortable with your coordinator. Ask for references and call them. Share your budget. Get a proposal—in writing. Ask how long they’ve been in business, how much they charge, how often you’ll meet with them, and how they select vendors. Request a detailed list of the exact services they’ll provide. If your idea of your wedding doesn’t match their services, try someone else. If you can afford it, you might want to meet the planner in person.

Getting Your License. The good news about marrying in Hawaii is that there is no waiting period, no residency or citizenship requirement, and no blood test or shots are required. You can apply and pay the fee online; however, both the bride and groom must appear together in person before a marriage-license agent to receive the marriage license (the permit to get married). You’ll need proof of age—the legal age to marry is 18. (If you’re 19 or older, a valid driver’s license will suffice; if you’re 18, a certified birth certificate is required.) Upon approval, a marriage license is immediately issued and costs $60 (credit cards accepted online and in person; cash only accepted in person). After the ceremony, your officiant will mail the marriage certificate (proof of marriage) to the state. Approximately four months later, you will receive a copy in the mail. (For $10 extra, you can expedite this process; ask your marriage-license agent when you apply.) For more detailed information, visit marriage.ehawaii.gov.

Also—this is important—the person performing your wedding must be licensed by the Hawaii Department of Health, even if he or she is a licensed officiant. Be sure to ask.

Wedding Attire. In Hawaii, basically anything goes, from long, formal dresses with trains to white bikinis. Floral sundresses are fine, too. For men, tuxedos are not the norm; a pair of solid-colored slacks with a nice aloha shirt is. In fact, tradition in Hawaii for the groom is a beautiful white aloha shirt (they do exist) with slacks or long shorts and a colored sash around the waist. If you’re planning a wedding on the beach, barefoot is the way to go.

If you decide to marry in a formal dress and tuxedo, you’re better off making your selections on the mainland and hand-carrying them aboard the plane. Yes, it can be a pain, but ask your wedding-gown retailer to provide a special carrying bag. After all, you don’t want to chance losing your wedding dress in a wayward piece of luggage.

Local Customs. The most obvious traditional Hawaiian wedding custom is the lei exchange in which the bride and groom take turns placing a lei around the neck of the other—with a kiss. Bridal lei are usually floral, whereas the groom’s is typically made of maile , a green leafy garland that drapes around the neck and is open at the ends. Brides often also wear a lei poo —a circular floral headpiece. Other Hawaiian customs include the blowing of the conch shell, hula, chanting, and Hawaiian music.


Do you want champagne and strawberries delivered to your room each morning? A breathtaking swimming pool in which to float? A five-star restaurant in which to dine? Then a resort is the way to go. If, however, you prefer the comforts of a home, try a bed-and-breakfast. A small inn is also good if you’re on a tight budget or don’t plan to spend much time in your room. On the other hand, maybe you want your own private home in which to romp naked—or just laze around recovering from the wedding planning. Maybe you want your own kitchen so you can whip up a gourmet meal for your loved one. In that case, a private vacation-rental home is the answer. Or maybe a condominium resort. That’s another beautiful thing about Hawaii: the lodging accommodations are almost as plentiful as the beaches, and there’s one that will perfectly match your tastes and your budget.

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Cruising the Hawaiian Islands

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Cruising has become popular in Hawaii. Cruises are a comparatively inexpensive way to see all of Hawaii, and you’ll save travel time by not having to check in at hotels and airports on each island. The limited amount of time in each port can be an argument against cruising, but you can make reservations for tours, activities, rental cars, and more aboard the cruise ship. This will also give you more time for sightseeing and shopping at ports.

The larger cruise lines such as Carnival, Princess, and Holland America offer itineraries of 10-16 days departing from the West Coast of the United States, most with stops at all the major Hawaiian Islands. Some cruise lines, such as Crystal, Cunard, and Disney, include ports in Hawaii on around-the-world cruises. All have plenty on board to keep you busy during the 4-5 days that you are at sea between the U.S. mainland and Hawaii.

Luau: A Taste of Hawaii

The best place to sample Hawaiian food is at a backyard luau. Aunts and uncles are cooking, the pig is from a cousin’s farm, the fish is from a brother’s boat, and someone plinks a wistful tune on a ukulele. The luau is such a special event that even locals have to angle for invitations. So unless you’re tight with a local family, your choice is most likely between a commercial luau and a Hawaiian restaurant.

Some commercial luau are not particularly authentic; they offer little of the traditional diet and are more about umbrella drinks, spectacle, and fun. For greater culinary authenticity, folksy experiences, and rock-bottom prices, try a Hawaiian restaurant. Most are located in anonymous storefronts in residential neighborhoods.

Much of what is known today as Hawaiian food would be foreign to a 16th-century Hawaiian. The precontact diet was simple and healthy—mainly raw and steamed seafood and vegetables. Early Hawaiians used earth ovens and heated stones to cook seafood, taro, sweet potatoes, and breadfruit. They seasoned their food with sea salt and ground kukui nuts. Seaweed, fern shoots, sweet potato vines, coconut, banana, sugarcane, and select greens and roots rounded out the diet. Immigrants added their favorites to the ti leaf-lined table, so now foods as disparate as salt salmon and chicken long rice have become Hawaiian—even though there is no salmon in Hawaii and long rice (cellophane noodles) is

At the Luau: Kalua Pork

The heart of any luau is the imu , the earth oven in which a whole pig is roasted. The preparation of an imu is 1 an arduous affair for most families, who tackle it only once a year or so for a baby’s first birthday or at Thanksgiving, when many Islanders prefer to imu their turkeys. Commercial luau operations have it down to a science, however. The Art of the Stone. The key to a proper imu is the pohaku , the stones. Imu cook by means of long, slow, moist heat released by special stones that can withstand a hot fire without exploding. Many Hawaiian families keep their imu stones in a pile in the backyard and pass them on through generations.

Pit Cooking. The imu makers first dig a pit about the size of a refrigerator, then lay down kiawe (mesquite) wood and stones, and build a white-hot fire that is allowed to burn itself out. The ashes are raked away, and the hot stones covered with banana and ti leaves. Wellwrapped in ti or banana leaves and a net of chicken wire, the pig is lowered onto the leaf-covered stones. Laulau (leafwrapped bundles of meats, fish, and taro leaves) may also be placed inside. Leaves—ti, banana, even ginger—cover the pig followed by wet burlap sacks (to create steam). The whole is topped with a canvas tarp and left to steam for the better part of a day.

Opening the Imu. This is the moment everyone waits for: The imu is unwrapped like a giant present and the imu keepers gingerly wrestle out the steaming pig. When it’s unwrapped, the meat falls moist and smoky-flavored from the bone.

Which Luau? Most resort hotels have luau on their grounds that include hula, music, and, of course, lots of food and drink. Each island also has at least one “authentic” luau.

Mea Ai Ono: Good Things to Eat

Laulau. Steamed meats, fish, and taro leaf in ti-leaf bundles: fork-tender, a medley of flavors; the taro resembles spinach.

Lomi Lomi Salmon. Salt salmon in a piquant salad or relish with onions and tomatoes.

Poi. A paste made of pounded taro root, poi may be an acquired taste, but it’s a must-try during your visit. Consider: The Hawaiian Adam is descended from kalo(taro). Young taro plants are called keiki , or children. Poi is the first food after mother’s milk for many Islanders. Ai , the word for food, is synonymous with poi in many contexts. Not only that, we love it. “There is no meat that doesn’t taste good with poi,” the old Hawaiians said. But you have to know how to eat it: with something rich or powerfully flavored.

Cruise ships plying the Pacific from the continental United States to Hawaii are floating resorts complete with pools, spas, rock-climbing walls, restaurants, nightclubs, shops, casinos, children’s programs, and much more. Most hold thousands of passengers with an average staff-to-passenger ratio of three to one.

Prices for cruises are based on accommodation type: interior (no window, in an inside corridor); outside (includes a window or porthole); balcony (allows you to go outside without using a public deck); and suite (larger cabin, more amenities and perks). Passages start at about $1,000 per person for the lowest class accommodation (interior) and include room, on-board entertainment, and food. Ocean-view, balcony, and suite accommodations can run up to $6,500 and more per person.


Carnival Cruises is great for families, with plenty of kid-friendly activities. Departing from Los Angeles or Vancouver, Carnival’s “fun ships” show your family a good time, both on board and on shore (888/227-6482 | www.carnival.com ). The grand dame of cruise lines, Holland America has a reputation for service and elegance. Their 14-day Hawaii cruises leave from and return to San Diego, with a brief stop at Ensenada (877/932-4259 | www.hollandamerica.com ). More affordable luxury is what Princess Cruises offers. Although their prices seem a little higher, you get more bells and whistles on your trip (more affordable balcony rooms, more restaurants to choose from, personalized service) (800/774-6237 | www.princess.com ).

All About Lei

Lei brighten every occasion in Hawaii, from birthdays to weddings to baptisms. Artisans weave flowers, ferns, and vines into gorgeous creations that convey an array of heartfelt messages.

“Welcome,” “Congratulations,” “Good luck,” “Farewell,” “Thank you,” “I love you.” When it’s difficult to find the right words, a lei can express exactly the right sentiment. Though lei are usually created from native flora, Niihau, the Forbidden Island, is famous for its exquisite tiny shells made into lei. Some of these shell lei can cost thousands of dollars and are often an exotic jewelry item. Lei are also sometimes constructed of paper, fish teeth, and even candy. If you happen to be in the Islands around May 1, be sure to seek out the annual May Day celebrations at local schools and parks, because “May Day is Lei Day” in Hawaii. Not a Hawaiian tradition, Lei Day was the brainchild of poet Don Blanding in 1928. Happening during the full blossoming of spring flowers, May Day creations are a feast for the eyes.

Where to Buy Lei

Most airports, supermarkets, and every florist shop in Hawaii sell lei. And you’ll always find lei sellers at crafts fairs and outdoor festivals.

Lei Etiquette

Lei are usually presented with a kiss on the cheek. To wear a closed lei, drape it over your shoulders, half in front and half in back. Open lei are worn around the neck, with the ends draped over the front in equal lengths. Pikake, ginger, and other sweet, delicate blossoms are “feminine” lei. Men opt for cigar, crown flower, and ti leaf lei, 1 which are sturdier and don’t emit as much fragrance. You shouldn’t wear a lei before you give it to someone else. Hawaiians believe the lei absorbs your mana(spirit); if you give your lei away, you’ll be giving away part of your essence.

Types of Lei

Orchid. Growing wild on every continent except Antarctica, orchids comprise the largest family of plants in the world. Of the more than 20,000 species of orchids, only three are native to Hawaii—and they are very rare. The pretty lavender vanda you see hanging by the dozens at local lei stands has probably been imported from Thailand.

Maile. An endemic twining vine with a heady aroma, maile is sacred to Laka, goddess of the hula. In ancient times, dancers wore maile and decorated hula altars with it to honor Laka. Today, “open” maile lei usually are given to men. Instead of ribbon, interwoven lengths of maile are used at dedications of new businesses.

Ilima. Designated by Hawaii’s Territorial Legislature in 1923 as the official flower of the island of Oahu, the golden ilima is so delicate it lasts for just a day. Five to seven hundred blossoms are needed to make one garland. Queen Emma, wife of King Kamehameha IV, preferred ilima over all other lei, which may have led to the incorrect belief that they were reserved only for royalty.

Plumeria. Plumeria ranks among the most popular lei in Hawaii because it’s fragrant, hardy, plentiful, inexpensive, and requires very little care. Although yellow is the most common color, you’ll also find plumeria lei in shades of pink, red, orange, and “rainbow” blends.

Pikake. Favored for its fragile beauty and sweet scent, pikake was introduced from India. In lieu of pearls, many brides in Hawaii adorn themselves with long, multiple strands of white pikake. Princess Kaiulani enjoyed showing guests her beloved pikake and peacocks at Ainahau, her Waikiki home. Interestingly, pikake is the Hawaiian word for both the bird and the blossom.

Kukui. The kukui (candlenut) is Hawaii’s state tree. Early Hawaiians strung the oily kukui nuts together and burned them for light. They also burned the nuts with oil to make an indelible dye and mashed roasted nuts to consume as a laxative. Kukui nut lei may not have been made until after Western contact, when the Hawaiians saw black beads from Europe and wanted to imitate them.


Norwegian Cruise Lines ( www.ncl.com ) is the only major operator to begin and end cruises in Hawaii. Pride of Hawaii (vintage America theme, family focus with lots of connecting staterooms and suites) offers a seven-day itinerary that includes stops on Maui, Oahu, the Big Island, and Kauai. This is the only ship to cruise Hawaii that does not spend days at sea visiting a foreign port, allowing you more time to explore destinations). Ocean conditions in the channels between islands can be a consideration when booking an interisland cruise on a smaller vessel such as the one operated by Un-Cruise Adventures ( www.un-cruise.com )—a stately yacht accommodating only 36 passengers. This yacht’s small size allows it to dock at less frequented islands such as Molokai and Lanai. The cruise is billed as “all inclusive”—your passage includes shore excursions, water activities, and a massage.

Hula: More than a Folk Dance

Hula has been called “the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people” and “the world’s best known, most misunderstood dance.” Both are true. Hula isn’t just dance. It is storytelling. Today’s Hawaii distinguishes between the traditional hula (kahiko ) and modern hula (auana ). Called “an extension of a piece of poetry,” hula integrates every important Hawaiian cultural practice: poetry, history, genealogy, craft, plant cultivation, martial arts, religion, and protocol. So when 19th-century Christian missionaries sought to eradicate a practice they considered depraved, they threatened more than just a folk dance. With public performance outlawed and private hula practice discouraged, hula went underground for decades. The fragile verbal link by which culture was transmitted from teacher to student hung by a thread, as hula’s practitioners were a secretive and protected circle. As if that weren’t bad enough, vaudeville, Broadway, and Hollywood got hold of the hula, giving it the glitz treatment in an unbroken line from “Oh, How She Could Wicky Wacky Woo” to “Rock-A-Hula Baby.” Hula became shorthand for paradise: fragrant flowers, lazy hours, gorgeous beaches. Ironically, this development assured that hundreds of Hawaiians could make a living performing and teaching hula. Many danced auana(modern form) in performance, but taught kahiko (traditional), quietly, at home or in hula schools.

Today, language immersion programs have assured a new generation of proficient—and even eloquent—chant-1 ers, songwriters, and translators. Visitors can see more traditional hula than at any other time in the last 200 years.

About the Hula

At backyard parties, hula is performed in bare feet and street clothes. But in performance, adornments play a key role, as do rhythm-keeping implements such as the pahu drum and the ipu (gourd). In hula kahiko (traditional style), the usual dress is multiple layers of stiff fabric (often with a pellom lining, which most closely resembles kapa , the paperlike bark cloth of the Hawaiians). These wrap tightly around the bosom but flare below the waist to form a skirt. In precontact times, dancers wore only kapa skirts. Men traditionally wear loincloths.

Monarchy-period hula is performed in voluminous muumuu or high-necked muslin blouses and gathered skirts. Men wear white or gingham shirts and black pants.

In hula auana (modern), dress for women can range from grass skirts and strapless tops to contemporary tea-length dresses. Men generally wear aloha shirts, but sometimes don grass skirts over pants or even everyday gear.

Surprising Hula Facts

Grass skirts are not traditional; workers from Kiribati (the Gilbert Islands) brought this custom to Hawaii. Hula mai is a traditional hula form in praise of a noble’s genitals; the power of the alii (royalty) to procreate gave mana (spiritual power) to the entire culture. Hula students in old Hawaii adhered to high standards: scrupulous cleanliness, no sex, daily cleansing rituals, certain food prohibitions, and no contact with the dead. They were fined if they broke the rules.

Where to Watch Hula

If you’re interested in “the real thing,” there are annual hula festivals on each island. Check the individual island visitors’ bureaus websites ( www.gohawaii.com ).

For total immersion, check out the weeklong Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo in early Spring. Halaus (schools) from every island and from around the world compete with a common goal of preserving and promoting this sacred art form. If you can’t make it to a festival and are in the Islands, check the local TV listings for festival coverage; it’s an annual event that spellbinds many island residents.

There are plenty of other hula shows at resorts, lounges, and shopping centers. Ask your hotel concierge for performance information.

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