Lāhainā, Maui, Hawai'i — As I walk along the long strip of beach that drifts off from the manicured grounds of the Kā’anapali Beach Hotel into the Pacific surf, a billion minuscule sand balls squish under my feet and tickle my toes.
A salty, early morning mist hangs over the handsome property that proudly proclaims to be “Hawai'i’s Most Hawai'ian Hotel” — where guests get to experience the culture and traditions of America’s most beautiful state while being treated like the kings and queens who once ruled over this necklace of tropical islands.
“Aloha kakahiaka (good morning),” says Iokepa Nae’ole, while polishing the Kā’anapali’s wa’a (outrigger canoe). Later in the day, Nae’ole, who was born and raised on Maui’s North Shore, takes me out on the needle nosed wa’a to Pu’u Keka’a (the north pass) where I get breathtaking views of the resort’s 10km-long beach and the surrounding West Maui mountains.
These are the waters where the likeable Nae’ole tells me he learned how to “swim, surf, paddle, dive and fish.”
Above: Guests at the Kā’anapali Beach Hotel get to ride in an outrigger canoe and are entertained by Hawai'ian dancers at the resort's amazing lū’au.
The outrigger tour is part of the hotel’s Project Poʻokela, which educates visitors on Hawai'i’s exciting history — from the time the Polynesians first arrived in their outriggers, through the period when ancient Hawai'ians survived thanks to their sustainable living practices, and right up to the present day.
“We may even see a humpback whale,” John White, the Kā’anapali’s Director of Sales and Marketing teases me over breakfast at the hotel’s traditional Tiki Terrace dining room.
The whale season usually runs between mid December and mid April in the waters off Kā’anapali Beach Hotel and the 432-room resort offers special packages so mainlanders can enjoy the mighty creatures up close in their natural environment.
“But first,” White tells me, “we have some hula lessons for you.”
With two left feet and a bad hip from playing football, I hand off this assignment to my travelling partner Susan, who joins other guests on a grassy knoll near the beach to learn the intricacies of a dance that tells a story.
From a distance, I watch as an instructor shows her attentive audience the rhythmic moves — hand gestures and swaying hips — that were used by ancient Hawai'ians to communicate before a written language existed here. The hula is believed to have started on neighbouring Molokai but was banned after Western missionaries arrived. However, when King David Kalakaua ascended to the Hawai'ian throne in 1874, the hula, along with many other traditions, was restored and continues to be the worldwide symbol of Hawai'ian culture.
Before I learn the intricate art of lei making, I head out on a boki board (a long surfboard-style raft) for a snorkeling tour of Pu’u Keka’a, where I get to view the abundance of sea life that make the area’s black volcanic underwater rocks their home. Sea turtles and tropical fish look at me curiously before disappearing into the black abyss.
The most treasured souvenir of any Hawai'ian vacation is the lei, the flower necklace that people are usually greeted with when they arrive at an Hawaiian hotel. At Kā’anapali, however, you learn how to make a traditional lei made out of kukui nuts that are tied together with kuala (cord made from coconut fibre).
Every time you visit Kā’anapali Beach Hotel, you get a new white kukui nut. Judging by the amount of white nuts I see dangling from guests’ necks, it’s obvious this unique hotel gets plenty of repeat visitors.
Above: The resort's Garden of Eden setting and comfortable rooms decorated in Hawai'ian chic and why so many guests keep coming back.
During my lei class, I learn that the durable kuala cord was also used to hold wa’a (canoes), hale (houses) and hīna‘i (fish traps) together.
One of the most popular activities at this sprawling resort is the cultural garden walk, where guests get to walk in a Garden of Eden setting and enjoy the plethora of tropical flora and fauna that wraps around Kā’anapali. Experienced guides educate guests about the importance nature plays in Hawai'ian life.
In between lessons and activities, I relax poolside or in my spacious room filled with luxurious amenities and decorated in Hawai'ian chic — lots of light rattan furnishings, intriguing island art and the Pacific brilliance framed in my window. At night, with a cold drink in hand, we sit on our lanai and watch the sun turn the sky a fiery red as it dips into the ocean.
In our rental car, we set out from the well-positioned Kā’anapali Beach Hotel to explore many of Maui’s natural attractions — the ride along the rollercoaster Hana Highway is an experience we won’t soon forget, and our drive to the top of the Haleakalā Observatory, where we get breathtaking views of its volcanic crater, are about the only things that make you want to leave the resort.
No visit to Hawai'i would be complete without a lū’au, the traditional Hawai'ian feast featuring island favourites like poi (fermented root of the taro), suckling pig, poke (diced raw fish), loom salmon, opihi (a local shellfish), haupia (a coconut desert) and lots of beer.
Most Hawai'ian hotels feature lū’aus but no one does it better than the Kā’anapali Beach Hotel.
Above: The breathtaking scenery surrounding the resort is a real eye candy treat for those who come to Maui.
The lū’au, overseen by the resort’s award-winning Chef Tom Muromoto, also features lots of Hawai'ian entertainment — we all sit wide-eyed as men wielding fiery bamboo sticks dance around a stage set up in the Tiki Courtyard, while women wearing straw skirts perform to the sound of beating drums and oli (chant) local songs. It’s a spectacle that must be seen to truly be appreciated.
Too soon, it’s time to say goodbye to our Kā’anapali ‘ohana (family) and we are bid farewell in the lobby with a Kukui Lei Ceremony where staff don’t say goodbye, but offer us “a hui hou” (until we meet again).
Many people come to Hawai'i but few experience Hawai'i — unless you stay at the Kā’anapali Beach Hotel.
JUST THE FACTS
• Getting to Maui is easy. Air Canada and WestJet offer daily service from most major Canadian cities and U.S. carriers like Delta and United also offer daily service vis American cities.
• The Kā’anapali Beach Hotel prides itself in being "Hawai’i’s Most Hawai’ian Hotel" and offers many cultural activities for guests to enjoy. One of the most popular times of the year to visit the resort is during Maui's whale season, which runs between December and April. The hotel's Whale Encounter Package is in high demand and if booked early, guests can save $268 U.S. on the package that includes:
- Four night stay in a partial ocean view room;
- One breakfast buffet for two;
- Whale watch for two on morning of your choice;
- Guided snorkel tour for two to Puʻu Kekaʻa with Hale Huakaʻi; plus much more.
- Package Price: $1,154 (U.S.) plus taxes based on single/double occupancy
• For more on this and other offers, go to the hotel's website: https://www.kbhmaui.com