Magical Maui

Come for the sand and sun, leave with a better understanding of Hawaiian culture


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As we paddle an outrigger canoe past Pu’u Keka’a, commonly referred to as Black Rock, I see posted warning signs not to climb the jagged outcrop and a long lineup of youths waiting their turn to launch themselves from one of its platforms.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/02/2020 (1154 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As we paddle an outrigger canoe past Pu’u Keka’a, commonly referred to as Black Rock, I see posted warning signs not to climb the jagged outcrop and a long lineup of youths waiting their turn to launch themselves from one of its platforms.

Earlier, I snorkelled below that same spot, one of the last lava flows on the west side of Maui, and saw a green turtle contently munching on seaweed below. I worried how the turtle, seemingly oblivious to the people around and above him, might inadvertently be hit by one of the jumpers.

While I’ve always thought of cliff diving as dangerous it seemed even more foolhardy after our guide and canoeing instructor Iokepa Naeole explains the significance of Pu’u Keka’a.

“It’s a sacred place,” he says. “In Hawaiian cultural history it’s a portal connecting points between the living and non-living,” he says. “The soul comes to this cliff and jumps off to the void.”

Iokepa adds Maui’s last ruling king would prove his bravery to his people by daring to jump into this portal into the ancestral realm.

As we float on the waves gently lapping underneath the canoe, I can’t help wondering whether today’s daredevils would be up there if they knew its story.

We’ve only been out on the coastline for a few hours but already our small group of four — all of us tourists — has learned much more than just how to paddle an outrigger canoe.

Our first lesson had us working in unison to haul the six-person 204 kilogram canoe, made out of glass fibre, from its berth on the hot sands, near the beach’s boardwalk, to the waterfront. Working together is much easier to accomplish a task, says Iokepa. It’s called “laulima” which means “many hands working together” in Hawaiian.

As we canoe away from the shore break Iokepa gives the signal to make our first stop, so a blessing can be made.

“We know that realm is owned by our ancestors so we ask for permission and protection on our journey and a lesson at the end of the journey,” he says.

Later, Iokepa explains for him canoeing is much more than a recreational sport. It’s an outlet to connect with his ancestors.

With Iokepa, who is steering in the back, and his assistant setting the pace up front, we set out confident our mini-canoeing lesson onshore was enough to keep us afloat. That and knowing we are with an expert oarsman. Both men compete in Hawaii’s inter-island annual outrigger canoeing competition, which determines which top three teams go to the state finals. Iokepa has been coaching local paddlers since 1972 at the Hawaiian Canoe Club, the oldest club in the state. But for the past three years, he has also been teaching newbies, like us, out of the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel.

The hotel, recognizing many of its visitors want to immerse themselves in Hawaiian culture now offers classes to guests such as hula dancing, lei making, ukulele lessons and Hawaiian language classes.

Iokepa took the job because he saw it as an opportunity to educate tourists about Hawaii so they will go away having a better appreciation of its customs and culture.

While I initially signed up to learn how to paddle an outrigger canoe and enjoy the beauty of Maui, the second largest of the Hawaiian islands, from the water I came away with a better understanding of the Hawaiian culture.

Other activities in Maui:

Visit the historic town of Lahaina, once a plantation town surrounded by sugar cane and pineapple fields with a sugar processing mill in its centre. It was also an important hub for Pacific whaling and the capital of the Hawaiian kingdom. If you want to experience a traditional luau one of the best, happening daily, is the Old Lahaina Luau along the ocean in historic Lahaina. The all-you-can-eat buffet features roast pig, fresh fish, and taro leaf stew. Entertainment begins at sunset and will educate you as well about early Polynesian migration and early missionary life. Cost is US$130 for adults and US$78 for children (3 to 12 years). Go to for tickets.

Beyond Maui’s many pristine, white sand beaches that follow its coastline there’s a hidden Maui, that takes in cascading waterfalls, tropical rainforests and lush valleys. The best way to get an overview of the island is with a helicopter tour. I initially signed up for Blue Hawaiian’s 50-minute tour along the east coast towards Hanna and to see the Haleakala Crater but poor visibility canceled that day’s flight. Instead, I opted to tour West Maui and across the channel to the neighbouring island of Molokai, which has Hawaii’s tallest waterfalls. While disappointed, I wouldn’t be getting a bird’s eye view of Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano, on this trip it was still incredible to see lush rainforests and waterfalls on Molokai, considered the most authentic Hawaiian island. Cost for the 50-minute tours was US$280. For more information go to

Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate is opening a factory in Lahaina — Maui’s only farm to bar chocolate factory with 100 per cent of the net profits going to Maui charities. Tours of the factory will soon be available, that end with a visit to rooftop terrace, with sweeping views of the West Maui Mountains, the ocean and neighbouring islands. Be sure to stop in at the retail store to try the chocolate tasting bar. While the bulk of their coffee beans are being imported from the Amazon the long term plan is to grow the cacao bean locally. A former sugarcane plantation, nearby, has been transformed to provide ideal conditions for the growing of cacao and already some of the trees, first planted in 2015, have been harvested. You can order chocolate online now or visit for more information about the factory.

Maui Ocean Center is the largest aquarium in Hawaii, with more than 60 exhibits depicting the island’s diverse marine life. (Did you know nearly 25 per cent of the marine animals found in Hawaiian waters are found nowhere else in the world?) New at the aquarium is the Humpbacks of Hawaii Exhibit & Sphere, that allows guests to experience humpbacks in the wild through the integration of imagery and 3D glasses. The Open Ocean exhibit allows visitors to walk underneath a tunnel with sharks, fish and stingrays swimming directly above them while the Turtle Lagoon allows you to see a top and underwater view of six species of turtles that call Hawaii home. For more information visit Tickets are US$35 for adults and US$25 for children (ages 4 to 12).

Where to eat:

Morimoto Maui — For an unforgettable dining experience this upscale Japanese restaurant is the newest restaurant by celebrity chef Masaharu Morimoto offering his signature Japanese-American cuisine. This beachfront restaurant is located in the chic hotel Andaz Maui at Wailea. This popular south Maui destination has one of the island’s best beaches, and is everything you would associate with paradise — golden sand, azure waters and swaying palm trees, so be sure to bring your camera. If you time it right, and you are sitting on the outdoor patio, you might end up getting to see a luau, not associated with the restaurant, that happens on the beachfront at sunset.

Tommy Bahama Restaurant & Bar — Located at the Shops at Wailea this popular eatery has a great mix of seafood, beef, chicken and vegetarian dishes. The macadamia crusted Mahi, with almond rice and asparagus, was outstanding. It might seem strange to eat at a restaurant associated with a clothing store, but the food was surprisingly delicious. A great place for lunch, on its outdoor patio, but it’s also open for dinner as well.

Lineage — The place to go for family style, locally-sourced dishes. The meal begins with a travelling dim sum cart, with fare like garden poke, and chicharron with adobo spices. Chef Sheldon Simmaeon, of Filipino descent, was born and raised near Hilo on Hawaii’s Big Island. The food he serves is inspired by his heritage using recipes from his grandmother.

Hula Grill — At Whalers Village on Ka’anapali Beach, this relaxed restaurant is the place to go for all ages with a grassy play area out front for the young ones to run barefoot and a beach, just beyond the boardwalk. There’s also live music nightly. It’s the perfect spot for fish tacos, tropical drinks and showing off your favourite aloha shirt. A must try desert is their famous hula pie, with a chocolate cookie crust, macadamia nut ice cream, and hot fudge.

Where to stay:

Ka’anapali Beach Hotel — One of the best beach locations in Maui, this 432-room hotel is set on nearly five kms of sandy beach on the western shores of Maui. It’s unique among other island hotels as it offers complimentary cultural activities for guests, including a sunset hula show, live Hawaiian entertainment and lei making classes. For more information go to

The Whaler on Kaanapali Beach — There are 144 condo units available for rent through Aqua Aston, in two modern 12-storey towers, all with great ocean views. The condos offer fully equipped kitchens. Go to for more information.

Maui Coast Hotel — While most tourists head to the western shores, I recommend also spending some time in southern Maui around the community of Kihei. This reasonably priced hotel is directly across the street from Kamaole Beach parks, and within walking distance to several dining and entertainment venues. A complimentary shuttle will take you to the nearby Wailea Resort area where there are still more restaurants and shopping. Visit for more information.





Updated on Saturday, February 1, 2020 8:44 AM CST: Fixes typo

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