“Look, there’s one,” someone shouted from the boat, pointing out towards a small black dot on the horizon. It is always exciting to see a whale, no matter how far in the distance. Lucky for us, the whale moved closer and we saw seven on our island trip. Even though it was early for the whales -- early December -- they were moving in.
We were in Hawaii, Maui to be exact, at the perfect time. Although weather isn’t usually really bad where we live in Pittsburgh, PA in early December, escaping to sun and sand is always wonderful and that is the perfect time to visit the islands. A favorite vacation spot for Baby Bboomers, this is a “down-time” for travel so it is a good time for bargains.
For accommodations, Kaanapali Beach Hotel offers a wonderful experience for guests. Not only do you have the requisite Hawaii features -- beautiful, clean ocean front rooms and beach; colorful, fragrant flowers; warm breezes; lovely pool; and usual activities � the hotel has impressively integrated Hawaiian culture into daily life. Recognized by the Waiaha Foundation as Hawaii’s most Hawaiian Hotel, it was also voted as “Maui’s Most Hawaiian Hotel,” by many other organizations. The hotel features complimentary Hawaiian activities every day. Guests can take a cultural garden walk where they learn all about native plants and their many medicinal and cooking; Lau printing; Lei making; Ti Leaf Skirt Demonstration; hula lessons; sand images; ukulele lessons, pineapple cutting demonstrations and more.
According to Luana Pa’ahana, director of sales and marketing at the hotel, all of the staff takes culture classes so that they can assist guests with learning about the area and native people. Of course, many of the staff are native Hawaiians themselves and pleased to pass on their culture!
The restaurants at the hotel also offer native Hawaiian foods. Pa’ahana treated us to a meal of Pohole Fern salad with sweet Maui onions and tomatoes, Hawaiian purple sweet potato, taro (which I did NOT like) and steamed chicken wrapped in a taro leaf. It was delicious.
Ka’anapali Beach Hotel is located in the middle of the Ka’anapali Beach Resort. There are several wonderful hotels and rental properties (including the Whaler where we stayed for a couple of nights and also a fine place to stay). In addition to the activities at the hotel, we enjoyed fantastic snorkeling a short walk down the beach, walking along the beachfront both on and off the sidewalks, swimming, and lying in the sun.
The Whalers Village Shopping Center and Museum had a wealth of shopping opportunities and a really cool museum that portrayed the whaling industry so important to Hawaii’s past. It was just a short walk away from both the hotel and the Whaler.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Hula Grill, owned by Pittsburgher Peter Merriman. Located right on the beach front about a five-minute walk from the hotel, the food was fabulous and it was wonderful to see a fellow Pittsburgh native doing so well even if he is lucky enough to be in paradise!
During our stay, we had the opportunity to see local children compete in a native song competition. Children came from all over the island and neighboring islands to perform native songs and dances. It was heartwarming to see the people working so hard to preserve their culture.
The whale spotting was done on a boat ride and snorkeling trip where we went to the tiny nearby island of Lani`a and enjoyed playing all day. We also enjoyed a sunset boat ride a few days later, a luau, and my personal favorite, parasailing. The morning of our departure, we parasailed for a bit and enjoyed our last few views of the beautiful island of Maui. It was bittersweet as the sights were wonderful but we knew it would be over in a few short hours.
Perhaps the most moving experience for us was the Kukaui lei ceremony upon our departure from the hotel. Each guest is given a Kakaui lei, a beautiful necklace made out of polished nuts, and wished farewell, safe journeys and hopes for a return to the island.
Fortunately for us, Aloha means both goodbye and hello in Hawaii.
By Kathleen Ganster
Kathleen Ganster may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.thetravelingbag.com