comscore Kaanapali Beach immerses visitors in Hawaiian culture | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii's Backyard | Travel

Kaanapali Beach immerses visitors in Hawaiian culture

    Kaanapali Beach Hotel has been dubbed "Hawaii's Most Hawaiian Hotel."
    Lei making is a popular cultural activity.
    Employees share their talents as singers and musicians as members of the hotel's choir.
    A complimentary hula show is presented in the Tiki Courtyard nightly from 6 to 9 p.m.

To most people, the 100-foot albizia growing on a West Maui family’s property was just a big tree. The young boy in the family looked at it and envisioned a canoe.

"Can we build a canoe?" he asked his father.

"I don’t have the knowledge or equipment to do that," the man replied, "but maybe one day someone will come and ask for that tree to make one."

Sadly, an accident took the boy’s life in 2003, when he was 11 years old. Six years later, fate brought his family, canoe builder Charlie Noland and the Kaanapali Beach Hotel together to fulfill his dream. All his parents asked in return for donating the albizia tree was that the canoe be named Kaililaau after their beloved son.

From November 2009 through early March 2010, Noland and most of KBH’s 280 employees carved, sanded and varnished a four-man, single-hull Hawaiian sailing canoe. This period coincided with the annual maka­hiki of ancient times — when war was forbidden, so the people could celebrate the harvest, honor Lono (god of agriculture) and renew their spirits and traditions.


» Address: 2525 Kaanapali Parkway, Lahaina, Maui

» Rates: Nightly rates begin at $159 ($109 for kamaaina). Check the website for package deals.

» Phone: 661-0011 or toll-free 800-262-8450 from the other islands

» Email:

» Website:

» Note: Kaanapali Beach Hotel’s 21st annual Hula o na Keiki is set for Nov. 4-6. For this solo hula competition, children ages 5 through 17 compete in interview, dance, chant and costume categories. The weekend’s festivities also feature delicious local food, cultural workshops, and Hawaiian arts and crafts. Admission is free, and details are posted on the website.



The Maui Invitational Music Festival and Kaanapali Beach Hotel will host the third annual Henry Kaleialoha Allen Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival from Thursday through next Sunday at the hotel.

Admission to all events is free except for the Meet the Artist Reception on Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets for that event are $150 per person, including food, beverages, gift bags and the chance to meet and chat with Allen, who’s recognized as a master of the steel guitar by the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts and the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.

Festival attendees can also enjoy performances by Allen and his band, Tropical Swing; Hawaiian steel guitarists Duke Kaleolani Ching and Greg Sardinha; Alan Akaka and the Islanders; and, from Japan, singer Masami Sato and the Kani ka Pila steel guitar trio.

Also planned are educational exhibits; open jam sessions (bring your own instruments); a daily hands-on Hawaiian steel guitar-making class; a workshop on steel guitar-playing techniques; and Hawaiian cultural activities, including tattooing and ti-leaf skirt weaving. Don’t miss the presentation on Joseph Kekuku, creator of the steel guitar; renowned recording industry executive Don McDiarmid Jr.; and "Hawaii Calls," the radio show that was broadcast live from Waikiki from 1935 through 1975.

The festival wraps up with Lei Day festivities and a Sunday Champagne Brunch. For brunch reservations, call 661-0011. For more information about the festival, call 669-6189.


On March 9, 2010, Kaililaau was blessed and launched in the waters off KBH. Now exhibited on the hotel’s lawn, the 32-foot canoe is a noteworthy representation of the acclaimed Pookela (Excellence) program, which KBH’s General Manager Mike White and the late George Kanahele, a respected Hawaiian scholar, founded in 1986. Since then, Pookela has presented more than 600 classes on 70 topics related to Hawaiian history and culture, including hula, religion, language, fishing, navigation, food, music, myths and medicine.

Held quarterly, the mandatory four-hour sessions are part of ongoing paid training for employees. Lori Sablas, director of Pookela for 22 years, has been instrumental in developing the curriculum, which has included field trips to the taro patches in Hono­ko­hau Valley, the forests and crater of Hale­akala, even a sail to Lanai for a lesson on ocean voyaging.

KBH is known as "Hawaii’s Most Hawaiian Hotel," a moniker that its staff views as an honor, a responsibility and a commitment. "Pookela not only teaches us about the Hawaiian culture, it challenges us to preserve and perpetuate it," Sablas said. "Hawaii’s culture is what sets it apart from other destinations. Empowered with the knowledge and experiences they gain from Pookela, our hotel ohana is proud and excited to share Hawaii’s unique ‘sense of place’ with everyone who walks through our doors."

Pookela is evident everywhere at KBH. Signage incorporates Hawaiian words. The hotel offers a dozen free cultural activities on a rotating basis (about five are available every day). These include storytelling, guided tours of the gardens and lessons on hula, ukulele playing, lei making and lau hala weaving. A free hula show begins at 6 p.m. every day.

Ulu (breadfruit), wauke (paper mulberry), puhala (pandanus) and other native plants are key elements of the landscaping. Gardeners also tend three taro patches, whose harvests are used by the hotel’s restaurants.

Employees provide entertainment at the complimentary welcome breakfast, held daily except Sunday, and during Aloha Friday celebrations. Some of them delight guests with impromptu songs and hula throughout the day.

Fishhooks, fishnets, feather lei, musical instruments, wooden drums — more than 200 items handcrafted by staff as part of Pookela are exhibited in the lobby and the Na Mea Makamae Museum on the second floor of the Maui Wing. Access to the museum can be arranged through Guest Services. In addition, artisans from the community are in the lobby every morning to "talk story" and sell their work.

Guests are welcome to try their hand at konane (checkers). Still actively involved with the program he started, White made two boards for this traditional Hawaiian game from stones gathered from nearby Hono­ko­wai Valley.

"Pookela connects us with Hawaii’s rich past," Sablas said. "The most rewarding part of my job is having the support and resources to bring to life much of what makes Hawaii special. Through Pookela, our employees gain camaraderie; respect for nature and the ways of our ancestors; and skills in craftsmanship, agriculture, music, dance and more. They are motivated to teach others. In this way the Hawaiian culture can truly remain a living culture."

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.



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