Photo: ©Michael Maxwell – stock.adobe.com
Hundreds of guidebooks have been penned promising visitors access to the “real” or “hidden” Hawaii. They include advice on where to find secret waterfalls and unspoiled beaches, and which stop on the Road to Hana will lead to the “Hawaii of your dreams.”
The thing these guidebooks miss—and it’s at the heart of experiencing authentic Hawaii—is meeting the Hawaiians themselves. There is a Hawaiian word, mana, that means the life energy that flows through all things and humans. Though I have traveled to this remote island chain many times, I had never experienced mana. Until, as unlikely as
it sounds, I checked into a very special beachfront hotel on Maui.
Kaliko Storer’s title is Cultural Advisor at the Andaz Maui. However, it’s not possible to reduce what she does to a simple title. To those of us with scant knowledge of Hawaiian history, this role could seem unnecessary. As I peppered her with trite questions about where to find the elusive real Hawaii that greenwich magazine readers would be eager to visit, she gently returned me to the same answer again and again. Meet the people, sit, listen, be. I had a lot to learn.
We know that Hawaii became the fiftieth state in 1959, but what many of us don’t know is that natives believe their monarchy was overthrown and their land illegally annexed. Teaching the Hawaiian language was banned until 1987. And by then, only 1 percent of the population could speak it fluently. Part of the resurgence of the local culture is the language. Kaliko’s job isn’t just teaching tourists, but also the staff. One of her many efforts is to normalize the Hawaiian language. “We have a Hawaiian word of the day program that we launched. I think it’s important to reclaim the Hawaiian names for places and other things.”
Disney’s Moana taught us that ancient voyagers could navigate the stars using just their hands. Standing under the boundless night sky measuring the distance to the North Star with my palm, I learned that I could as well. Classes on celestial navigation are another of Kaliko’s educational efforts.
Kala Tanaka looks a bit like Moana, young and sweet. But she is a serious Wayfinder who guided an entire crew and hulking double-hull canoe through dark waters using nothing more than her diminutive hand. When asked how she would know if we were off course, she replied that she could feel it—in the waves and in the wind. Learn more about the legacy of ancient voyaging at hokulea.com.
Though the Andaz Maui was recently voted one of the best hotels in the world by Conde Nast Traveler, it’s not the modern design or the cascading infinity pools that make it worth a visit. The resort spans fifteen beachfront acres just up the coast from the more well-known Four Seasons Maui.
The term “house reef” is used by hotels to indicate that guests can swim to a coral reef from the property’s shore. The Andaz has a house reef, and a swim around the rocky corner reveals an entire playground of sea turtles. Though you can borrow snorkel gear and rent a kayak, you won’t meet an octopus without a little help from an expert. Book the two-hour outrigger snorkel expedition ($139 per person). Ask if you can get on Koa’s boat. Kekoa Cramer is the beach crew manager, a competitive outrigger canoe rower and erstwhile sea-life whisperer. We had been in the water for about ten minutes when he swam up cradling an octopus. He assured me that as soon as he “calmed it down,” I could hold it. On a two-hour trip, we met Honu (sea turtles), octopi and all manner of tropical fish. Though the hotel offers guests complimentary new GoPro video cameras, leave it in the room for this outing. Be in the moment, and Koa will snap the photos.