The conch shell call to the ocean, the cascade of a waterfall tumbling in a rainforest, the taste of seared ahi and the lingering resonance of slack-key guitar chords. USA TODAY’s Candyce H. Stapen samples the sights, sounds and tastes of traditional Hawaii on a visit to Maui.
Hawaii cuisine melds the foods and spices used by the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Filipino immigrants brought to work on the sugar and pineapple plantations.
Da Kitchen, with locations in Kahului and Kihei, serves what the owners call “island soul food” — noodles, tempura fish sandwiches, and amazing, supersized plate lunches, a mix of proteins that grew out of the swapping of tasty bites by plantation workers. The Kanak Attack, a “loco moco” local dish, tops rice with chicken, beef, a fried chicken cutlet, two eggs, onions, mushrooms and gravy. Entrees: $10-$20.
At Ka`ana Kitchenin the Andaz Maui at Wailea, my favorite island breakfast buffet features local fare with a modern twist. Try the chorizo pork with scrambled eggs in steamed bao buns served with homemade hoisin sauce, and chicken sausages made with feta cheese, cranberry and spinach. Entrees: $21-$56.
Located in the Grand Wailea Resort, Humuhumunukunukuapua`a is named for Hawaii’s state fish. With its thatched roof, tiki torches and setting atop a large saltwater lagoon, Humu evokes old Hawaii and serves macadamia-nut crusted mahi-mahi and Korean-style fried chicken. Table 70, called the most romantic in Hawaii, juts out over the water and has expansive ocean views. Entrees $31-$64.
Ko,Hawaiian for sugar cane, serves island fare inspired by the cultures of the sugar cane workers. Winner of the 2013 ‘Aipono Awards for Restaurant of the Year and Best Regional Hawaiian Cuisine, it features such highlights as Portuguese bean soup, lobster tempura, lavender honey macadamia nut shrimp and the best paella I ever had. Entrees: $30-$58.
Hotel cultural programs
Even resorts offer Hawaiian cultural programs.
Hyatt’s new Andaz Maui at Wailea has a full-time cultural adviser who gives free talks on Hawaii’s history. maui.andaz.hyatt.com. Rooms from $499.
Maui News readers rated the Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea as having the best Hawaiian cultural program. fairmont.com/kea-lani-maui. From $549 for four people.
Typical experiences include outrigger canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding.
I join one of the Fairmont Kea Lani’s free six-person outrigger-canoe trips. Before we push off, one of the guides blows a conch shell, then chants a prayer. Rhythm is key. When our other guide shouts “hut,” we finish our strokes, and on “ho,” we switch paddling sides. But no one moves when we spot the T-shaped flukes of humpback whales diving deep.
Aboard the Hina, Maui’s only outrigger sailing canoe, I feel the power of the wind and spot a green sea turtle. “King Kamehameha sent hundreds of these single hulls across the channel between the Big Island to conquer Maui,” says Donny Abernathy, our guide from Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventures.mauisailingcanoe.com. Departs from the Fairmont Kea Lani. $99.
Stand-up paddleboarding, the popular sport with a Hawaiian heritage, looks easy. And for my fellow newbies on Napili Bay, it is. After Tiki Man SUP instructor Corby Hettler demonstrates the basics, the others effortlessly glide. But not me. I give up and watch Hettler do perfect yoga positions on his board. tikimansup.com. 90-minute lesson, $125.
From rainforest treks to artisanal shops, Hawaii boasts an array of uniquely local attractions.
To find the classic Hawaii of rainforests and waterfalls, I join Hike Maui’s outing in the Ho’olawa Valley. En route to 40-foot Twin Falls, guide Jake Noury points out the pineapple patches, taro plants, ti leaves and ginger and heliconia flowers. He picks fiddlehead ferns for us to taste. At the second waterfall, Jake demonstrates how to cannonball into the natural pool before letting the willing in our group take the plunge.hikemaui.com. $149 with hotel pick-up.
In Wailuku, Native Intelligence is the place to find well-designed items that reflect Hawaiian culture and are crafted by local artisans. There are lauhala hats fashioned from pandanus leaves; uli uli, the seed-filled gourds decorated with feathers for hula dancers; and hand-printed pillowcases with contemporary versions of traditional designs. www.native-intel.com
No authentic Hawaiian experience is complete without slack-key guitar or ukelele music.
Master slack-key guitarist Ledward Kaapana, recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, headlines at the Napili Kai Beach Resort during the week I visit. “There was always music,” Kaapana says. “When I grew up in Kalapana, there were no stores and no electricity. My dad, mom and uncle played. I learned from them.” When picked, the slack, or loosened, strings resonate, adding a lingering sound. The host, George Kahumoku Jr., a four-time Grammy winner whose songs are on the soundtrack of The Descendants, also plays tunes with English and Hawaiian lyrics. Evening show: $45. Both musicians teach at the Annual Slack Key Guitar and Ukulele Workshop at the Napili Bay Beach Resort, June 15-22.
Ukulele musician Derick Sebastian performs free at the Andaz Maui, where he also leads free ukulele classes for guests.