by Beth Whitman
“When I was growing up, we weren’t aloud to talk Hawaiian, now they have special immersion schools.” Danny Akaka walks us through the property at the Manua Lani Resort — pointing to petroglyphs and ancient boats as we make our way to the beach. Laughing, he tells us, “I didn’t talk to my daughter in English until she was seven and that was because I had to help her with her homework.”
Legislation banning Hawaiian in public schools wasn’t officially lifted until 1986, making the resurgence and interest by islanders and mainlanders a big change from surprisingly recent history. In the mid-80’s, immersion schools started to crop up. Graduates from these early programs are now adults and some, like Danny, speak only Hawaiian to their families. His enthusiasm is infectious and our group seems to be hanging on his every word. So much so that our tour is running 30 minutes late because we love to hear Danny talk story and we keep asking questions.
Danny is not only the Director of Cultural Affairs at the resort, he’s an Hawaiian historian and is known island-wide for his storytelling and ukelele playing. He’s obviously proud of his heritage and spins long tales of ancient mariners and figures that have drifted in and out of history.
My husband, Jon, and I are on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island. Located in the Northwest corner, this is an interesting pocket of land. It’s dominated by year-round sunshine and little rainfall. Driving north on the highway from the airport, lava fields spread out in both directions. So black are they that people “write” messages and “draw” pictures in white coral stones professing their love and adding their name and smiley faces for car passengers and bicyclists to see.
If it wasn’t for these messages, you could easily imagine that you’d landed on the moon.
Though this landscape IS stunning, most people don’t come here for the lava. They come for the consistently beautiful weather. I’m standing in line at the bar at the Waikoloa BeachÂ Marriott luau and, to pass the time, ask the gentleman behind me what brought him to the island. “We purchased a condo here 10 years ago. It’s the only place I can come and know that I can golf every day because the weather is perfect.” That’s a man who has his priorities straight.
In addition to condos along this 20-mile stretch, luxury hotels sit snug up against the beachfront. You’re never too far from the ocean and likely will never miss a sunset framed byÂ palm trees unless you’re face down on a massage table. But even then you can enjoy it from the Fairmont Orchid, where outdoor tents hide private massage bungalows next to the beach.
I found my massage a welcome relief after all the water sports we try.
Jon and I give standup paddleboarding a shot. I started my hour-long lesson with our teacher, Ali’iloa, nervous and wondering what I am doing. After I got the hang of balancing in the protected bay where the lessons start, I get bored. But I quickly realize how fun this sport is when I get out into the somewhat choppy open waters where I am more challenged.
Ali’iloa spends his days on the water — by himself, with friends or with students like us. His affable manner is consistent with his philosophy that nothing is more important than being outside — surfing, paddleboarding — whatever it takes.
If getting a bit of a workout below the water is more your style, the Kohala Coast has some snorkeling opportunities as well. We motor out to an alcove where the water is calm and tropical fish and coral can be easily seen just 20 to 30 feet from the beach.
One of our guides shows us a picture book of fish before we jump in so we know in advance what we’ll see. I forget the names of most of the fish right away and instead am just enamored with the thousands of fish wriggling by.
The surprise highlight on the Kohala Coast was stargazing with Wayne Fukunaga from StarGaze Hawaii. I like stars but I didn’t realize that spending an evening with a professional stargazer might amount to a profound experience. Wayne is so obviously passionate and knowledgeable about the subject that you can’t help but also get enthusiastic.
We spent an hour with Wayne on the deck of the Coast Grille Restaurant at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. Wayne had his telescope all set up and ready for us when we arrived. He would first show us on his iPad a (relatively) close-up photograph he’d taken. And then he’d present it to us in his high-powered telescope, explaining the history, the present and a possible future for the galaxy, nebulae or star cluster.
Though he’s a pure geek and scientist at heart, Wayne explains the sky in terms we all understand and provides the visuals to back it up. I regret having dozed off in so many of my college astronomy classes.
My perspective changed that night and I realized how insignificant we are on our tiny planet. It was less a feeling of fatalism than a feeling of relaxation by being reminded that my everyday worries and concerns are far less troubling than I make them out to be. And then I realize that this feeling might not be tied to Wayne and his otherworldly lessons. It might be that having spent a week on the Kohala Coast, I start to understand a bit about the Aloha spirit – the deep connection we all have to the water, land, sky and each other.
Most of us on the mainland, and most definitely we city-dwellers, are far removed from the natural rhythm of life. Instead of stars, our focus is on the glow that comes from our computer screens. Our biggest connection to water comes in a bottle after an indoor workout at the gym. And talking story with family and friends usually means about politics or other people.
There’s no doubt in my mind that as long as there are people like Danny, Ali’iloa and Wayne – whose very passion and love for their island lives on – the culture will continue its resurgence.
When you visit:
Places to stay
Fairmont Orchid – AAA Four Diamond resort situatied on 32 acres on the beach. Features 10,000 square foot pool, massage in private tents on the beach.
Hilton Waikoloa Village – Great for families with lots of activities. Features Dolphin Quest Learning Center, waterfalls, 2 golf courses, tennis courts and saltwater lagoon.
Waikoloa Beach Marriott – Manageable-sized property, excellent luau – rooms a tad small.
Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel – Feels more secluded than the others mentioned. Large, spacious property gives the feel of peace and quiet.
What to do
Star Gazing with Wayne Fukunaga – You’ll never look at the sky the same way again after an hour of stargzing with Wayne.
Standup Paddleboarding at Fairmont Orchid – Â Perfect spot for beginners with a protected cover that allows you to practice before venturing into open waters.
Champagne Sunset Sail with Ocean Sports – Romantic light dinner and Champagne evening on the water in time for the perfect sunset. A few couples on our trip renewed their wedding vows. $127/person
Black Sand Snorkel trip with Ocean Sports – The chance to see the coast’s abundant fish life and coral reef. Lunch served, too. $147/person