Kaanapali resorts invite guests to embrace local culture

When you go to a place like Hawaii, you often experience a deep sense of peace, relaxation and fulfillment. Maybe you snorkel, hike, get on a surfboard. Maybe you eat starfruit and mango every morning and watch the sunset every night.

As a vacationer you get a lot from Hawaii, but do you really know the culture, the traditions, the place? How to give back and show your appreciation?

Learning more about the area does not need to involve textbooks or lectures. It can be as simple as understanding the meaning of a name or a ceremony. Here are some ways that resorts make it easier for guests to make those connections.


Oralani Koa, head of Hawaiian programming at the Westin Maui Resort and Spa, Kaanapali, said the name of the towers at the resort was her favorite part of their recent renovation. Before coming up with a name, Koa, who has a Hawaiian language degree, spent time studying the history and function of the land by browsing through old maps, books, and articles.

In his research, Koa discovered that the first tower was perfectly aligned with the Pole Star. So they chose to call it Hokupaa, which means north star.

“When we name something in Hawaiian, we think the place takes whatever the name means,” Koa says. “Once you pronounce the name, the essence of that name is given. Hokupaa also has a deeper meaning which says that we all live under the same sky. We hope that our guests will leave us better than when they arrived and that in the future they will be able to look at the North Star and remember all the great memories they created during their vacation.


Puu Kekaa is a sacred site where lava flows down the hillside over 300 feet to the ocean. In the past, locals believed it was a place where a soul could leap into eternity and their ancestral spiritual land.

There are sites like this all over Hawaii, but this one was considered too dangerous for anyone to jump. That is until Chief Kahekili, who reigned from 1749 to 1794, took the leap and became the “King of the Spiritual Leap”, gaining much respect and admiration.

To pay homage to this sacred site, the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa invites a young warrior every evening to light the torches, tell the story of Kahekili, say a blessing and dive into the waves below.

The Westin Maui Resort and Spa also hosts an evening ceremony. “Chase the Sunset” consists of lighting torches and drinking a glass of well-being. When the sun is almost over the horizon, hotel staff hand out snapshots created in partnership with a local kombucha producer. The ingredients are healthy and reflect the color of the sunset with turmeric, hibiscus and ginger.

At the Kaanapali Beach Hotel, Kongbay Moua, the Marketing Director, explains that their team holds a farewell ceremony where each guest learns how to properly tie a kukui nut to their lei. They consider it a ‘welcome to the family’ party and invite the guest to come back and bring their lei and add another kukui.


Moua also strives to bring in cultural practitioners from the community who demonstrate and teach local skills and crafts like hula, weaving and plant knowledge. And they host an annual weaving conference and children’s hula competition, which brings together people from all over the islands to share knowledge, teach each other, and help perpetuate traditional arts.


In an effort to care for the environment in a tangible way, and in collaboration with local surfers and sailors (people who know the ocean well and can fish, paddle, canoe, and understand the currents) the Westin Maui Resort and Spa created the Waterman program.

“We built this program to connect with nonprofits and defend and clean up our environment,” Koa said. “Once a month, with our guests, we take old pillowcases to use as garbage bags and we walk on the beach to collect litter. Because a waterman is someone who takes care of the earth in all its facets.

Kaanapali seaside resort is a fully self-contained vacation destination on a five-kilometer beach. Whether you want a romantic getaway or a fun family vacation, you will never be short of something fun to do in Kaanapali.

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