The Aloha Spirit is Alive in Maui

Tracey Teo

My extended family and I recently faced a dilemma regarding our post-Christmas vacation to Maui. To go or not to go, that was the question. The trip was planned long before a deadly, wind-driven inferno of wildfires spread across Lahaina on Maui’s northwest coast last August. Would it demonstrate a lack of compassion to expect struggling locals to mix tropical beverages while we frolicked in the waves? On the other hand, Maui and much of the rest of Hawaii are dependent on tourism. After some research, we decided to proceed with our vacation, and we were glad we did.   

Ilihia Gionson, public affairs officer at Hawaii Tourism Authority, said respectful, responsible tourism is welcome except in Lahaina.  

“Shopping at local businesses, eating at local restaurants and enjoying the many great activities and attractions throughout the rest of the island helps keep small businesses afloat and keeps local people employed,” Gionson said. “The best way to support Maui’s recovery is for travelers to continue with their Maui vacations. Don’t cancel those trips.”   

So, we packed our loud Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops and set off for a sun-drenched paradise.  

The lūʻau is a time-honored symbol of Hawaiian hospitality, so we kicked off our adventure with Te Au Moana, a lūʻau at the luxurious Wailea Beach Resort.   

Set against an ocean backdrop, this feast was presented with the customary pomp and circumstance, which meant men in traditional Hawaiian attire carrying a Kālua, or prepared in an underground oven, pig to the kitchen where it would be prepared and served family style at each table.   

As we dug into the tender pork and other local delicacies, women in elaborately plumed headdresses performed a wicked-fast, hip-shaking dance to percussive rhythms while waving grass pom-poms that emphasized their nimble moves.  

It was one of many dances that told a story about the Polynesian people.  

The knife fire dancers were a force of nature, fearlessly twirling the knives like airplane propellers until rings of fire illuminated the outdoor stage.  

The kids were captivated during the entire performance and even enjoyed many of the traditional foods. The hula dance lesson was a hit, and they were thrilled with their temporary Polynesian tattoos.  

Hawaii’s main draw is its golden sand beaches. Wailea Beach Resort is flanked by two, Ulua and Wailea, that offer an array of water activities.  

Paddling out onto the shimmering blue water in an outrigger canoe is a fun way to connect with Maui’s abundant marine life. For the uninitiated, an outrigger is a frame positioned parallel to the main hull that helps prevent the narrow vessel from capsizing. Polynesians have been using them to navigate the oceans for thousands of years.    

An experienced guide demonstrated how to hold the paddle with the flat side facing the rear and then stroke together as a team.  

As we were getting the hang of it, a humpback whale sprang from the water nose-first, a behavior called spyhopping. Paddle boarders and boaters gathered round to catch the show, and the whale continued to entertain us with tail slaps and other acrobatic maneuvers that were incredibly agile for a 35-ton creature.   

During the winter, the species migrates 3,000 miles from Alaska to Maui’s shallow, predator-free waters to mate and give birth, so it’s not unusual to spot a mother with a playful calf trying to imitate her behavior.  

Whale watchers come from far and wide to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.  

To observe smaller marine life, I dove into the waves for some first-rate snorkeling, an activity I find therapeutic. It’s just me, the coral reef and the sea creatures swimming in a tranquil, silent world.   

Maui’s thriving underwater ecosystem teems with fish in vibrant colors, like yellow tang and parrotfish. Moray eels occasionally slither out of their cave-like hiding places on the sea floor, exposing a double row of razor-sharp teeth that can grasp wiggling prey. Fortunately, they rarely bite humans - unless provoked. Green sea turtles are Maui’s unofficial mascot, and it’s easy to spot them foraging for their favorite foods like seagrass and algae.  

For those who prefer the pool to the sea, Wailea Beach Resort has five oceanfront pools catering to everyone from families to honeymooners. The NALU Adventure Pool is where kids scream all the way down four waterslides while their younger siblings play in the splash zones.   

If listening to endless rounds of Marco Polo isn’t your scene, head to the Olakino infinity pool, a new, adults-only wellness sanctuary with a stunning ocean view. Healthy beverages and cuisine are offered, but no judgment if you prefer your wellness experience with a fun drink or a frozen dessert. A mini massage and light bites are both fun perks of this luxurious oasis. A personal caretaker sees to your comfort, offering a fresh towel before you even realize you need one. The afternoon concludes with a glass of bubbly and a toast to your health. The Olakino Wellness Experience requires a reservation.  

The Aloha spirit is alive and well in Maui despite hardships related to the aftermath of the fire. Visitors who reciprocate the compassion, grace and understanding showered on them by Maui’s hospitality industry are welcome.  

But pack a little extra patience. If your product or services aren’t quite what you ordered, just remember the locals providing those services may be struggling to channel the same joy and peace visitors feel in their island home.   

Island Hopping  

Polynesian Cultural Center  

The 42-acre Polynesian Cultural Center in Oahu is one of the most visited attractions in Hawaii. Part theme park and part living history museum, it’s an introduction to the traditional lifestyles of six Polynesian villages: Hawaii, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Tahiti.   

Test your skills at a Tonga shuffleboard game called Lafo, learn to crack open a coconut like a Samoan and watch Māori warriors carve deadly weapons.   

The fun doesn’t end at sundown. Stay for “Ha Breath of Life,” a thrilling Polynesian song and dance extravaganza performed in the Pacific Theater.  

The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu is one of the most significant WWII sites in the country. Thousands visit Oahu every year to remember the 1,177 sailors and marines who died on the USS Arizona when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in an unprovoked aerial attack on December 7, 1941, mobilizing the United States to fight in WWII.  

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site on Hawaii Island (the Big Island), is a tourist hotspot in every sense of the word. Two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Kīlauea and Mauna Loa - have formed landscapes so geographically unique, that they feel otherworldly.   

Hiking is an excellent way to explore this volcanic phenomenon where moon-like black lava deserts stretch for miles.  

There are trails to suit every age and fitness level. The Nāhuku trail (formerly the Thurston Lava Tube), a 500cr-year-old tunnel created by a river of hot lava, is a half-mile hike most kids love. Solidified waves and drips of once-liquid lava are frozen in time, and tree roots reach below the surface like skeletal hands.  

For a more challenging backcountry adventure, hike 6.6 miles from the Puna Coast trailhead down to ‘Āpua Point. Coastal cliffs that soar over the Pacific Ocean were created by waterfalls of hot lava millions of years ago. However, this is not the place to go for a dip. Deadly rip tides are in the area.  

Note that a two-year disaster recovery project is underway to repair infrastructure damaged during the 2018 Kīlauea eruption and summit collapse, so expect delays in the park. Visitors are urged to check the park website,, for closure alerts and updates.    


Wailea Beach Resort.  

Tourism Info  

Go Hawaii.