On a recent visit to Maui, we caught up with Kainoa Horcajo, Hawaiian Cultural Ambassador at the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort. Born and raised on the island of Maui, Kainoa has studied under the guidance of highly respected kupuna (elders) in disciplines such as traditional celestial calendars, martial arts, and herbal and energetic healing. He has trained thousands of visitor industry executives in Hawaii on embracing cultural values and instilling an authentic Hawaiian sense of place. He is also a gifted speaker and has hosted and facilitated conferences and workshops including TEDx Maui 2012, 2013, and 2014. We figured if anyone knew Maui from the inside out, it would be Kainoa.
You are a super busy guy, Kainoa. What do you do to relax on Maui?
Hanging out with friends on the beach is one of the best ways for me to relax, not that I actually do it often. A great place to go is the stretch of beach on the way to Lahaina – there’s a whole strip of coastline when you get over the pali to Lahaina side from Papalaoa all the way down to Lahaina. You can pull your car up nearly right onto the beach and just pull the beach chairs out. I love snorkeling, diving, SUP’ing and surfing there!
Hawaii is a popular destination for hiking and beaches. Can you recommend some spots on Maui that first-time visitors might want to check out?
Makena, Oneloa or Big Beach is a beautiful stretch of white sand beach with lots of room to spread out. I also love taking people to Puu o Lai, a black sand beach right next to Big Beach. Not many people know about it. If you want to see a black sand beach, and not drive all the way to Hana, that’s where to go.
Hiking is my favorite thing to do. I don’t normally do easy hikes, but for first-time visitors, I’d recommend going out to Keoneoio, sometimes called La Perouse bay, at the end of Makena Alanui road. Park at the end of the road and just start walking along the beach path. The path is part of the alaloa, the king’s trail built hundreds of years ago by Maui’s ruling chiefs, and covers the last lava flow on Maui, just over 200 years ago. It’s an amazing landscape and never really crowded. If there is a south swell, you can watch surfers.
Sunset at Keoneoio, at the southern tip of Maui. (Photo courtesy: Rebecca Pang)
To me the best way to experience Maui, like anywhere, is to link up with a local, a real host who can help you navigate where to go, what to do, and truly immerse yourself in the culture of this place.
What about restaurants? Name one new and one tried-and-true favorite on Maui.
Humuhumunukunukuapuaa, the Grand Wailea’s signature oceanfront restaurant, is known for supporting local fishermen and farmers. (Photo courtesy: Grand Wailea)
A new place to check out is Cow Pig Bun in the Maui Tech Park. Their house burger is unreal. Combine that with an old-fashioned cocktail and you’ve got the perfect man’s lunch or dinner.
As a Hawaiian cultural ambassador, what should people know about the Hawaiian culture? Is there one common thing people have a misconception about?
Like anything else, you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s always great to connect with people, and listen to and talk to them. But to do this you have to come with an empty apu, no preconceptions. We have an olelo noeau, a Hawaiian proverb that says, “Aloha aku, aloha mai,” or love is given, love returned. As guests, as locals, as humans, we must put ourselves out there first, offer our aloha first before expecting it back. It’s a great life philosophy.
Hawaii is made up of not only the Hawaiian culture, but also numerous other cultures. The lifestyle here is not just about sun, surf, and sand, but also about the ohana (family) feeling we have with one another.
Once people decide to make that first trip to Hawaii, they seem to come back, whether it’s the same island or visiting another one. What do you think draws people back to the islands?
It’s a feeling. People call it the aloha spirit, they can’t quite put it into words. They feel something different here that resonates inside of them. Whatever words we use to describe it, it is the Hawaiian culture. The more that a guest can connect to and immerse themselves in the culture, the more they will fall in love with this place.
-by Rebecca Pang for So Much More Hawaii