Exploring Hawaii with a Travel Guide

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Photo by Trevor Clark of Clarkbourne Creative.


The sky was lightening as I stepped into a outrigger canoe with two guides and three other hotel guests. We were setting out into the Pacific Ocean to greet the day. One guide blew a long, melodic call from a conch shell as we turned to face the Island of Hawaii’s mountains and greet the sun as its light spilled over into another day in paradise.

Most visitors know about the lei, the hula and the luau, but some would like to learn more about traditional Hawaiian culture, and some local hotels, resorts and programs offer guidance for these visitors. While staying at the Fairmont Orchid in Kona on the Island of Hawaii (nicknamed the Big Island), I met the hotel’s director of Hawaiian culture, Ka’iulani Blankenfeld. 

Photo by Marilyn Jones.

She enhances the experience of hotel guests by teaching them about the history and customs of the Hawaiian people. Programs like hers can enhance a visit to Hawaii by bringing visitors into the islands’ cultural history. 

“My role is to guide Fairmont Orchid in our cultural activities to ensure that we are pono (thankful) and firmly rooted in Hawaii,” says Blankenfeld. 

“We train our colleagues on the cultural significance of our special destination. We also teach our guests why it’s important to care for the ‘aina (land) and kai (ocean) …We hope that they will, in turn, care for this place while they are visiting, whether it’s in keeping our shoreline clean, protecting our honu (Hawaiian sea turtles), or exercising little ways to leave every place we walk in better condition than when we found it.”

Photo by Marilyn Jones.

One way Blankenfeld brings visitors into Hawaian culture is by inviting them to join in traditional Hawaian ceremonies. I joined Blankenfeld for a special ceremony focused on reverence for ancestors. We walked to the ahu (stone altar) and talked about our ancestors. 

Blankenfeld presented participants with white blossoms. She tied together several large leaves with a flower lei and pulled the leaves backward one by one. Then we added our flowers when instructed. She used a green tea lei to tie the leaves.

Blankenfeld spoke quietly in ‘olelo Hawai’i, the Hawaiian language, as she taught us words and phrases of the lyrical language. We closed our eyes and thought of our ancestors as she spoke a message to them. Then we placed the leaves and flowers on the altar. 

Photo by Marilyn Jones.

Other culturally immersive activities Blankenfeld offers include agricultural offerings and archaeological explorations. “This year, I was thrilled to launch an immersive tour in our property’s expansive garden to show guests how we malama ‘aina (care for the land) by planting, harvesting and caring for native plants that make Hawaii island so special,” says Blankenfeld. 

The program also offers an archeological hike to nearby ancient petroglyph fields. Blankenfeld explains that each cultural experience helps facilitate a deeper connection between guests and Hawaiian culture. She emphasizes that this sense of connection is vital to understanding what it means to malama (care for) Hawaii as visitors embrace this sacred place. 

For more information, visit fairmontorchid.com or call 808.885.2000.

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