The real deal…Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar

We have been to Maui many, many times, but schedules have never lined up for us to attend George Kahumoku Jr’s Masters of Hawaiian Music Slack Key Show on the beautiful island of Maui. So when George Kahumoku Jr.  and Led Kaapana announced they were coming to Portland, it was an opportunity not to be missed!

Slack key is a distinctive guitar style that originated in Hawaii and it just seems to “fit” with the Hawaiian islands…open, airy, playful, soothing, exciting, and mesmerizing, all at once. As a novice slack key guitarist myself, I’ve been privileged to play (or shall I say dabble with) this style of music while watching the ocean and feeling the breezes in Maui.  It is interesting to see how geography can actually influence a musical style, but when listening to George Kahumoku Jr. and Led Kaapana in Portlandslack key you can actually feel the rhythm of the ocean waves and hear the sway of palms. In fact, during one of George’s songs, he even had the audience join him by inserting a “swishhhhh……chrrrrrrrrr” into the melody. We were a long way from Hawaii, but we still heard the warm ocean!

George is a great player and entertainer. As I’ve found with most people from Hawaii, they enjoy “talking story”, and bringing in tidbits from their life as they play their music. One of the highlights of the evening was having George’s wife Nancy come up on stage and dance hula to several songs. I just love seeing husband and wife partnering like this!

Led Kaapana was equally entertaining, and as a fellow guitarist, I was truly impressed with his fingerwork. He shared how he grew up playing music on borrowed instruments, and never even learned the “proper” names of chords or notes until he moved off of the Big Island and started playing with others. Watching George and Led play together took the experience to a whole new level as they interacted and tuned in to each other over the course of numerous songs.

Experiencing Slack Key guitar in (relatively) frigid Portland was a great mid-winter experience. Next time you are on Maui or another Hawaiian island, or if you are lucky enough to have masters such as George and Led come through your town, don’t miss the opportunity to experience ocean waves and breezes through the art form of slack key guitar.

How does Santa make it to Maui? On a canoe, of course!

Enjoy these pics of Santa’s annual arrival, Maui-style! What does Santa where in the warm climes of Hawaii? A red aloha shirt, board shorts, and flip-flops, of course.  Don’t miss this great, Maui Christmas tradition when he arrives by canoe in front of the Hula Grill at Ka’anapali!

Santa nearing Maui by canoe





Santa makes landfall in Kaanapali Maui by canoe





Santa arrives by canoe in Kaanapali

Christmas on Maui: Makawao Town’s Third Friday Party

Makawao Town is just a short drive from the hot sandy beaches of Kihei, but you’ll feel like you’re in a different world, with cool fresh breezes, lush green, and pastures dotted with horses. The town itself has a great “cowboy” feel, but with a definite Maui-twist.

Makawao Town at Christmas

Makawao Town at Christmas

For eats you can get great steak, Italian, and of course the legendary Komoda Bakery (but only in the morning).  Ambling through the shops is fun as well…not as large, hectic, and hot as walking the shops on Front Street in Lahaina. Much more laid back upcountry! Third Friday marks the monthly Makawao Town Party, and during December it is a fun way to enjoy the town with the added bonus of Christmas cheer! Oh, and here’s an insiders tip: I drove into Makawao on Friday December 13th, wondering where all the crowds were for the Town Party. I commented to my wife that parking was going to be a breeze. Slowly, my sunburned brain realized that December 13 and “Third Friday” don’t go together. Yes, we showed up on Second Friday for the Third Friday celebration! We still had a great time and had the distinct pleasure of spending TWO FRIDAYs in December at Makawao! A great Maui Christmas activity regardless of when you go!

Hawaiian Christmas Tree in Makawao Town

Hawaiian Christmas Tree in Makawao Town

A Maui Christmas Tradition: Willie K’s Christmas Concert

If you are lucky enough to be on Maui during the Christmas season, a don’t miss event is Willie K’s annual Christmas concert. We attended last night’s event at the Maui Arts and Culture Center and were treated to a truly unique Hawaiian Christmas experience. The night opened with several traditional Hawaiian tunes by Uncle Richard Ho`opi`i, including a lovely hula by his wife Ululani. Willie entered the stage by joining Uncle Richard for his final song.  I was so impressed with Willie’s obvious respect and appreciation for the older generation of singers. Willie K Christmas Concert

Willie is an amazing guitarist and entertainer, and an even more amazing vocalist. In his own words, he likes to go “against the grain” and all of his songs are “Willie K style”. My favorite song was Ave Maria, complete with outstanding operatic vocals. My second favorite song was his impression of Willie Nelson singing Away in a Manage. Yes, Willie K mixes it up, even at a Christmas concert he works in traditional Hawaiian, blues, rock, opera, country, and incredible mixtures of all of the above.

Tickets for this Christmas show on Maui can be a bit spendy, but worth every penny.

Mele Kalikimaka!

P.S See my previous post for more ideas on things to do on Maui during the Christmas season. And don’t forget to leave comments with your own ideas for Hawaiian holiday activities!

A Maui Christmas Tradition: The Lighting of the Banyan Tree

The Lahaina Banyan “Christmas Tree”

We are officially into the Christmas Season on Maui, with the lighting of the banyan tree in Lahaina. Even if you miss the lighting ceremony, a visit to Lahaina during the Holiday Season is highly recommended, with festive decorations, Christmas performances, and of course thousands of lights on the famous 140 year old giant tree. Here is a taste of what you’ll experience! Check out Christmast on Maui for more ideas (and please leave more of your own ideas in the comments!)

Christmas in Lahaina MauiChristmas in Lahaina MauiChristmas in Lahaina Maui


What is it about sunsets on Maui?

As my wife and I enjoyed another fabulous sunset last night, I was struck by the specialness of sunset time on Maui. As the time approaches, you’ll notice people of all types slowly starting to drift towards beaches or other outlooks to enjoy the simple but sacred ritual of saying goodbye to another day in paradise. Rich or poor, local or first time tourists, all can enjoy the same sunset free of charge.

Enjoying a Maui sunset

Enjoying a Maui sunset

Some come well prepared…picnic baskets overflowing with gourmet goods and fine wine. Others come hungry, with just the clothes on their back. Many have cellphones ready to capture that perfect moment for posting on to Facebook. Some arrive hurried and frazzled, not wanting to miss a single moment (and then they are gone just as fast to the next thing on the schedule).The wise realize that sunsets are a gift to be received. Sure, take a picture if you like, but not at the expense of missing the show. Savor the moments before and after. This is a time to reconnect with something bigger than ourselves. We are reminded that the world does not revolve around us, and that time waits for no one. Each sunset is special and unique, and we can do nothing to control them. But we can control our response and appreciation for the amazing gift of colors and clouds and water and rain, and yes, God willing, another sunrise after the short night.

Sunset on Maui

Sunset on Maui

Christmas on Maui

This year for the first time my family and I will be spending Christmas on the island of Maui. Of course, I am looking forward to a unique Hawaiian holiday experience with sun, sand and Santa. But can Christmas on Maui be more than just substituting commercialized mainland experiences for commercialized island experiences? Is there Surfing Santasome Maui “Aloha” that can make Christmas even more meaningful?  Of course, in preparation for my December visit to Maui, I’ve already Googled “Christmas on Maui” and have a few things on my list (see below), but what about you? What do YOU like to do on Maui during the holidays?

I asked Maui resident Erik Blair of about his favorite things to do on Maui during the holidays. His response was quintessentially Hawaiian: “Some times we get a group together and agree to meet to watch the sunset, or rarely, sunrise.” Don’t let Erik’s suggestion scare you off…not all Maui Christmas activies need to be so cerebral or zen. Christmas lights and decorations and food are great during the holidays as well!  Please comment to this post, and during the month of December I’ll update you on my thoughts about Aloha Christmas based on personal experience!

Some things on my “Top Things to Do during Christmas on Maui” List:

Updated 11/14/13: We’ve had some great suggestions thanks to your comments! Here are a few more items that are vieing for a spot on my “Top Things to Do during Christmas on Maui” List:

And more to come with your help! Again, please leave your comments here with suggestions for things to do on Maui during the Christmas season!

Surfing Santa

Surfing Santa on Maui

Become a Friend of Haleakala

If all you want to do on Maui is go to the beach and sip mai tais, then this post is not for you. On the other hand if you are interested in exploring the beautiful variety that Maui offers, then you have to leave the beach and the comforts of your lounge chair and adventure into the expanse that is Haleakala. Most visitors to Maui know about early morning car trips to the summit to see the fabulous sunrises from the top of the world, but Haleakala has much, much more to offer. To really experience this unique mountain, you must hike into the crater (technically an “erosional valley”). You can day hike many of Haleakala’s trails or you can backpack into the back country staying in tents or one of three wilderness cabins.

Backpacking into the Haleakala wilderness requires preparation and prior backcountry skills. You will experience extremes of temperature, weather, and rugged trails. But you will also experience incredible beauty and see things that you can only see on Haleakala, like the Silversword.

The Silversword, found only on the slopes of Haleakala.

You can certainly plan your own trip into the Haleakala wilderness, but another very good option is to volunteer some of your time and go on a service trip with a great non-profit called the Friends of Haleakala National Park.  Not only will you meet some great people (my recent trip had a combination of Maui locals who’ve been on Haleakala countless times as well as first timers from the mainland), but you’ll learn about the delicate ecosystem and other features of the wilderness from local experts, and spend some time helping preserve this unique place.

Getting oriented for field work…identifying and removing invasive weeds

Most service trips start on a Saturday and end on a Monday, so you get 2 nights in one of the wilderness cabins with the normal fee waived. The type of service performed will vary, ranging from cabin maintenance to native planting to invasive species removal. Participating in a service trip will typically allow you to see parts of the Haleakala wilderness not normally open to visitors, with travel on maintained, unmaintained, and service trails, as well as occasionally off-trail hiking to get to more isolated fields. If you aren’t able to commit anytime soon to a service trip, please consider making a donation to Friends of Haleakala to support the great work of this organization.

Beautiful flora can be found in the most unlikely of places…

Looking east to the ocean down the Ko’olau Gap from the Halemau’u trail.

Hiking through the cinder fields of Haleakala

Around Maui in a day

One thing I really love about Maui is the variety of scenery and climates as you travel around the island. I’ve posted previously about how to really enjoy the road to Hana, but if you don’t have time to spend a night or two there, you can do what thousands do every day and go there and back in your rental car for a day trip. But there is a third option to consider: a guided tour. My wife and I recently enjoyed a tour with Valley Isle Excursions and highly recommend it.*

Frankly, I was skeptical about a guided tour. And granted, there are pros and cons to it, most which you can easily guess for yourself. What I didn’t expect, however, was how much more of the scenery you can take in when you are not driving the road to Hana yourself. I was able to look all around, including behind, from the large windows and really take in the views without worrying about plunging my car into the ocean. But the biggest delight was “listening to story” from our tour guide/driver Joe. He not only was extremely knowledgeable about all of the plants and trees that we saw, but he knew the stories and meanings behind the names of the various places we passed (for example, do YOU know about the demi-god who came down as a rooster, or the “pork in the car” story?) Joe also knows where all of the good views are and the best places to stop (or not stop).

Red Sand Beach near Hana

Another benefit of the Valley Isle Excursions tour was that they actually continue on around the whole island. Past Hana and the Seven Sacred Pools (Oheo Gulch) the country opens up and changes from rainforest to arid “desert”. Some would say this south side of the island isn’t as picturesque as the rest of Maui, but I disagree. The views of this side of Haleakala are amazing. I also really enjoyed seeing the island change as we continued on throughout the day, ending up at Tedeschi Winery and then back down the road to our starting point.

Beautiful expansive views of Haleakala await those who venture to the south side of Maui

Long day? Yes. But well worth it, and a great way to sample the spectrum of delights on the island of Maui.

*Full disclosure: we were offered two complimentary tickets by the company to share our thoughts. However, the views in this post are 100% mine, and I received no compensation from Valley Isle Excursions beyond the two tickets.