HONOLULU, Aug 2 — When in Hawaii, one must learn to hula — the grass skirt is optional! — and one of the places to learn that is at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Located in the town of Laie which is only about an hour’s drive from Waikiki, the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) first opened in 1963 in partnership with the Brigham Young University-Hawaii for students to earn money while portraying the culture, arts and craft of the people of Polynesia.
Within the PCC, which spreads out 42 acres, there are six different “island nations”; Samoa, Aotearoa, Fiji, Tonga, Tahiti and Hawaii, with each nation showcasing their respective cultures and art.
There are two special exhibits for Rapa Nui and Marquesas too. Yes, this is the place where visitors can learn everything about Polynesia in a day.
It is at Islands of Hawaii that you get to tell stories with the movement of your hands in the hula dance.
Visitors are taught the basic hula movements and how the gentle undulating movements of the hands tell stories. Each intricate motion tells a story that is made more beautiful with the accompaniment of the ukulele.
Though it is commonly thought that only women dance the hula, Hawaiian men do it too but with a different set of motions and movements that almost mimic the women’s but are sharper.
You can also learn some interesting things here at the centre eg. did you know you can store taro for two weeks without keeping it in a fridge? There is a demonstration at Islands of Hawaii of how taro is grown, harvested and cooked so that it can have a longer shelf-life.
It is also a staple food called poi. The taro is cooked and pounded into a mash without the addition of anything except water and this mushy, sticky concoction is then consumed as is or added to other food.
Over at the Islands of Samoa, you get to try your hand at making fire by rubbing two sticks together. You can also stop for a fun and entertaining performance of Samoan culture; their coconut-tree climbing skills and a showcase of their craft made from coconut tree fronds.
At the Islands of Aotearoa, the Maori natives explain the meaning behind their facial tattoos and also put up a performance of their war dance called the haka. Here, visitors get to learn how to twirl poi balls and play the tititorea, which is a Maori stick game.
For some exciting drumming, head over to the Islands of Tonga for a Tongan ta nafa (drumming) performance. A few people from the audience will also be selected to try drumming the oversized native drums ; there will be loads of entertaining antics and native calls thrown in too.
To take a break from walking around the centre, there is a canoe tour that goes around the different native villages. Visitors get to enjoy a short scenic tour and brief explanations of the villages they pass including the imposing Moai Statues at the Rapa Nui Island Exhibit.
The canoes used are small replicas of the giant, double-hulled canoes that the Hawaiian ancestors used for their ocean voyages.
The daily evening show, Hā: Breath of Life, is another opportunity for visitors to witness a story on the circle of life, from the birth of a baby right to the death of his father and the birth of his child.
The evening show features over 100 performers backed by special effects and animation in a spectacular showcase of dance, song and fire play.
Adjacent to the cultural centre is the Hukilau Marketplace that has more than 40 dining and retail outlets where local crafts such as lei, pearl jewellery and carved works along with snacks like poke bowls, Tahitian crepes, shaved ice and tropical drinks are sold.
Hawaii’s natural beauty, particularly its mountains and valleys, is something that you should not miss when visiting the subtropical islands. This is where Kualoa Ranch, a cattle ranch and a private Nature reserve, comes in.
Think Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, Lost, Hawaii Five-O, Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island and you would have seen parts of Kualoa Ranch in each of these films.
Kualoa is a 4,000-acre working cattle ranch that was established in 1850 and its lands spread from steep mountain cliffs down to a 800-year-old fish pond and the sea where the iconic Mokoli’i Island, better known as Chinaman’s Hat, is located.
Dubbed as the world’s most famous private Nature reserve, it is about 45 minutes’ drive from Honolulu and offers a host of activities for visitors from a movie sites tour to zip lining across the Ka’a’awa Valley to horseback riding to an ocean voyage tour in Kaneohe Bay.
For the adventurous, they have the Treetop Canopy Zipline Tour that has seven zip stations, two suspension bridges and three mini-hiking trails.
To get up close to Nature and for gorgeous panoramic views of Kaneohe Bay and Ka’a’awa Valley, the jungle expedition tour takes visitors on a bumpy ride up the Kualoa mountain range, through the Hakipu’u rainforest and stop for a glimpse of one of the film locations of Kong: Skull Island and the entrance to Jurassic World complete with dinosaur claw marks.
At the top of the mountain range, a short hike up a steep dirt path leads to the vantage point where visitors get a view of the Ka’a’awa Valley.
From the mountain, visitors can choose to visit the Secret Island or take an Ocean Voyage tour to Chinaman’s Hat island. Visitors will be taken across the ancient 800-year-old fish pond to Secret Island, a secluded beach offering a variety of beach and water activities from swimming to canoeing and stand-up paddle boarding.
The Ocean Voyage is a sea cruise on board the Kailani catamaran around Kaneohe Bay to get close to the triangular-shaped island. This is a 90-minute tour of the bay and along the way, you may be able to spot sea turtles.
Kualoa Ranch has a variety of tour packages to cater to different age groups and different interests. For convenience, they also provide transportation for visitors from hotels in Waikiki.
* AirAsia X flies four times weekly to Honolulu via Osaka, Japan.