Centuries ago Waikiki was a playground for the Hawaiian monarchy. The area was surrounded by fish ponds and taro fields and the royals spent their days frolicking in the ocean (there was even a special spot in the surf reserved just for them!). In ancient times auspicious occasions (like a child’s birth or a successful harvest) were celebrated with aha ‘aina – a feast of food, song and hula.
These days the taro fields have been replaced by gift shops and instead of royalty the surf is crowded with “haoles” (the Hawaiian term for white tourists…when you’re in Hawaii getting a good tan is worthy of a high-five).
With all that’s changed over the past few centuries there is one thing that remains: the great parties. Every Monday, The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which is located on sacred grounds, hosts Aha ‘Aina, A Royal Celebration, and trust me, this is not your typical luau. Yes, you’re greeted with leis at the door and there are tourists galore in attendance, but The Royal Hawaiian has given this traditional tourist experience a sophisticated, modern update: It’s part dinner theatre, part history lesson, part mixer. And the food was certainly fit for a king. Each dish paid homage to the land and its settlers. There were crab cakes with sweet chilli sauce, soy-marinated butterfish, lemongrass Wagyu beef adorned with an island-spiced lobster tail, a pupu platter of various desserts and as many orchid-topped mai tais as you could handle. I’m still salivating just thinking about it.
In addition to all-out feasting, learning about the history of Waikiki and seeing the mind-blowing Samoan fire dance pictured above, part of the fun of the whole experience is dining with a group of complete strangers. I got some great travel tips from the Australian lawyer to my right while Craig’s neighbour, a recent divorcee, went over with him, in detail, the various ways she planned to exact revenge upon her ex. Really, the entertainment began before the first hula dancer even hit the stage.
All in all, the Aha ‘Aina celebration (Waikiki’s only oceanfront sit-down dinner show, by the way) really was a fantastic way to cap off our time in Hawaii. The islands are so steeped in history it would be a shame to visit and not get a taste of Hawaiian tradition. Now pair that learning experience with an incredible meal, gorgeous hula dancers, interesting company, and the unforgettable spectacle of a man breathing fire on a stage with the Pacific Ocean and the glittering lights of Waikiki in the distance and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an unforgettable night out.
Mahalo for the good times, Hawaii. Next stop: Tokyo.