The idea of pursuing adventure in casual elegance on board a 36-guest luxury yacht was most appealing. Our voyage would take us to Lanai, Molokai, West Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii to mingle with locals and experience Hawaiian traditions and culture.
A CLASS ACT
A ferry transported us from the port of Lahaina, Maui, to Lanai where the Safari Explorer crew members awaited our arrival. It was whale-watching season in Hawaii when, to the delight of both visitors and residents, humpbacks migrate an incredible 4,800 kilometres of ocean from the gulf of Alaska to Hawaii to breed and birth in the islands’ warm, shallow waters. We kept our eyes peeled for sightings of these gentle giants and were soon rewarded. In fact, our captain had to carefully navigate his craft to avoid them as regulations forbid boats from approaching within 90 metres of a whale.
Our 44-metre, 18-stateroom yacht featured bathrooms and heated-tile floors, Tempur-Pedic® memory foam mattresses, a flat-screen TV/DVD, iPod docking stations and windows (not portholes). Very comfortable quarters indeed.
On-board amenities comprised an intimate wine library, spa area, a large on-deck hot tub, sauna, fitness equipment, yoga classes and a complimentary massage for each of us. Three public decks provided plenty of room for mingling, relaxation and fresh-air enjoyment. A full-beam swim step provided easy access into the water. Adventure equipment included kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, inflatable skiffs, hiking poles, fishing poles and tackle, snorkelling equipment, wetsuits, yoga mats and hydrophones for listening to the mysterious whale song of the humpbacks.
Crew members are carefully selected for their outstanding knowledge, customer service, safety skills and their genuinely welcoming and enthusiastic personalities. Our expedition leaders were experienced naturalists with advanced training in natural and/or cultural history. Every day, the executive chef and his staff created three exquisite meals and tasty snacks, using fresh locally sourced ingredients. Fine wines, premium spirits and beers were always included.
Each island promised a unique experience and being on a small yacht gave us a different perspective of this tropical wonderland.
Lanai, Hawaii’s most secluded and intimate island, was once the state’s largest pineapple plantation, producing eight per cent of the world’s crop. In the 1980s entrepreneur David Murdock purchased the plantation, suspended pineapple planting and built two super plush hotels. We toured the classy Lodge at Koele—a handsome mix of Old Hawaii plantation, gentleman’s hunting estate and British country manor—and its majestic gardens. Later, a visit to the Lanai Culture & Heritage Center in Lanai City provided insight into the history of this tiny, unhyped isle, which has few cars, no traffic lights and only one real road, 48 kilometres of which are paved. In June 2012, much to the delight of residents, billionaire CEO Larry Ellison purchased 98 per cent of the island from Murdock, with plans to transform it into an environmentally sustainable model.
While Oahu boasts a population of 900,000 and Maui 154,924, residents on the island of Molokai number only about 8,000. And they prefer to keep it that way. We couldn’t help but notice signs protesting cruise tourism. The island is considered the most spiritual (sacred) and is home to the oldest civilization in Hawaii. Islanders fear that opening the doors to a small-ship cruise company such as American Safari Cruises will only open the floodgates to the larger cruise ships. Low tourism also ensures the local fishing industry remains strong. There are more fish off the west coast of Molokai than all of the other Hawaiian islands combined.
A tour of a local plumeria farm introduced us to the art of lei-making, where we learned that, at the height of the blooming season (spring), 200,000 closed blooms a day are picked and shipped off in insulated boxes with gel packs to florists as far away as Florida and New York. Once open, blooms only last seven hours or so. At nearby Purdy’s Natural Macadamia Nuts organic plantation, we sampled fresh treats from the trees, which produce 68 to 113 kilograms of nuts per tree per year.
It is Hansen’s disease (leprosy) for which the island of Molokai is probably best known. In 1866 King Kamehameha V attempted to stop the spread of leprosy by signing an act ordering advanced cases to be isolated here. Kalawao was the site of the first leprosy settlement (1866–1932) where many died of pneumonia because of the wet, shady, windy conditions. Kaluapapa Peninsula became home for lepers in the early 1900s when Mother Marianne, following in Father Damien’s footsteps, brought them to the peninsula. The fishing village was relocated some 32 years later so residents could lead a better life. Today, a handful of infected people around the age of 70 still live here. Access to Kalaupapa Peninsula is restricted and only visited by authorized tour groups.
We chose to spend time with a highly esteemed elder, Kamu Pa’a Lawrence Kalainia Kamani Aki, in an undisclosed location. Only 14 people live in Lawrence’s community. On site, we met Kyrian from the Netherlands and Isabella from Switzerland who were studying the Hawaiian culture, chants and belief system under Lawrence’s tutorship.
In AD 650, Polynesians made their way to this valley, which is blessed with endemic and indigenous plants, making it a very special place. A few from our group hiked to the Motorola Falls, while the remainder learned more about Lawrence’s teachings, which he summarized simply as “Aloha, love unconditionally.”
Upon arrival at Lawrence’s property, we were greeted with a lovely scent, which he attributed to his picnic tables made of mango wood. Soon, we were hard at work harvesting, cooking and pounding the taro root—a strong part of Hawaiian culture and a task usually performed by men because of the strength and endurance required. The end result was a staple Hawaiian dish known as poi, which, truthfully, I did not enjoy.
On the island of Maui, we met Ben who had built a 19-metre double-hull, double-masted reproduction of an historic ship. His immediate plans were to set sail on a month-long voyage to the Marquesas, and perhaps Tahiti, with a 14-man crew. However, his ultimate goal was to create a floating classroom teaching students about Hawaiian culture.
Without doubt, it was on the Big Island of Hawaii where we experienced our most memorable encounters. Rough seas between Maui and Hawaii had interrupted a sound sleep so it was nice to sit back and relax on deck.
As my husband and another passenger snorkelled around the yacht, I observed a humpback pup practising its breaching and tail-slapping behaviours nearby. Suddenly, its protective, mammoth mother joined the pup, surfacing mere metres from the oblivious snorkellers. I caught their attention and pointed to the marine visitors. I never saw two people literally take wing and leap to safety so quickly!
However it was that evening’s spectacle we anxiously awaited—an encounter with the great Pacific manta rays, rated one of the top night-diving and snorkelling experiences in the world. Weighing upwards of 1,360 kilograms, some rays’ wingspans measure more than seven metres and we were to join them in the water that night.
We headed for a spot near the airport where lights at the bottom of the ocean attract plankton, a manta ray’s favourite snack food. Amazingly, rays must eat three per cent of their weight of plankton per day to survive and we had come to watch the feeding frenzy. Holding onto surf boards equipped with lights, we floated above these magnificent creatures as they gracefully rolled and flew through the water, with mouths wide open. Some occasionally brushed up against us, causing squeals of delight. Indeed, it was a show to behold and a cherished memory that has yet to be surpassed.
TRAVEL PLANNER: American Safari Cruises offers seasonal excursions to Hawaii, the Sea of Cortes; Alaska, the Columbia and Snake Rivers and Washington’s San Juan Islands and British Columbia. Meals, bar, drinks and most excursions are included. Tips are extra.