The year was around 200 AD when the first outrigger canoes came to Hawaii. It was then that hundreds of brave souls from Polynesia sailed thousands of miles through the Pacific Ocean in search of land. From far away places like the Marquesas and Bora Bora, they watched migrating birds come and go each season and knew that there had to be land somewhere out in the big ocean that surrounded their islands.
Over the years they set out in outrigger canoes that were large enough to carry 80 people. They were strapped together and filled with plants, animals and water and each year they managed to sail a little further as they followed the birds towards the Hawaiian Islands.
We had the pleasure of paddling in our own outrigger canoe when we stayed at the Makena Beach Resort in Maui, Hawaii. We expected it to be cheesy. We’ve been to resorts before and know how these excursions work. They are designed to appease the all inclusive package tourist who doesn’t really want to get off the resort but feels that he has to.
As soon as we arrived to the activities cabana, we knew that this was going to be something different. We were met by our Hawaiian guides Keoni and Kalani with high energy and smiles. They told us about the canoe and how it has been used throughout history. Even today, Hawaiians use the outrigger regularly and there are still people who navigate the world by canoe without the help of maps or GPS. They follow the stars by way of their anscestors.
We helped push the canoe into the surf and hopped in before the water was too deep. Listening to Keoni’s instructions we paddled in unison following Kalani’s strokes. Keoni sang traditional Polynesian songs and spoke to us in Hawaiian. We would paddle a few strokes on each side and then listen for his instructions to switch.
My favourite instruction came when he said to relax. This was when we learned about the history of the Hawaiian Islands. Keoni had passion in his voice as he spoke about the great chiefs like King Kamehameha who unified the Hawaiian Islands with the aid of the European technology and weapons.
We sat in fish pools where we learned that some ranged from 2 acres to 60 acres. These pools were built off the shore to trap fish. It would take thousands of men to transport lava rock from the interior of the island to the sea where they would stack lava rocks upon one another from the sea floor to above the tidal line. It was a land of abundance.
After an hour of paddling and learning about the Hawaiian islands history, it was our time to explore the reef. It wasn’t long before we spotted giant sea turtles swimming below. We were very impressed with the strict rules of snorkelling. You are not allowed to go near the turtles and you are definitely not allowed to chase them. We have been to so many places where the rules are too lax and it was refreshing to see a community who is very careful not to disrupt the marine life.
We were allowed to hold a few sea urchins (the non poisonous kind) but only if Keoni or Kalani picked them up for us. They were careful to put every species back to where they belonged and they taught us about which types of marine life were poisonous and non poisonous. It was crazy to see Keoni hold a small shell and tell us that it is one of the most deadly shells in the ocean. If the animal inside decides to shoot out a venom and you happen to be in front of it, it can kill.
Needless to say, we kept a fair distance back as Keoni told us all about it.
We had plenty of time in the water and shared it only with a few scuba divers below. The snorkelling area wasn’t crowded at all and it seemed as if the only way out to the reef was to kayak or canoe. It made for a peaceful and pleasant morning.
At $75 per person, we found the Outrigger Canoe experience at Makena Beach Resort to best excursion for your buck than any other experience on Maui.
To find out more about Mekana Beach Resort and the Outrigger canoe experience, visit their website for details.