The heart of Waikiki culture: In convo with “Ambassador of Culture" Aunty Luana
When it comes to Hawaiian culture, there’s no one more passionate — or more well versed — than Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort’s "Aunty Luana." The resort’s Director of Cultural Activities, Luana Maitland, has been sharing her knowledge of the islands for over 20 years, and her passion is anchored in Hawaii's connection to the ocean, the resort’s commitment to sustainability and lots of aloha.
"The beach is where people gather; the ocean is where they go for comfort," says Luana. "You can surf, swim, kayak, go canoe riding or on a catamaran ride. All these are done in the ocean, so a big part of what we need to do … is to take care of this ocean."
The culture of the sea is a theme throughout the resort itself, too.
"We are in the final stages of completing the Diamond Head Terrace that looks into the ocean, and we just opened our new Coral Penthouse Suite. The story is that we need to care for the coral surrounding us, so the reefs survive. The beauty of it, to me, is that we were able to create the decor so that the subtleness of the color of the coral is throughout, and the carpets are blue, so it feels as if you’re staying in the ocean," says Luana.
You’ll also find some of Luana’s favorite ocean-inspired artworks at Outrigger Reef, like the trash-to-treasure wall art of Ethan Estess, an oversized mural featuring keiki (children) voyaging by Kamea Hadar and paintings of Hawaii coastline scenes throughout the decades by Herb Kawainui Kāne.
"We also invited the Bishop Museum to come and show artifacts about the ocean and coral and sea life that we need to connect to and take care of," says Luana. "We also helped Friends of Hokulea with restoring a canoe for them, and visitors can experience the connection and importance of building canoes and sailing the ocean."
Guests can get up close and personal with surfers, artists and sometimes local celebrities like Pohaku Stone at sister resort Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. One of few traditional surfboard shapers, Pohaku brings warmth to this ancient art form.
"We had a couple staying with us for 35 years — and they had never surfed," says Luana. "Then they attended one of our first Surfers in Residence, where Pohaku came to explain his passion for shaping traditional boards. He asked the couple if they wanted to go surfing, so they used this traditional board weighing over 50 pounds — and got on a wave with him!"
This spirit of excitement and enthusiasm for sharing the local culture with guests is one of the most beautiful things about Outrigger.
"The majority of our hosts, which is our employees, all live here, and we want to share all this; we want them to see why the ocean is healing for us. It’s where we go to unwind, where we go to enjoy time with our keiki," Luana says.
There’s also a strong tie here to the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS), a nonprofit celebrating and spreading the art and science of traditional Polynesian canoe voyaging. Now the organization’s “canoe for the Earth,” Hokulea, is being prepared for sailing to Alaska (you can follow its journey, too!)
"A piece was needed to repair one of the Hokulea hulls, and they [PVS] were invited to go to Alaska where they had that piece. Now, Hokulea is put together and is preparing to go back to Alaska to say thank you. So this partnership we’ve had with PVS is connecting us with the world over the past 12 years," says Luana.
Throughout Outrigger, you’ll find this authentic spirit of exploration and culture. From traditional sunset ceremonies celebrating the day to hanging out in the new Herb Kawainui Kāne Lounge, there is so much to take in. And every moment is filled with culture.
Come be here with great deals and more (hello, Monkeypod Kitchen’s island-inspired cuisine is coming this summer!). Aloha!
If you crave a more immersive and intimate experience with the world's oceans, only an adventure that sprinkles your soul with salt water will do. There's always something happening on the world's most iconic beaches.