I've never had a lot of luck with "cultural" tours in Hawaii. Specifically some I've taken have been chock full of information, but not much fun. Others have been fun but not very informative. Many take themselves much too seriously and in the process lose the interest of their guests very quickly.
Neither is the case with Hina Adventures, a small community-based cultural eco-tourism company on Oahu. I had the pleasure of experiencing two of their tours last September - their Legends & Sacred Sites of Windward Oahu tour and their Star-gazing, Star Legends & Secrets of the Polynesian Navigators tour.
Hina Adventures, named for the Polynesian goddess of heaven and earth, is owned and operated by two young women and I specifically selected these two tours to experience both of their styles.
The Legends & Sacred Sites of Windward Oahu tour was guided by Ena Sroat. The Star Legends & Secrets of the Polynesian Navigators tour was guided by her partner Uluwehi "Ulu" Hopkins.
Ena was born and raised on O'ahu, a a fourth generation kama'aina (resident) of the islands and descendent of a Danish sea captain who sailed under the Hawaiian flag. As outlined in her bio "Ena is a graduate of Brown University with degrees in History and International Relations. Her passion for world history led her into leading walking tours, first as a historical tour guide of Rome, the Vatican and the Vatican Museum for two years, then returning to the Islands to lead historical, eco-tours of O‘ahu for many more years."
Ena's passion is for the outdoors. She has hiked all over the world and is heavily involved in several Oahu groups that focus on preserving and restoring Hawaii's delicate ecology.
Ena is also a very brilliant individual. Her studies in school, personal research and countless talks with Hawaiian cultural leaders has instilled her with the best knowledge of the history, legends and mythology of the Hawaiian people that I have ever encountered.
Ena has the rare ability to tell you detailed stories of history and legend and always make them interesting. Never does she get preach, yet you can always sense her respect for the land and the knowledge that she is sharing.
Legends & Sacred Sites of Windward Oahu Tour
The Legends & Sacred Sites of Windward Oahu tour focuses on historic cultural sites on my favorite part of O'ahu, the Windward Coast. Few visitors ever take the time to explore this beautiful and historic area of the island.
The tour makes four major stops. The first stop is at He'eia State Park which the Hawaiian's call Ka Lae O Kealohi Peninsula. The park overlooks Kaneohe Bay, the largest bay in the Hawaiian Islands. You get excellent views of the He'eia Fishpond.
The second stop is at the Na Pohaku o Hauwahine archaeological site overlooking the Kawainui Marsh, a wetland preserve and bird sanctuary.
From there it's over to the Ulupo Heiau, the most ancient, preserved temple on O'ahu. The final stop is at Kailua Beach where I was able to see the serious beach erosion which is taking place.
At each stop and along the way, Ena relates the stories from Hawaiian folklore that pertain to each place. You can view a gallery of my photos from this tour.
Uluwehi "Ulu" Hopkins
Ulu, as I mentioned, is Ena's partner. Like Ena she is born and raised in Hawaii and is herself part-Hawaiian. As outlined in her site bio she "has a passion for sharing her culture with anyone who will listen. Her education and work experience with various Hawaiian-based organizations such as the Polynesian Voyaging Society and the Kamehameha Schools has provided her with a wealth of knowledge of Hawaiian history, culture, land and language. That experience, combined with a love for and desire to be outdoors, led to her becoming an eco-tour guide on O‘ahu."
Ulu holds a degree in Hawaiian Studies from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, and is currently in the Master's program in the same field.
Star Legends & Secrets of the Polynesian Navigators Tour
The Star Legends tour is an evening tour where you are taken to a beach park in the Kahala area of Oahu.
On the evening of my tour we were joined by members of one of Ulu's classes at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. It was great seeing how enthusiastic a group of students, mostly Hawaiian, were about learning about the stars and how the ancient Polynesian navigators used them to sail across the Pacific. We heard how modern Hawaiians were able to relearn this "lost" knowledge. We heard Hawaiian legends of the stars, constellations and ancient heroes and even a few ghost stories.
If it's a clear night, you'll see plenty of stars. If it's cloudy or if the moon is full, you'll see less. Either way, you'll have a great time.
If You Go and Overall Impression
The Legends & Sacred Sites of Windward Oahu tour is offered on Tuesdays & Fridays from 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. It can also be scheduled at other times as a private tour.
The Star Legends & Secrets of the Polynesian Navigators Tour runs from hotel pickup at 6:30 p.m. until about 9:30 p.m. It must be reserved in advance.
As I indicated at the beginning of this review, I found my two tours with Hina Adventures to be the most satisfying cultural eco-tours I have experienced in Hawaii. Both Ena and Ula are expert in the knowledge of their subjects and both have a wonderful knack of making their guests feel comfortable and unintimidated. This is extremely important for any cultural tour where one fear that many potential guests have is of being preached to continually for hours on end.
So, the next time you're on Oahu, take a small leap and go on a tour with Hina Adventures.
You can also view a gallery of photos of my Hina Adventures Legends & Sacred Sites of Windward Oahu Tour.