Whale Songs

Dances with Whales. Photo actually taken in Tonga. Courtesy of the artist.

Pacific Humpback Whales are truly native Hawaiians—many of them were conceived and born in Hawaiian waters. The Humpbacks spend most of the year in the waters off the Alaska coast and in the Inside Passage where they feed. The waters there are rich in plankton, which is their primary food. Typically, in October and November they begin traveling south to warmer waters. They can be seen all along the Western US coast but particularly around Monterrey during this period of migration. They eventually end in Mexico, along the Baha coast, and in Hawaii where they spend the winter months. It is here where the whales mate and birth their young. The best times to see the whales is toward the end of January to the beginning of March each year. This is the time the whales are most active and can often be seen breaching (jumping) close to the shoreline. The baby whales have grown to the point that they can jump and play. Often, they will breech 10 or more times in rapid succession. Naturally curious, they will approach boats. When the ocean is calm, the mothers tend to keep the babies close to shore—usually within 100 yards or so—where there is more protection from predators. A mother and baby tend to travel with one or more “escort” males who are typically felt NOT to be the babies’ father.

The best places in Hawaii to see the whales are in the areas off of Maui towards Lanai and off the Kona and Kohala Coasts on the Big Island. See the map above to identify these areas. Living on the Big Island, we often see 30 to 40 whales (identified by their spouts) just off the coast near Kua Bay–just North of the KOA airport. Mothers often take their newborn babies into Kailua Bay and stay nearly motionless for hours (“logging”) with the newborn balancing on the mother’s snout.

Much has been speculated about the Humpback “song” (whale songs) but not much is truly known for sure. It does seem that the males are certainly the noisiest. Most of the scientists feel that the song is likely a mating ritual–it does sound as though they are in serious pain at times! Some persons have noted that the songs seem to change each year. If you listen to the sound clips, you can see that they are often high pitched and at times sound almost like cows. These clips were taken with use of an underwater microphone (Hydrophone).

This clip was taken just off the coast of Lana’i in March 2015. A group of whales with their young were directly under our boat. It was so loud that they could be heard even without the Hydrophone:

Whale sounds recorded off the coast of Lana’i in 2014. They sound almost like cows!

This clip was taken off the Kona Coast in 2015:

These voices are much more high pitched. With use of a hydrophone, the sounds can be heard over a mile away.

9 Hawaiian Books to Read Before and During Your 2019 Visit

Countless Hawaiian books have been written over the years.  Some chronicle the history of the Hawaiian islands and recount stories passed down through generations via oration and mythology.  Others narrate World War II and the struggles of modern-day Hawaii, as it became the 50th state added to the United States in 1959.  We hope you enjoy our list for 2019, and feel free to reach out if you have any others we should add to the list!

Hawaiian Books of History and Culture

James A. Michener, a Pulitzer Prize–winning author, demonstrates the history of the Hawaiian islands by narrating the stories from Japanese, Chinese, Polynesian, and American missionary immigrants.  The novel is known for its historical accuracy and discusses the struggles multiple cultures coming together to form modern-day Hawaii.

Martha Beckwith was the first person to research the numerous gods and godesses of Hawaiian culture and put the stories into a single work.  She sourced her work from various historical books and manuscripts that capture the oral recordings of early Hawaiians.  Follow the genealogy from Ku and Hina (Man and Woman), down through the more reckless deities, Maui and Pele 

Captive Paradise is a compelling account of Hawaii’s history.  It discusses the struggles the Hawaiian natives encountered when they first adopted Christianity from the rigid Calvinist missionaries.  It also delves into the United States’ annexation of the islands during President William McKinley, as well as the many business dealings that occurred afterwards.   James Haley’s tale provides an evocative approach to Hawaii’s tumultuous history.

Hawaiian Books to Read on the Beach

Former President Barack Obama’s touching memoir dives into his struggles growing up with a white mother and a Kenyan father, whom he never knew.  First published before he reached office, in 1995, and discusses his time in Honolulu, attending preparatory school, and his travels to Kenya to discover his heritage.

Many of you may have seen the movie, but as is typical, the book provides greater depth and piques your imagination further.  Whether or not you maintain George Clooney as the protagonist is up to you, but for the rest, embrace the terrific storytelling.  Most of the film was shot in Hanalei Bay in Kauai – a great read, especially if you’re hanging out on Hawaii’s oldest island.

For those days when you would rather take in the sun and waves while doing something creative and relaxing, check out Lori Talbot’s adult coloring book.  Lori’s books provide an excellent, meditative way to enjoy the islands at your own pace – the way it should be.

Hawaii Travel Books to Bring with You

DK’s guide is packed with Hawaiian culture and activities for travelers to enjoy.  They include everything from volcano hikes to see the flowing lava, as well as a full list of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  They also offer places to stay and local dining options throughout the islands, whether you are traveling alone or with the ohana (family).

Frommer’s travel guides are always terrific resources for anywhere in the world you travel, and their 2019 Hawaii edition is no different.  Carry this with you during your travels for a full list of what to do, where to go, and what to eat, at your fingertips.  It’s packed full of the best excursions and sightseeing tours the islands offer.

Mary Kawena Pukui’s definitive Hawaiian dictionary is one of the main reasons the language has seen a resurgence since the late 1940s.  Her research and expertise in Hawaiian proverbs and sayings is consolidated in this single work that provides everything a visitor (or a native!) needs to get a full understanding of the Hawaiian language.  Mary Kawena Pukui passed away in 1986, but her work carries on.

Hawaiian Monk Seal

Common Name: Hawaiian Monk Seal

Scientific Name: Neomonachus schauinslandi

Type: Mammals

Diet: Carnivores

Group Name: Colony, rookery

Average life span in The Wild: 25 to 30 years

Size: Length, 7.5 ft

Weight: 500 to 610 lbs

About the Hawaiian Monk Seal

(from National Geographic)

Most seals are at home in frigid waters, but the Hawaiian monk seal is a rare tropical exception.


Hawaiian monk seals live in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. These small islands and atolls are either uninhabited or little-used by humans. They are also surrounded with teeming coral reefs, which serve as great foraging grounds for skilled seals to swim and dive for fish, spiny lobsters, octopuses, and eels. Monk seals spend most of their time at sea, but come ashore to rest on beaches and even utilize fringe vegetation as shelter from storms.

Friendly (?) Monk Seal underwater. Photo Courtesy of esteemed diver, Barry Fackler.

Pregnant Monk seal on the beach at O’oma


The monk seal is named for its folds of skin that somewhat resemble a monk’s cowl, and because it is usually seen alone or in small groups. Hawaiians call the seal `Ilio holo I ka uaua, which means, “dog that runs in rough water.”


Mother monk seals are dedicated and remain with their pups constantly for the first five or six weeks of their lives. They don’t eat during this challenging time and may lose hundreds of pounds.

Threats to Survival

Like the other species of warm-water monk seals, the Mediterranean and Caribbean monk seals, the Hawaiian monk seal has a tenuous grasp on survival. The Caribbean monk seal, in fact, is believed to have been extinct since the 1970s.

Humans have moved into many of the desirable coastal habitats that these animals once frequented, so open coastline is at a premium. Monk seals have also been victims of fisheries, though they are usually accidental bycatch and not a targeted species. Sharks also prey on these seals, and males sometimes kill females of their own species in group attacks called “mobbing.”

Today, Hawaiian monk seals are threatened and, although many protection efforts are in place, their numbers have continually dwindled over the years.

Kukui Nut Trees

Hawaii’s State Tree History

The Kukui Nut Tree became the official state tree of Hawaii when Hawaii became the 50th state in the United States, 1959. It was named the state tree because of its prevalence throughout the islands and its many uses.  The tree is not native, but was brought to the islands by other Polynesian nations farther to the west, but the exact origin is difficult to trace.

Kukui Nut Tree leaves up close

The leaves give an almost purplish hue when young.  When the tree matures, it can reach up to 80 feet (25 meters) tall.  The leaves typically measure between 4-8 inches (10-20 cm) long and vary in shape – either ovate or having 3 to 5 lobes.

Full Kukui Nut tree

Kukui Nut Benefits and Uses

There are many uses of the kukui nut tree, both traditionally and today.  The kukui nut is very hard and is largely composed of oil, so traditionally it was used with a wick made of kapa cloth and burned in a stone lamp, called a “kukui hele po”, for candlelight.  Each kukui nut contains enough oil to burn for 15-20 minutes.  This is also the reason it is sometimes referred to as the “candlenut tree”. If you happen to visit any of the traditional Hawaiian luaus, check out the torches – if they aren’t using kerosene, it’s very possible, they are using kukui nuts.

Fishing and Canoeing

When the ancient Hawaiians and Polynesians were a fishing culuture, kukui nut oil was used as canoe varnish and to help preserve fishing nets (‘upena).  The tree’s trunk was also used to build smaller canoes and the seats within canoes.

Bracelets and Leis

If you char the kukui nuts themselves, you can then use the ink for tattooes or artwork.

Hula dancers also use the bark to decorate their skirts.

Kukui nuts are also used in traditional leis, especially for men.  For those of you traveling to Hawaii, you will often receive one of these kukui nut leis as soon as you land.  Many shops on the islands also sell kukui bracelets as well.

Healthy Skin and Hair

It is also incredibly moisturizing, so Hawaiians often used it to moisturize their skin and protect it from sun and salt water damage.  This includes sunburn and windburn, but also diaper rash for infants.

Kukui Nuts and Cooking (‘Inamona)

Raw kukui or candlenuts are toxic and should not be eaten, but cooked or roasted kukui nuts are edible.  If you are craving some traditional Hawaiian poke, roasted kukui nut spice (or ‘inamona) is an essential ingredient.  It is difficult to find in stores outside of the islands, but you can order ‘inamona on Amazon.  Just be aware that they do have some laxative properties, so use sparingly!

Kukui Nut Resources

Hawaiian Goose (Nene)

The Hawaiian Goose or Nene is a protected species that is unique only to Hawaii. Once near extinction in the mid 1950’s (estimated as low as 24 total), it’s population has grown dramatically in the last ten years. It is now very common to see these geese at many of the golf courses during the cooler months of November through January when they nest.

Nene parents with their chicks:

(From Wikipedia) The nene (Branta sandvicensis), also known as nēnē and Hawaiian goose, is a species of goose endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. The official bird of the state of Hawaiʻi, the nene is exclusively found in the wild on the islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauaʻi, Molokai, and Hawaiʻi.

The Hawaiian name nēnē comes from its soft call. The specific name sandvicensis refers to the Sandwich Islands, an old name for the Hawaiian Islands.

It is thought that the nene evolved from the Canada goose (Branta canadensis), which most likely arrived on the Hawaiian islands about 500,000 years ago, shortly after the island of Hawaiʻi was formed. This ancestor is the progenitor of the nene as well as the prehistoric Giant Hawaiʻi goose and nēnē-nui (Branta hylobadistes). The nēnē-nui was larger than the nene, varied from flightless to flighted depending on the individual, and inhabited the island of Maui. Similar fossil geese found on Oʻahu and Kauaʻi may be of the same species. The Giant Hawaiʻi goose was restricted to the island of Hawaiʻi and measured 1.2 m (3.9 ft) in length with a mass of 8.6 kg (19 lb), making it more than four times larger than the nene. It is believed that the herbivorous Giant Hawaiʻi goose occupied the same ecological niche as the goose-like ducks known as moa-nalo, which were not present on the Big Island. Based on mitochondrial DNA found in fossils, all Hawaiian geese, living and dead, are closely related to the giant Canada goose (B.c. maxima) and dusky Canada goose (B. c. occidentalis).

The nene is a medium-sized goose at 41 cm (16 in) tall. Although they spend most of their time on the ground, they are capable of flight, with some individuals flying daily between nesting and feeding areas. Some are born without the ability to fly. Females have a mass of 1.525–2.56 kg (3.36–5.64 lb), while males average 1.695–3.05 kg (3.74–6.72 lb), 11% larger than females. Adult males have a black head and hindneck, buff cheeks and heavily furrowed neck. The neck has black and white diagonal stripes. Aside from being smaller, the female Nene is similar to the male in colouration. The adult’s bill, legs and feet are black. It has soft feathers under its chin. Goslings resemble the male, but are a duller brown and with less demarcation between the colours of the head and neck, and striping and barring effects are much reduced.

Habitat and range

The nene is an inhabitant of shrubland, grassland, coastal dunes, and lava plains, and related anthropogenic habitats such as pasture and golf courses from sea level to as much as 2,400 m (7,900 ft). Some populations migrated between lowland breeding grounds and montane foraging areas.

The nene could at one time be found on the islands of Hawaiʻi, Maui, Kahoʻolawe, Lānaʻi, Molokaʻi, and Kauaʻi. Today, its range is restricted to Hawaiʻi, Maui, Molokaʻi, and Kauaʻi. A pair arrived at the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge on Oʻahu in January 2014; two of their offspring survived and are seen regularly on the nearby golf courses at Turtle Bay Resort.

Ecology and behavior


The breeding season of the nene, from August to April, is longer than that of any other goose; most eggs are laid between November and January. Unlike most other waterfowl, the nene mates on land. Nests are built by females on a site of her choosing, in which one to five eggs are laid (average is three on Maui and Hawaiʻi, four on Kauaʻi). Females incubate the eggs for 29 to 32 days, while the male acts as a sentry. Goslings are precocial, able to feed on their own; they remain with their parents until the following breeding season.

The nene is a herbivore that will either graze or browse, depending on the availability of vegetation. Food items include the leaves, seeds, fruit, and flowers of grasses and shrubs.

The nene is the world’s rarest goose. It is believed that it was once common, with approximately 25,000 Hawaiian geese living in Hawaiʻi when Captain James Cook arrived in 1778. Hunting and introduced predators, such as small Asian mongooses, pigs, and cats, reduced the population to 30 birds by 1952.[8] The species breeds well in captivity, and has been successfully re-introduced; in 2004, it was estimated that there were 800 birds in the wild, as well as 1,000 in wildfowl collections and zoos. However, there is some concern of inbreeding due to the small initial population of birds. The nature reserve WWT Slimbridge, in England, was instrumental in the successful breeding of Hawaiian geese in captivity. Under the direction of conservationist Peter Scott, it was bred back from the brink of extinction during the 1950s for later re-introduction into the wild in Hawaiʻi. There are still Hawaiian geese at Slimbridge today. They can now be found in captivity in every WWT centre. Successful introductions include Haleakala and Piʻiholo ranches on Maui. The nene population stands at 2,500 birds.

State bird

The nene is the state bird of Hawaii.

Pacific Golden Plover

Should you visit Hawaii in the fall and winter months, you may have the opportunity to see the Pacific Golden Plover. This beautiful bird was named “Kōlea” by early Hawaiians who noted that individual birds return to the same place in the islands year after year.

This species is a wader and forages for food on tundra, fields, beaches and tidal flats–usually by sight. It eats insects and crustaceans and some berries. They are often noted to stand on one leg as if posing.

According to Wikipedia, the Kōlea’s native breeding ground is the Arctic tundra from northernmost Asia into western Alaska. It migrates in the fall and winter months into warmer territories. Scientist have found that these birds make a 3000 mile non-stop trip from Alaska to Hawaii in 3 to 4 days. These photos were taken at Kōlea in mid September. In Hawaii, they appear a brownish color with golden highlights, initially, and then turn a darker color in the spring before travelling north. During breeding season, the face and underbelly turns a dark, almost black color. The oldest Kōlea recorded was at least 21 years old.

The Legend of Naupaka

The Legend of Naupaka

The Half flower of Hawaii

Once upon a time in ancient Hawaii lived a beautiful princess named Naupaka. She was loved by everyone who knew her because she was just as kind as she was beautiful. One day while walking along the beach, Naupaka encountered a handsome fisherman named Kaui. When their eyes met, he smiled and told her his name was Kaui. It was love at first sight.

Realizing that she was royalty and Kaui a common fisherman, Princess Naupaka knew that she was prohibited from marrying him. She rushed to one of the Kupunas (elders) in the village who was well known for her wisdom. As Naupaka described her love for Kaui, the Kupuna sadly shook her head and said “I cannot help you for your marriage to Kaui is prohibited by Hawaiian custom. Your only hope is to see the high priest and ask his permission.”

Naupaka and Kaui travelled for days over beautiful mountains, forests, valleys, and streams in search of the high priest. Once they finally found him they excitedly revealed their love for one another to him and asked if he could allow them to marry. The priest told them “I can see that you have great love for each other but I cannot give permission for you to marry as that decision can only come from the Gods. You must pray to them until you receive an answer.” As they began to pray, dark clouds came overhead and a fierce rain fell upon them. Lightning struck nearby and thunder boomed. Princess Naupaka realized that the Gods would not allow them to marry and tore the flower from her hair and ripped it in half. She gave half to Kaui and said to him: “We cannot be together. You must go back to the ocean where you can fish. I will live the rest of my life on this mountain alone.”

As the two lovers separated, the Naupaka plants that grew nearby saw how sad they were. Even the flowers mourned to see the young lover’s hearts broken so badly. As a memorial to their love, when the Naupaka flower blooms, it only blooms in halves.  Today, there are two varieties of the Naupaka, one growing near the sea called Naupaka Kahakai, the other in the mountain is called Naupaka Kauihiwa. Each bear what appears to be half of a blossom and when placed together, they form a perfect flower. It is said that the lovers can be reunited when the flower of the Naupaka Kauihiwi and the Naupaka Kahakai are joined together after they have been picked.

Naupaka “half blossom”

There are different versions of the Naupaka legend, but all carry the same theme of lovers that are separated forever—one banished to the mountains, the other to the ocean. We named this condo the “Naupaka Hale” or Home of the Naupaka in honor of this legend. Watch for the Naupaka along the ocean front. Visit the higher elevations and find the opposite flower to join.

There are many versions of this story that are published in various formats. This is a compilation of the aspects that I like best.

David Kwiat


Meaning of the Hawaiian word ‘Haole’

The word “Haole” literally means “a person without a country or a known beginning”.

So what does haole mean today?

It is frequently used today to identify a person of Caucasian/white ancestry but this is an incorrect usage. The Hawaiians are a very family-oriented people – check out the word ‘ohana for more on this. Their culture passes down stories across many generations. However, when the first Caucasian, Captain James Cook, arrived on the islands, he only knew 4 generations of his family (e.g. his Great-Great-Grandparents), which offended the Hawaiian Chief (ali’i), as it was traditional for Hawaiian people to recite their entire ancestry when meeting someone new.

The term haole was used to identify those persons who did not know their ancestry. Although the term can be used in a derogatory fashion nowadays, the original derivation is innocent.

Aloha `Oe

The last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Queen Liliʻuokalani, inherited the throne from her brother Kalākaua on January 29, 1891. A woman of peace and an accomplished author and songwriter, she became the first Native Hawaiian female author. Upon her death, Liliʻuokalani dictated in her will that all of her possessions and properties be sold and the money raised would go to the Queen Liliʻuokalani Children’s Trust to help orphaned and indigent children. The Queen Liliʻuokalani Trust Fund still exists today.

Aloha `Oe

Words and music by Queen Lili`uokalani

“Aloha ʻOe” (Farewell to Thee) is Queen Liliʻuokalani’s (Hawaii’s last monarch) most famous song and a song commonly sung at High School graduations and other important events. The story of the origin of the song has several variations. They all have in common that the song was inspired by a notable farewell embrace given by Colonel James Harbottle Boyd during a horseback trip taken by Princess Liliʻuokalani in 1877 or 1878 to the Boyd ranch in Maunawili on the windward side of Oʻahu. Originally written as a lovers’ good-bye, the song came to be regarded as a symbol of, and lament for, the loss of her country.

Hawaiian Version:

Ha`aheo ka ua i nâ pali
Ke nihi a`ela i ka nahele
E hahai (uhai) ana paha i ka liko
Pua `âhihi lehua o uka

Aloha `oe, aloha `oe
E ke onaona noho i ka lipo
One fond embrace,
A ho`i a`e au
Until we meet again

`O ka hali`a aloha i hiki mai
Ke hone a`e nei i
Ku`u manawa
`O `oe nô ka`u ipo aloha
A loko e hana nei

Maopopo ku`u `ike i ka nani
Nâ pua rose o Maunawili
I laila hia`ia nâ manu
Miki`ala i ka nani o ka lipo

English Translation:

Proudly swept the rain by the cliffs
As it glided through the trees
Still following ever the bud
The `ahihi lehua of the vale

Farewell to you, farewell to you
The charming one who dwells in the shaded bowers
One fond embrace,
‘Ere I depart
Until we meet again

Sweet memories come back to me
Bringing fresh remembrances
Of the past
Dearest one, yes, you are mine own
From you, true love shall never depart

I have seen and watched your loveliness
The sweet rose of Maunawili
And ’tis there the birds of love dwell
And sip the honey from your lips