On a recent trip to Maui, I had the pleasure of experiencing the Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment program while I was staying at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. The programs have been developed to provide cultural and environmental excursions led by naturalists to help guests develop a deeper appreciation for the environment they are visiting. At the Ritz, programs include Coastal Walk and Tide Pool Exploration, Cities Under the Sea, Maunalei Magic, Sea Kayak Coastal Tours, and my chosen adventure, Outrigger Canoeing.
I elected for the outrigger canoe adventure to truly immerse myself into Hawaiian culture. I, along with a family of four and our guide, learned from the very start that to work a 45-foot-long outrigger canoe, you have to work as a team. As a team, we were not coddled; we had to help prepare the canoe and move it from the shore to the water, and then had to learn how to paddle together. Unlike traditional paddling using our arms, we learned outrigger canoe paddling requires the use of all body parts, from our legs to our torsos to our shoulders. (I felt it the next day!) Before setting off, our guide, Tim Lara, completed the traditional prayer to the ocean and the environment to allow for a safe journey.
Setting off on our three-hour journey into the morning rain, we encountered a pod of dolphins (roughly 50) and although we took a moment to watch them swim and play, we had to keep paddling on to our shore destination. Coming ashore, Tim showed us natural spring pools near the tide that bubbled water from underground and was cool and safe to drink. He showed us how to make rope from coconuts we found on the shore, and even had a drink of coconut water from a young coconut. Tim explained to us how Maui was once divided to support and sustain themselves with the water from the rain forests at the top of the volcano right down to the shore, again with everyone working as a team.
Getting back into the canoe, we spotted sea turtles and crystal clear waters and decided it was the best place to stop to snorkel. Tim had a guide book of the local fish we would see, and as we swam, pointed out urchins and fish to us. Then we returned to the hotel shore, and once again, our team pulled the canoe in, cleaned it and put its protective covers on it. Any trash we had seen in the ocean had come back with us to dispose of properly. The excursion had been a lot of fun, but also taught us so much.
I learned from Tim that he works with the Ambassadors of the Environment program, but also operates a tour group that does this for those who are not staying at the Ritz. Maui Kayak Adventures leads groups on trips to Molokini, Turtle Town and Honolua Marine Preserve, and his commitment to the environment is evident. (It’s the reason he joined the Ambassadors of the Environment programs.)
As I later walked along the shores of Wailea’s and Ka’anapali’s beaches during my stay on the island, I saw many outriggers set up for early morning adventures with groups of guests unsure about what they were doing, helping move the canoes to the ocean and paddling into the ocean. Maui is proud of its culture and works hard to keep it alive, and it appears most resorts on the island are happy to help guests experience adventures that give them a taste of Old Hawaii. I enjoyed my tour with the Ritz’s Ambassadors of the Environment (and have enjoyed its programs in California and the Caribbean). I highly recommend families take the time to experience the island through this program, or with similar programs at other resorts or independent tour groups.
(Note: The family I toured with had 13- and 15-year-old sons, and the boys loved swimming with sea turtles, paddling close to dolphins and making rope from coconut. If these teens could be happy for three straight hours, just think how much the rest of the family will also enjoy it!)
– Lissa Poirot