A Luau Experience On The Big Island in Hawaii

Luau Fun At The Mauna Kea Beach Resort

A Luau Experience On The Big Island in Hawaii at Mauna Kea Beach Resort

Our First Luau Experience On The Big Island in Hawaii

We were sure glad we had a great luau experience on the Big Island in Hawaii.  This was high on our list of experiences for our visit to Hawaii.  

On our stay on the Big Island, we booked our luau experience at the resort next door.   The luau experience started as the sun set and included a great buffet feast, several dance presentations that provided Hawaiian history lessons and an exciting fire show.  It was a perfect evening out.

What Is A Luau

Large feasts (or ahaaina) have been practiced in Hawaii through the generations.  Historically, the feasts were just for men.  But in 1819, King Kamehameha II finally invited women to eat with the group.  At this time the term “luau” was used to represent the feast where the traditional Luau stew made of taro leaves and chicken baked in coconut was served.

Over time and with commercialization, the word “luau” came to represent a gathering meal of food, music, and dancing.  Luau’s are big productions in Hawaii and there were a wide variety of shows produced on all of the Hawaiian Islands.

We certainly could not leave without experiencing a luau experience on the Big Island in Hawaii. 

Planning To See A Luau At Mauna Kea Beach Resort

When we visited the Big Island in Hawaii, we found a wide variety of different luau experiences.  But we were stuck with no car on this visit so our options were a bit limited.  There were two choices offered by our resort.  After looking at them both, we chose the recommended luau at Hapuna Mauna Kea Resort next door to our stay at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort

For the luau at the Hapuna Mauna Kea Resort the show started at sunset.  And there were three seating options.  We chose Premium Seating that included preferred entry, premier front row seating and a complimentary Mai Tai or Keiki drink.  Tickets were available for dinner with no front row seating and also for just the show.  

We were picked up from our hotel by shuttle and taken to the Hapuna Mauna Kea Resort.  Even though we arrived before the doors opened at 5:30, there was a long line already formed for both premium and regular seating.

Once we were checked in, we were assigned to a table, handed a Mai Tai drink and issued a flower lei or Kukui Nut necklace.  We found our table in the front and close to the centre of the stage. Our seats were back along the table a bit but it was a good spot to enjoy the festivities.  We were all ready for our luau experience on the Big Island in Hawaii. 

Mauna Kea Beach Resort Seating

A Sunset Welcome

The band played background music while we waited.  Once most people were seated, we heard the initial conch call to start the ceremony.  The narrator came on stage and talked a bit about the evening schedule.  She provided some history of the luau at this site and in Hawaii.  At that time, we also learned a little about the traditional hula dance.  Each step of the dance told a story.

Hawaiian History Show - A Luau Experience On The Big Island in Hawaii at Mauna Kea Beach Resort

We were all invited to head outside to the pit where the traditional kalua pig was cooked.  The pig was wrapped in banana leaves and placed on hot rocks in the underground imu oven.  The pig was cooked for several hours until it was smoky, juicy and so tender it fell off the bone.  

We watched as the pig was dug out of the sand.  As the sand was removed we felt the heat from the pit.  When the pig was unwrapped it was placed on a platter and moved to the buffet table.  

Roasting Pig - A Luau Experience On The Big Island in Hawaii at Mauna Kea Beach Resort
Roasting Pig - at Mauna Kea Beach Resort
Roasting Pig

We enjoyed a magical moment watching the sunset on the horizon before we joined the crowd back at our seats.  It was time to continue our luau experience on the Big Island in Hawaii. 

Mauna Kea Beach Resort Sunset
Mauna Kea Beach Resort Sunset

A Luau Experience On The Big Island in Hawaii With A Tasty Buffet

While we waited for dinner to start, we had an appetizer served at the table.  Drink refills could be ordered right at the table if you wanted more than your first free Mai Tai.

Buffet - appetizer

We were called to the buffet by table number.  Two different sets of tables were accessible from both sides.  So it went far quicker than expected for everyone to get food.

Buffet - A Luau Experience On The Big Island in Hawaii at Mauna Kea Beach Resort
Buffet - roasted pig
Buffet - A Luau Experience On The Big Island in Hawaii at Mauna Kea Beach Resort

We found a great selection of cold foods and salads including a mound of chilled shrimp.  The local purple potatoes were served.  For meat we found tender beef, smoked turkey, a variety of fish dishes and the roasted pig.  A second trip to the buffet got us a wide selection of desserts – with both caramel and chocolate choices for David and me.

Once everyone had moved to dessert, the show commenced. We were ready for our luau experience on the Big Island in Hawaii to begin.

Hawaiian History In Dance

A series of stories were told by a “chanter” and the main characters about the history of the Hawaiian Islands.  We learned much as the story was presented.

Hawaiian History Show - A Luau Experience On The Big Island in Hawaii at Mauna Kea Beach Resort
Hawaiian History Show - at Mauna Kea Beach Resort
Hawaiian History Show - A Luau Experience On The Big Island in Hawaii at Mauna Kea Beach Resort

We learned that between 1000-1200 AD the Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands travelled to Hawaii’s Big Island in canoes.  Pele was one of the most powerful deities.   It was said she journeyed on her canoe from Tahiti to Hawaii after seducing the husband of her older sister Nāmaka, the goddess of the sea. Her sister chased after her to Hawaii.

As Pele moved between different islands in Hawaii, she used her pa’oa (or o’o) stick to dig out fire pits which created the magnificent volcanic craters.  She created the stunning volcano of Haleakala which we saw up close when we visited Maui.  The volcanic activity in Maui drew Nāmaka.  Pele was torn apart by her sister.  It was said her bones formed a hill on Kilauea in Maui and her spirit moved on to the Island of Hawaii.

Pele’s fiery temper and death resulted in her becoming the goddess of volcanoes, fire, and lightning.  The frequent eruptions at Kilauea’s Caldera remain a constant reminder of Pele’s presence.  Many people still put offerings out to appease Pele.

We learned a lot on our luau experience on the Big Island in Hawaii.

Learning More About Hula Dancing

The demonstrations early in the night showed us the original hula dance.  But when the main show started after dark, we were told that no photography or video was allowed.  So we cannot share some of the images from this main part of the show.

Originally, the Hula dance was developed as part of the religious traditions of the Pacific Islands. The full name of the traditional form was Hula Kahiko and it was used to honour and entertain the chiefs when they traveled from place to place.  Hula Kahiko does not use modern instruments like the ukulele or guitar. Instead, it used rhythm sticks, gourds carved into drums and rattles, or bamboo sticks cut and slapped together.

The show went on to talk about the changes in Hula dancing through time.  With the arrival of mass travel tourism on the islands, the Hula dance changed (hula ‘auana). Hula become more entertainment and the songs started to include English words.  Popular tunes like “My Little Grass Shack” and “Blue Hawai`i” came in the Hollywood era.  The traditional form of hula was combined with western influences like melodic harmonies and morality tales. String instruments like the ukulele, steel guitars and bass guitars often accompanied the performers.

Hula Dancers at Mauna Kea Beach Resort
Hula Dancers - A Luau Experience On The Big Island in Hawaii at Mauna Kea Beach Resort

After the hula show, the house lights came up and the dancers posed on the stage so we could take some pictures.  The hula show was fun entertainment on our luau experience on the Big Island in Hawaii.

An Amazing Fire Dance Show

When we researched luau shows, we learned that not all included fire shows.  We loved the fire shows we first saw at the summer festivals at home in Toronto.  Since a fire show was something we wanted to see, we were happy when we learned this was part of the Hapuna Mauna Koa Resort luau.

Poi dancing originated in the South Pacific Island of Samoa.  It was originally a war dance and no fire was involved.  Fire was introduced to the dance for added excitement at luaus.  And it was thought that purification through fire ensured Good triumphed over Evil. 

We were introduced to the fire dancer from Samoa.  He moved quickly as he flung the fire sticks around and danced.   When he finished his first show, the audiences loud chanting brought him back on stage for an encore.

The fire show was an exciting part of our luau experience on the Big Island in Hawaii.  We have great memories but no photos!

Hawaiian Words We Learned

Throughout the show we were taught some Hawaiian words.  Many we already knew.  But it was a good review of some key words we needed as a starting base.

AlohaHello, goodbye and love – generally used as a greeting
E komo maiWelcome
A hui houUntil the next time we meet
MahaloThank you
OhanaFamily – restaurant meals might be served ohana-style (family-style)
KeikiChild or children – restaurants might have keiki menus or activities for children
KapuForbidden and/or keep out

We Were Glad We Enjoyed A Luau Experience On The Big Island in Hawaii

When we left the luau site we walked around the resort and were drawn when we saw lights on the water. Two groups floated face down in a circle in the water.  They watched the manta rays below the surface.  We were sad that SCUBA diving amongst the manta was one thing we missed on our stay on the Big Island.

Mauna Kea Beach Resort Manta Rays

We really enjoyed our luau experience on the Big Island in Hawaii.  We watched the sunset as the luau started.  The buffet feast provided some local specialties.  Through a series of interesting dances, we learned about Hawaiian history.  The fire show at the end of the luau experience was a perfect finish.  We were so glad we did not miss a chance to experience this luau show.

Did you have a luau experience on the Big Island in Hawaii?  Did we miss a key part of this iconic celebration?

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  1. I’ve never been to a luau – this looks like a lot of fun! Those chips look very interesting – is that meat, or something else? I would love to visit Hawaii.

  2. The Luau Experience on Big Island/ Hawai must be a very memorable impression. As a vegetarian I am a bit reluctant about the pig, but I would love to learn about Hawaian culture and dances. I hope they could come up with something vegetarian too. Sad that you missed out on the Manta Ray scuba diving.

    • I am sure that the resort offered some vegetarian options if you contacted them in advance. The show was really interesting and we learned a lot about the history of the Hawaiian islands.

  3. This looks like a fantastic experience! I would love to watch a luau and to try some of that roasted pig! It’s cool you learn about Hawaii’s history through dance, it makes it more interesting I think. What do vegetarians and vegans eat at the luau? Are there alternatives for them?

    • We loved the feast and the entertainment at the Hawaiian luau. There was a lot of variety on the buffet and I am sure they also cater to those who don’t want meat. Everyone seemed to be eating well!

  4. Wow, I’ve never heard about the Luau, but it looks like an experience we wouldn’t want to miss. We really want to return to Hawaii and visit other islands we haven’t had a chance yet, so definitely adding a Luau experience on our bucket list. Thanks for sharing.

    • It took us a long time to visit Hawaii and we definitely wanted a luau experience on our trip. This was a great one and we sure learned a lot about the history and culture during the show.

  5. Wow, wonderful post and photos! You brought back so many happy memories from our first luau that we went to in Kauai at the Kilohana Plantation!! We also loved learning more about the culture, food & the fire dance. I think everyone who goes to Hawaii should experience a luah, don’t you?

  6. I would love to visit Hawaii. The Luau sounds like a wonderful cultural experience and I certainly found reading some of the local folktales and history very interesting.

  7. Aloha, this looks absolutely amazing – especially the moment they wrap the meat. We weren’t lucky when we visited Hawaii: The weather was horrible and then we got both sick. If it weren’t so far from Europe I would have visited again just to correct the islands’ image 🙂 And then I stay healthy and enjoy a Luau 🙂

    • I was sorry to read about your Hawaii experience – bad weather and sickness will wreck your image of any destination. We were lucky we had amazing weather and so many great experiences. Glad we got to do a luau on our stay on the Big Island.

    • I am glad this post properly represented what it was like to experience a luau. We were sorry we could not take pics of the fire dancers because they were so amazing. But it is a memory we will always have.

    • We always love when we can see fire dancing. So sad we could not share photos or video of the great show. But we really enjoyed all the history we learned through the stories. A great way to really internalize it.

  8. This trip looks incredible what an amazing experience! You’ll have to return and see the manta rays, that’s something I would also love to do.

  9. Your luau experience on the Big Island in Hawaii looks like so much fun! A perfect celebration to learn and enjoy the Hawaiian culture. We’ve been to three other islands and have the Big Island on our list.

  10. My family would go to Hawaii every May for many years and we would always go to a luau. Even though touristy, we loved them as a way to get into the Hawaiian culture. Glad you enjoyed yours.

  11. What a beautiful experience. I’m intrigued by the way the pig is cooked. The Maori in New Zealand use a similar technique. Really makes you think about the relationship between the peoples of different countries that clearly influenced each other and likely travelled and brought these customs with them.

    • We have had other meals cooked underground and always found them deliciously tender. The pig was no exception. Interesting indeed to see how practices move around the globe.

  12. I’ve never been to Luau before but I’d really love to visit one day. From your article, it sounds like you have a beautiful experience there. Thanks for sharing this!

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