One of the best free things to do in Honolulu is saunter down to Kuhio Beach Park for the Torch Lighting Ceremony and Hula Show. It takes place a few nights a week and the start time changes based on the time of year, so be sure to check out the schedule online. The show lasts about an hour and is a great reminder that you’re not just in a beach resort destination, you’re on an island with a really interesting culture that’s completely different from the rest of the U.S.
If you’re not quite sure where Kuhio Beach Park is, it’s along Waikiki Beach on the south side of the Moana Surfrider Hotel. Look for the giant banyan tree along the sidewalk on the beach side of the street and the statue of Hawaiian surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku. (This popular photo opp is likely to be wreathed in leis brought by visitors.)
I noticed that the banyan tree was filled with a Hitchcockian number of birds during the show. They were going berserk and chirping up a storm! It was funny and creepy at the same time.
The show starts with the ritual blowing the conch chell and an elder who walks the perimeter with a flaming torch, lighting all the tiki torches circling the stage and audience. The blowing of the conch shell seems to serve a dual purpose in officially beginning the ceremony but also marking the setting of the sun and the end of the day. This is followed by some live music and hula dancers.
I’m sure the hula show was fun for everyone, but I found it extra interesting because I’d just been educated about hula as an art form at the Bishop Museum the day before and that was fresh in my mind. So I knew that the rattles they were using were either made from gourds or bamboo, for instance.
Bring something to sit on unless you want grass stains on your clothes or sand down your shorts. And get there early to stake out a good spot in front of the stage—an hour would not be too early, judging by the crowd that had already gathered by the time I got there.
I snagged a seat on a low stone wall to the left of the stage, thinking I would be fine there, but it was not ideal for three reasons:
- It was not comfortable. At all.
- It wasn’t a great spot from which to take photos or shoot video. Equipment on the stage was in the way, and people are coming and going throughout the show. (If you’re on the side of the stage and a bit back from it, you’ll have people walking in front of you constantly.)
- I could not hear a word anyone said (or sang) during the show, because although they were using microphones, the sound was really muffled off to the side of the stage.
Still, despite the fact that I didn’t have the best spot, I’m so glad I got a chance to experience this. I found the show to be a lovely, laid-back way to bring the day to a close in the islands. The sunset wasn’t shabby, either.