The Kuhio Beach Torch Lighting Ceremony

by Gray Cargill on April 16, 2014

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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.


Duke Kahanamoku statue

Look for this statue


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.)


Banyan Tree

And look for a tree that looks like this.


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.


Conch shell blowing

The ritual blowing of the conch shell.


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.


Torch lighter

An elder lights the tikis from his own torch.


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.


Hula performers

Hula performers


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.


Before the show

Before the show


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:

  1. It was not comfortable. At all.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.


View of stage

My view of the stage. (Hey, lady, I heart Vegas, too!)


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.


Sunset during the show

Sunset during the show


JoAnn May 16, 2014 at 8:11 pm

I wish I knew about this when I went to Hawaii. The hotel I stayed out wasn’t far from there.

Gray Cargill May 17, 2014 at 9:42 am

Oh, well, JoAnn, I guess you’ll just have to go back. 🙂

Elaine April 19, 2014 at 7:01 pm

Wow, I thought hula dancing and tiki torches were just some hokey tourist trap show … this article has piqued my interest, so I will make pains to see this performance where you did on your trip!

Gray Cargill April 20, 2014 at 9:55 am

Some might be, Elaine, but this felt more like sharing culture to me. Does it play to visitors’ expectations and perceptions of Hawaii? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still a part of the Hawaiian culture that’s being shared with visitors. I liked it.

Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren April 17, 2014 at 4:39 pm

I’ve really been loving your posts about Honolulu and this one is no exception. It seems like you had a wonderful trip and really made the most out of your time and money. Thanks for sharing!

Happy travels 🙂

Gray Cargill April 17, 2014 at 7:08 pm

Thank you, Lauren! I can’t imagine not having a wonderful time in Honolulu. Does that ever happen? LOL.

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