Call of the Wild

Surprises await on the Hyatt Regency Maui wildlife tour

By: Marty Wentzel

An East African crown crane called Spike stood on the far side of his Hyatt Regency Maui habitat.

“Come over to your rock, Spike,” said Hyatt Maui wildlife guide Terry Delapinia.

Like a well-trained dog, the long-legged bird strolled toward us and stepped on a nearby stone. On cue, we yelled “Hi Spike,” and he looked right at us, lifted his beak and responded with a squawk.

For travelers who love animals, Hyatt Maui’s complimentary wildlife tour is an up-close-and-personal introduction to creatures most people only see at zoos. And while clients might prefer to pay top dollar to witness them in foreign forests and jungles, the West Maui resort provides educational and entertaining encounters with the same species at no charge, right on property.

“Our tours are great for families with children and older travelers with pets,” said Hyatt Maui wildlife program director Michelle Tavares. “People love to learn new things about animals, and repeat guests often ask for certain birds by name.”

Purchased from zoos and breeders, Hyatt Maui’s 50 birds aren’t native to Hawaii.

“These animals would never survive in the wild,” she said. “We’ve given them a home, and they live the good life.”

One of the few Hawaii hotels with a wildlife department, Hyatt Maui incorporated exotic birds into its original design under the direction of hotel developer Christopher Hemmeter. For decades, diners at Swan Court, the resort’s open-air lagoon-side restaurant, have watched white European mute swans glide by.

Occasionally, Pete the whistling tree duck walks up the steps and waddles past a few tables, to the delight of guests.

In Hemmeter’s honor, the staff named its hyacinth macaw Christopher, a favorite of visitors on the tour.

“When we came up with the name, we thought Christopher was a male,” said Delapinia. “Then she laid an egg.” Perched on a big brass ring in the Hyatt Maui’s atrium, the docile 35-year-old wowed us with her vibrant blue feathers and yellow-rimmed eyes as she deftly picked out the banana chips from her fruit and nut mix. Delapinia picked up the three-pound marvel and placed her on my arm. The largest of the macaw family, she smiled at me, showing off the yellow stripes on her tongue.

Ever the showoff, Roger the blue and gold macaw hung upside down, played with his toys, sashayed along his bar and flirted with a blond woman in our tour group.

“One of his first trainers had blond hair, and he really loved her,” explained Delapinia.

Not to be outdone, a 25-year-old African gray parrot called R2-D2 spouted remarkable sound effects, from a ringing telephone and a beeping truck moving in reverse, to suggestive wolf whistles.

“When the birds are on display, we say that they’re working,” said Delapinia. “They’re entertaining guests, and they get paid with love.”

While some birds retire to back-of-the-house living quarters when not on view, Hyatt features several 24/7 habitats. One such display hosts a quartet of penguins, who have lived at the hotel since it opened in 1980. Movies like “March of the Penguins” and “Happy Feet” show penguins living in cold climates, but the Hyatt’s tuxedoed foursome, named George, Waddles, Orea and Little Nahu, come from warm South Africa.

“They’re laid-back Maui penguins,” said Delapinia.

Nahu, born at the hotel, is tamer than the others, and a particular favorite. Delapinia called him, and he responded by waddling over to her outstretched hand and nibbling her sleeve as she pettted him.

As we wandered around the hotel’s Oriental gardens, Delapinia pointed out three African and three Chilean flamingoes. On the other side of the walkway strolled Shadow, an Australian black swan.

“She has a fetish with the weed wacker and follows him around,” laughed Delapinia. “Just like people, all these birds have very distinctive personalities.”


Hyatt Regency Maui
200 Nohea Kai Dr.
Lahaina, HI 96761

The hotel’s free 1½-hour Wildlife Tour leaves from the concierge desk every Tues., Thurs. and Sat. at 10 a.m. In addition, guests can feed the hotel’s koi (Japanese carp) in the atrium lobby, daily at 9:30 a.m.

Through Dec. 21, clients can book Hyatt Maui’s Sunshine on Sale package and get the sixth night free. Rates, starting at $510 per room, include buffet breakfast for two people.
Commission on room rates: 10 percent