Sign Up for Our Monthly Hawaii Newsletter
As the second-oldest hotel in Waikiki (after the Moana), Halekulani has plenty of tales to tell. Around every corner, the elegant resort whispers memories of the past.
Twice weekly, clients can hear those stories during the Halekulani Historical Tour. Whether they’re craving insights into Hawaiian legends and lore or simply want to find out more about their vacation destination, guests are treated to a fascinating look back.
Since the tour’s inception in 2013, it has been led by Hiinani Blakesely, a passionate advocate for the hotel and Hawaii in general. An award recipient for her contributions to the hospitality industry and a full-time massage therapist at SpaHalekulani, she makes the perfect ambassador for the resort. As she talks, her voice has a musical quality, her eyes light up, and she moves her body as gracefully as a hula dancer.
Tour participants meet Blakesely at the concierge desk. From there, they join her for a stroll around Halekulani’s open courtyards and exquisite terraces, which feel far removed from the buzz of modern Waikiki that awaits just beyond its porte cochere.
Guests follow Blakesely to Halekulani’s most significant places, starting at the front of the resort. They admire a landscaped waterfall feature that honors the cascades of Oahu’s rainforests and the wetlands that once defined Waikiki. They hear about the Polynesian voyagers who became the first inhabitants of the islands, and the Hawaiian royalty who gravitated to the beach and waters hugging the hotel’s 5 acres. They gaze at a pair of 7-foot-tall, 7-ton, marble sculptures representing mahiole — the crested feather helmets worn by island monarchs.
Blakesely spins yarns about the early days of Hawaii tourism, when travelers spent days sailing to the islands on cruise ships, then rewarded themselves with long and luxurious vacations in the exotic destination. And, she speaks of how the hotel layout went from quaint bungalows in 1917 to the current configuration of 453 sleek accommodations in multiple wings.
During the tour, Blakesely’s creative storytelling brings to life colorful personalities from the past, including Halekulani’s various owners and famous guests, from movie stars to dignitaries. For instance, author Earl Derr Biggers frequented the hotel, where he enjoyed chatting with real-life Honolulu police detective Chang Apana — the inspiration for Charlie Chan, Biggers’ fictional 1920s character.
Some of Halekulani’s quintessential architectural touches have been preserved over time. The two-story Main Building boasts design elements dating to 1883, such as the original iron railings on the second level and eucalyptus floors in the Living Room. The structure — rebuilt in 1932 by island architect Charles Dickey — is notable for its high-pitched roof, which keeps interiors cool in the warm tropical climate.
Blakesely engages guests even more as she shares the meaning of familiar Hawaiian words, the history of the Hawaiian flag and the different types of plants enlivening the resort’s grounds.
Clients also see and learn about Halekulani’s legendary kiawe (mesquite) tree, which was planted in 1887 and is located next to the property’s House Without a Key restaurant. A symbol of the hotel, it presided over decades of historical events until, in 2016, it suddenly toppled over, devastating longtime staffers and guests. However, as Blakesely describes it, the tree — which remains on its side today — continues to thrive in its new position, a living reminder of Halekulani’s endurance.
The complimentary Halekulani Historical Tour, which is offered only to guests of the hotel, takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 8 a.m.
The Details Halekulaniwww.halekulani.com