Swaying hula hips, a feast under a starlit sky and the tantalizing scent of fresh flower lei are all reasons why we love a traditional Hawaiian luau! A luau is a Hawaiian-style party, celebrated through music, dance and most importantly, food. The tradition of a Hawaiian luau began in 1819 when King Kamehameha II removed religious laws that were practiced and allowed men and women to eat together as a symbol of his history making decision.
At most customary luaus, there are a few signature occurrences that you don’t want to miss. First, the ancient imu ceremony, where a pig cooked upon hot stones and covered with layers of leaves and cloth is uncovered from an earthen underground oven. What emerges from the imu is delicious, succulent cooked pork, which is then removed and shredded into kalua pig.
Following the imu ceremony, you will feast on a variety of Hawaiian foods with the kalua pig as the main dish of your dinner. Most luaus feature similar variations of Hawaiian dishes, including lomi lomi salmon (a medley of smoked salmon, tomato, onions and green onions), fresh caught fish, kulolo (a sweet dessert made of coconut milk and taro), and of course poi (taro that is pounded by stone into a paste).
While you feast on these many splendors, the night becomes alive with the rhythm of pahu drumming, graceful dancing, music representing all of Polynesia and many times a fire knife dance where knives lit with fire are twirled, spun and thrown into the air. (Do not try this at home.) You may even get called up to show off your hula hips and dancing skills.
Here are some of the best Hawaiian luaus Kaua‘i has to offer:
Located oceanfront at the Sheraton Kaua‘i Resort in Poipu, Aulii Luau combines exquisite views of the Poipu coastline, a buffet style dinner, traditional music of old Hawai‘i and all of Polynesia, and an award-winning performance by Urahutia Productions, a family dance troupe made up of many generations of a local Kaua‘i family. The luau is held on Monday and Thursdays at 5:30 p.m., reservations are recommended for this often sold out show.
The rhythm of the islands come alive at the Grand Hyatt Kauai’s Havaiki Nui Luau. Fronting the resort’s salt water lagoon, the luau offers visitors a buffet of authentic Hawaiian food with a modern day twist, such as the imu-style cooked kalua pig and the roasted Hawaiian sweet potatoes. The Polynesian revue features the exotic dances of Hawai‘i, Tahiti, Samoa, and New Zealand and takes you on an incredible journey of Polynesia through song and dance. The Grand Hyatt Kauai’s Havaiki Nui Luau is offered on Sundays and Thursdays and begins at 5:30 p.m.
Luau Kalamaku, Kilohana Plantation
Luau Kalamaku takes place on Kilohana Plantation, a historic plantation estate owned by the Wilcox Family. Before the show begins, take the time to meander through the mansions restaurant, lounge and shops, stroll the immaculate grounds, sample some locally crafted Kōloa Rum, or take a train ride on Kaua‘i Plantation Railway. Once inside of the Luau Kalamaku hale (house), you will be treated to a one-of-a-kind show telling the story of the original Tahitian voyage to the Hawaiian Islands that includes hula, fire knife dancing and a fire poi-ball exhibition. Luau Kalamaku is held on Tuesday and Fridays all year and also on Mondays from June 29 to August 10.
Smith’s Tropical Paradise Luau
The Smith’s Tropical Paradise Luau is one of Kaua‘i’s longest running luaus and continues to thrive through the effort of four generations of the Smith family on Kaua‘i. This tropical oasis is located in the sacred Wailua River Valley and offers garden tours through a 30-acre botanical and cultural garden prior to the party. Dinner includes kalua pig roasted in the imu, Cousin Gary’s secret teriyaki beef recipe, fresh mahimahi, and more. Following dinner, guests are escorted to the Pele amphitheater where they are treated to dramatic show featuring the stories of Pele, goddess of fire. Days and times on this luau vary according to season.
Hawai‘i Alive Luau, Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club
Overlooking the beautiful Kalapaki Bay in Lihu‘e, the Hawai‘i Alive Luau is held every Monday evening at the Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club. This luau features a plated dinner at the poolside Kukui’s Restaurant, where you can sip on a mai tai or tropical chi chi while savoring in delicious kalua pork, huli huli chicken, coconut glazed sweet potato and lomi salmon. The show is held outdoors in the Niihau Court, where dancers perform in front of the koi fishpond in a lush tropical garden landscape. For those who prefer to start their evening a little later, guests have the option of skipping dinner and attending the show only.
No matter which luau you choose to attend, be prepared to eat, drink, and possibly even shake your hula hips. A luau is the quintessential Hawaiian experience and a trip to Kauai would not be complete without attending one.