Learn Talk Story With Uncle Danny
Danny Akaka, the resort’s resident expert in Hawaiian history and culture, is in high demand. No matter how many people file into the Hale I‘ike cultural center, each one of them receives the full benefit of his beaming smile and gracious attention. Akaka is the embodiment of aloha: generous, unhurried, and brimming with love for Hawai‘i and her people. Diplomacy runs in Akaka’s genes. His father was a respected U.S. Senator, his uncle coined the phrase “aloha spirit,” and his grandmother couldn’t let a tired taro farmer pass by her house without offering refreshment and a shady place to rest.
Akaka knew this coastline long before there were resorts here. He visited Kalāhuipua‘a—the fabled fishpond—as a young college student in the 1970s. He and his future wife Anna belonged to the University of Hawai‘i’s very first Hawaiian Studies cohort. They were part of what is now known as the Hawaiian Renaissance. Their professor brought them here to experience a place that still pulsed with the power of old Hawai‘i. The Queen Ka‘ahumanu highway didn’t exist then, so the class took dirt roads down from Waimea through Puakō to reach the sea. At Paniau, a Hawaiian family would let the students cross their property on one condition: they stayed to drink a cold beer and “talk story.” “Once we were stuck there for three days,” Akaka laughs.
The young Hawaiian was awestruck by Kalāhuipua‘a. “After driving through hot, dry and dusty places, we came to this oasis,” he remembers. “The milo and coconut trees, the large ponds of jumping mullet, the beautiful blue ocean right in front of these quaint cottages—it was like stepping back in time. I felt like I’d arrived in paradise. It made a big impression on me. Growing up in Honolulu, I never knew that a place like this still existed.” As a youth, Akaka dreamed of being a Waikiki beach boy—spending his days surfing and safeguarding swimmers. Instead, he came to work at Mauna Lani when it opened in 1983. Over the years he’s been a landscaper, hotel historian, and cultural director—but his real job is serving as the resort’s conscience.
Take time to visit “Uncle Danny” at Hale I‘ike or by the edge of the fishpond. Ask him about his grandfather who knew Queen Lili‘uokalani, or about his voyage to the Marquesas aboard a double-hulled sailing canoe. Let him envelop you in old-style Hawaiian ho‘okipa (hospitality) and don’t be surprised if you linger longer than you expected.