Intrinsically Hawaiian and one of the highest-rated island activities, luau’s are near the top of most Hawaiian visitors’ to-do lists. Like with any other popular tourist activity, there are a huge number of luau’s on Oahu to pick from. Chief’s Luau is the #1-rated Oahu activity on Trip Advisor and conveniently located at the beautiful Sea Life Park, just a short drive from Waikiki.
A few months ago, I attended 4 luau’s within a 10-day period. (Needless to say, I was a little bit luau-ed out by the end!) I was shooting them for a work project for a client, and it was a great assignment because I got to do one of those ‘touristy’ things that those of us who live in Hawaii never actually do…which means that now I can write about each one to help you in your search for your perfect Oahu luau! An important disclaimer: I did not eat at any of the luau’s, so can’t report on the food side of things — just on the location, overall experience, and activities. Each luau has a distinct ‘feel’ that is different than others on the island, despite sharing so many similarities, so the ‘best’ luau on Oahu really depends on what you are looking for. Some are more family-friendly and island casual, while others are a bit ‘classier.’ Chief’s Luau is a very casual and laid-back experience that strives to make guests feel like part of the Ohana (family.)
The Chief, internationally-acclaimed entertainer Chief Sielu, welcomes visitors to the Luau at 5pm with music, photos, games, a polynesian tattooing booth, fire stick making tutorials, hula lessons, headband weaving, and more. It’s a festive environment with mai tais and other tropical drinks, island-style music, and the tantalizing smell of the roasted kalua pig.
One of the main components of any luau is the Kalua Pig, which is traditionally wrapped in leaves and cooked in an Imu, which is a type of underground oven. (Kalua is a Hawaiian word that literally means ‘to cook in an underground oven.’) Some luaus use conventional ovens to cook their pork, and others use an Imu Pao, which is an above-ground version of the imu, but the luau’s that are trying to create a more traditional, authentic experience will use an actual imu, which is typically 6 ft long, 4 ft wide and 3 ft deep.
For the imu, a fire is created in the dirt pit using kiawe wood. Once the fire is burning well, rocks are put in the pit so that they retain the fire’s heat and continue cooking the pig after the flames have burnt out. When the rocks are extremely hot, the pit is lined with banana leaves. The pig (or whatever meat being cooked) is salted, filled with more hot rocks, and wrapped in ti and banana leaves. To help retain moisture and produce an even cooking heat, the meat is covered with wet burlap, and then with a layer of sand or dirt. After this, the waiting begins! The meat is left in the imu to cook for 6-8 hours, absorbing smoke and steam from the wood and leaves that give kalua meat its signature flavor. Once the meat is done, it is removed from the imu and shredded.
The pig is unveiled in an ‘Imu ceremony, and then the feasting begins. The seating and stage area is all open air in Makapuu Meadows, and visitors have a pristine view of Oahu’s beautiful Windward coastline, with mountain cliffs to one side and the ocean to the other. ‘Luau’ is the Hawaiian word for a taro leaf, and traditionally, luau guests ate on the floor over mats called ‘lauhala’ (made from woven leaves.) Today, unfortunately, luau guests don’t get to eat on the floor and are seated at tables instead.
Following dinner is a Polynesian show, and the evening ends with an impressive fire knife dancing display.
Chief’s Luau is fun, laid-back, and interactive, creating a casual, intimate environment that allows guests to feel like “ohana” (family).
Experience the Chief’s Luau
Hours: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Luau begins at 5pm and ends around 9pm. Check-in begins at 4:30.
Standard Package — (shell lei, standard section seating, 1 adult beverage)
Adult – $80
Youth (13-20) – $69
Child (5-12) – $58
Paradise Package — (kukui nut lei, 2 adult beverages, first section to get buffet, paradise section seating)
Adult – $111
Youth – $95
Child – $79
Royal Package — (royal section seating, fresh flower lei, 3 adult beverages, table service, mini-tour of Sea Life Park’s shark, dolphin, and sea turtle exhibits)
Adult – $145
Youth – $127
Child – $111
Address: 41-202 Kalanianaole Hwy, Waimanalo, HI 96795
Directions: From Waikiki, take the H-1 E. Shortly past Hawaii Kai, it will become Kalanianaole Hwy. Follow it around the cliffs, past Makapuu and the Halona Blowhole. Sea Life Park will be on your left. Hotel pick-up is available from certain Waikiki locations; visit the website for more information.