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Everything You Need to Know About the Kalama Park Whale Lei Tradition

For those who live in Kihei, Wailea, or Makena, you may have noticed that the Kalama Park whale sculpture occasionally has a beautiful giant lei wrapped around it. Did you know there is a tradition surrounding a giant lei streamed around the full-size Kihei whale that has been running for close to 20 years?! The lei only makes an appearance around two weeks a year, so you may have never noticed it, but after reading this blog post you will know exactly when to look for this awesome practice filled with Aloha.

Maui Walking Tours is happy to share the behind-the-scenes info regarding this beautiful south Maui tradition. The "Kalama Park Lei Fairy" has become a friend of Maui Walking Tours and shared the below details with us.

When Does The Kalama Park Whale Get a Lei?

Only two times a year. The two weeks surrounding Christmas (December 17th - 27th weather permitting) and May 1st, which is Lei Day. The lead picture of this blog post shows our Kihei walking tour posing in front of the whale this May 1st, 2024.

When Did the Tradition Begin?

Around 2005

Who is the "Lei Fairy" Responsible for Keeping this Tradition Alive?

Her name is Pauline and she has been an active member of the Kihei community for decades. Pauline first moved to Kihei in 1987 and soon after became a member of a community group named the Kalama Park Action Team that took on the responsibility of cleaning up Kalama Park's image. In the 2006 - 2013 timeframe Kalama Park was starting to earn a bad reputation after sundown. The Action Team, made up of volunteers, dedicated time to patrolling the park, hauling out abandoned trash, cleaning up graffiti, and landscaping overgrown elements. The KPAT was instrumental in turning around Kalama Park for the years to follow. Pauline logged dozens of hours caring for the whale during this timeframe and also maintaining the plants and glass inside the whale enclosure. Her close bond spurred the creation of the lei tradition now in place!

How Did the Lei Tradition Idea Come to Pauline?

Pauline's family would always make custom theme lei whenever they visited each other based on what was going on in their lives or what clubs/passions they were involved in. Making a Christmas lei for the whale seemed like the obvious thing to do. Pauline's mom also had a beautiful garden so the creation of a second lei (during Lei Day) was made as a tribute to her mother's green thumb and love of gardening. 

What Are the Lei Made of?

There are two lei. The Christmas lei is on for about 10 days and the May Day lei is on for just May 1st each year. Both lei are artificial and the 6-foot garlands aren’t available on Maui so all the materials have to be shipped in and configured here. Due to the Kihei trade winds that usually kick in around 11am, there are lead fishing weights attached to the top half of both lei to keep the lei firmly seated on the whale.

How Long Does it Take to Wrap the Whale?

Pauline and her partner, Rob, use an extendable boat hook and it usually just takes a few minutes to drape the lei over the whale sculpture.

Well, there you have it folks! The interesting history behind the Kalama Park Lei tradition. Hopefully the next time you are in Kihei during the holiday season you will take a few minutes to go admire the humpback whale sculpture originally designed and created by Elan Vital in the 1980s and registered with the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Join us on our Kihei Historic Walking Tour, where we share the interesting story of how the Kalama Park whale was made and how it ended up "migrating" over from Kahului to Kihei.

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Go Pauline, Rob, and KPAT!!

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