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This Hawaiian Sunset Cruise Lets You Enjoy Haute Cuisine Under the Stars

by multimill
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The funniest boating scene in The White Lotus was in season one, with newlywed couple Rachel and Shane embarking on what they thought would be a private dinner at sea. But the honeymoon dinner was crushed by the neurotic heiress, Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge), who, unknown to the couple, was also on the boat, to scatter her late mother’s ashes. The chaotic scene made good comedy, not a fun voyage.

A very different sunset cruise launched earlier this summer from Four Seasons Resort Maui, where The White Lotus was filmed, also with Hawaii’s seascape as the backdrop. But instead of a Hollywood entourage led by Coolidge, three travel writers and two spouses stepped aboard a 65-foot catamaran as the first participants of A Wayfinder’s Journey. The three-hour sail embarked from Lahaina out into the local waters, sailing past sunset into the summer’s first full moon, finishing later in wind-tossed waters under a star-filled sky.

"The Wayfinder's Journey," a three-hour sunset cruise organized by Four Seasons Resort Maui, combines haute cuisine and celestial navigation.

“Canoe” food like coconuts, bananas and taro comprised the basic ingredients for elaborate dishes for the cruise.

Courtesy Four Seasons Resort Maui

A Wayfinder’s Journey is just one of several dozen yachting, diving, and other eco-adventures connected to resorts around the world, as the properties realize that some of their best assets are the stunning blue waters, coral reefs, or historic ports on their doorsteps.

We writers weren’t expecting White Lotus, but it wasn’t clear from the description how the night would go. Would it be a Disney-like show, or something that actually blended haute cuisine with native Hawaiian culture, as the trip was billed?

Local celestial navigator Kala Baybayan Tanaka served as our host while the resort’s chefs, chef Samual Taganeca, pastry chef Alexandre Chersouly, and a sommelier, served a six-course tasting menu inspired by “native canoe plants” such as bananas, breadfruit, and taro—the kind of fruits and roots that early Hawaiian voyagers would’ve subsisted on during month-long trips aboard their sailing canoes. The difference was that the two chefs came up with inspired, contemporary dishes for the Wayfinder experience, pairing each with a French, Italian, or U.S. wine.

"The Wayfinder's Journey," a three-hour sunset cruise organized by Four Seasons Resort Maui, combines haute cuisine and celestial navigation.

Chef Samual Taganeca and navigator Kala Baybayan Tanaka, in turn, introduced new dishes and identified waypoints for guests in the front-row seats.

Four Seasons Resort Maui

Anyone who has eaten a dish “inspired” by basic ingredients knows they don’t always work. I was prepared to chew and nod politely. But by the second course—grilled He’e (Hawaiian for octopus) paired with a French Chenin Blanc, during one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen—it was clear this would be a special evening.

The Wayfinder concept took five years to become reality, mostly due to a two-year Covid break, finally launching in June. Its success hinged on both the canoe-inspired cuisine and Kala—specifically her knowledge of the Hawaiian seafaring method she learned from her father, Chad Kālepa Baybayan, a master navigator who had learned from several generations of navigators.

"The Wayfinder's Journey," a three-hour sunset cruise organized by Four Seasons Resort Maui, combines haute cuisine and celestial navigation.

The “canoe food” (center) provided the basic ingredients for the grilled octopus (left) and caviar (right).

Four Seasons Resort Maui

Soon after we set sail, Kala was talking about the navigation that began thousands of years ago in Polynesia. Instead of GPS, modern instruments, or even old-school sextants, Kala and fellow Hawaiians on the local “big canoe”—a hand-built, double-hulled voyaging canoe with inverted sails—relied on lunar cycles, stars, and ocean swells to steer boats at night.

Kala had spent many hours studying navigation in books and constellations in observatories, but in 2014 and 2017, she was a navigator aboard two 2,500-mile-plus sea voyages from Maui to Tahiti, along with 15 others, with no land in sight for days. “We used the natural environment to inform all of our decisions—techniques used for thousands of years to navigate from place to place,” she says. That’s no joke on the open ocean. One mistake could throw the boat off course for days.

"The Wayfinder's Journey," a three-hour sunset cruise organized by Four Seasons Resort Maui, combines haute cuisine and celestial navigation.

“Red sky at night, sailors delight.” The dramatic sunset added to the experience, plus provided a waypoint for the navigator.

Catherine Norris

As the tasting courses came and went, Kala and Taganeca did a tag-team presentation. The navigator spoke about the importance of the moon for gaining a bearing, pointed out individual stars with a laser pointer, then passed the wand to the chef when a new dish appeared.

My eyes usually glaze when I read the ingredient list on a menu. But it was clear how much the chef sweated to get the ingredients just right. The ginger, turmeric, and miso to flavor the octopus, how the lemongrass emulsion clears the palette—his passion for the details was clear.

Wine director Aaron Wood-Snyderman also tried multiple wines from the resort’s extensive wine cellar before pairing the octopus with a “half-dry” wine from France’s Loire Valley. “We wanted to balance this earthy-salty dish with the residual acidity of the wine—for a kind of sweet-and-sour effect,” said the sommelier pouring it.

"The Wayfinder's Journey," a three-hour sunset cruise organized by Four Seasons Resort Maui, combines haute cuisine and celestial navigation.

The sailing cat’s layout and forward seating were ideal for this alfresco cruise.

Four Seasons Resort Maui

The stars took on more fierceness as the night progressed. At one point, the crew raised the sails and shut the engines off, letting us bliss out. We could feel the cool wind and hear waves slapping against the hull, watch the Strawberry moon rising. The dishes kept coming: caviar frisee with taro crisps, seared bigeye tuna with sweet potato, ali’i mushroom bordelaise, and kale, the last paired with a Napa Bordeaux blend.

Trilogy Excursions’s 65-foot catamaran turned out to be the right vessel for this kind of cruise. Its two-person tables up near the bow provided us some privacy, but we could also chat—and more importantly, there was an unobstructed view of the ocean, which was fairly calm that night.

The boat also had a generous galley below where the chefs could prepare the food, instead of reheating it, so everything was fresh—galley to table in 30 seconds.

"A Wayfinder's Journey," a three-hour sunset cruise organized by Four Seasons Resort Maui, combines haute cuisine and celestial navigation.

Baybayan Tanaka points out different stars used for navigation.

Four Seasons Resort Maui

The grand finale, at least for this wannabe ocean navigator, was Kala pointing out the Southern Cross—“our main marker during the summer before the hurricane season” and a constellation I’d only seen in books—and chef Chersouly’s “The Banana,” an inspired banana-shaped coconut dacquoise and mousse, with milk chocolate cream.

It feels trite saying it was one of those nights I won’t forget, but it really was. Kala’s passion for the night sky and water, the exceptional food, and the ocean made a powerful combination that came together on a night with perfect weather. The stars aligned.

A Wayfinder’s Journey isn’t cheap—$15,500 for six people, who have to be resort guests. But it is authentic and delivered by a group who will do their best to make it a memorable night at sea. It could make sense for a family anniversary or a special occasion—unlike that romantic dinner Rachel and Shane never had.



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