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Nearby, a large monk seal lounged on the porous black rocks that surrounded the pools.

Scratching its green-gray girth with a kelp-tinged flipper, it tilted its smiling face toward the sun looking just like my dog when she basks in a warm patch on the driveway.

On the drive back to Ko Olina, a different scene captures my attention. Richard has a knife and a pair of tongs and begins to cut through the pig’s crackling, brown skin, placing thick slices of roast pork onto a paper plate and handing it to me. I’m given a piece of tender white fish drizzled with soy sauce that Richard’s nephew pulled from the ocean a short time earlier — a nephew, Richard says, who can show me some great places to snorkel. One of those ancient ponds, known as the “Looking Glass,” can be found just next door to the Four Seasons at the Lanikuhonua Cultural Institute.

It takes a moment for my brain to register that the motley band of leathery men standing on the rocky bluff are roasting a pig over a wood fire, but when it does I decide to stop. He steps behind the pig and poses for the camera, still smiling and flashing me a shaka, the hand symbol most people would recognize as the one that means “hang loose.” As I snap the shutter, another guy approaches and shakes my hand, introducing himself as Richard. “I have a farm up there,” he waves behind us at the mountains. I’m doing the pig to say mahalo for their hard work.” They ask me where I’m from and seem surprised when I tell them I just arrived from New York. I thank them again and again for the feast and walk over to my car. Later that morning, I watch as Auntie Nettie Tiffany, the kahu — spiritual custodian — of Lanikuhonua, steps gingerly into the clear, turquoise waters, a clutch of verdant ti leaves in one hand.

My room overlooks a wide, emerald-blue lagoon and I’m tempted to plant my jet-lagged self on the balcony for the remainder of the afternoon, but I’m on a mission.

Instead, I head back out to explore the side of O‘ahu that most visitors rarely see.

It was on my last west side morning that I set out before sunrise to hike to Ka‘ena Point, La‘akea and Ka‘ena acting as guides.

Pressing her forehead against mine, Auntie Nettie welcomes me to O‘ahu, blessing my journey and instilling me with west side mana.

Afterwards, at her prompting, I wade into the warm Pacific to seal the exchange. They came to bathe in these sacred ponds.” These days, Lanikuhonua strives to sustain and celebrate native Hawaiian culture through educational programs and annual festivals.

As a descendent of a family that once served King Kamehameha the Great, Auntie Nettie inherited her role as kahu from her mother, who taught her the ancestral traditions. In keeping with that mission, the institute provides space for La‘akea and his hula students to train each week.

“Ko Olina is a homestead land,” says Auntie, when I ask her to tell me Lanikuhonua’s story. Their dance style, called ‘ai ha‘a, is extremely strenuous, replicating the moves of an ancient form of martial arts.