‘Iolani Palace Launches New King Kalākaua Legacy Tour

The experience offers a closer look at the life of the penultimate monarch of Hawai‘i.
Photo: Courtesy of ʻIolani Palace

In the basement galleries of ʻIolani Palace, I’m accompanied by six other visitors, all of us pulling on shoe coverings to prevent damage to the palace’s wooden floors and carpets.

The subject of this specialty tour at the palace is King Kalākaua, known as the Merrie Monarch for his appreciation of the Hawaiian arts and efforts to revitalize hula. He also ordered the construction of the palace itself, which was completed in 1882 and included some impressive modern technology—for the time—such as the gas fixtures lighting the palace. Dan Beckmann, our volunteer docent, tells us that the palace was primarily used for social functions and entertaining international guests. (The royal family, meanwhile, would actually reside elsewhere.)

Coronation Suit 3

The king’s coronation suit.
Photo: Courtesy of ‘Iolani Palace

Heading up to the first-floor rooms, Beckmann offers a detailed account of the king’s entire family, but unlike the usual palace tour—which is more centered on Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaiʻi—the spotlight here shines on Kalākaua, his rise to power and his relationships with other historic figures, such as Napoleon and Robert Louis Stevenson.

In the music room, the rope that blocks visitors during the standard tour is dropped—an added perk of taking the Kālakaua Legacy Tour. I take the opportunity to look closely at Queen Liliʻuokalani’s dress, a beautiful gown accented with light-blue and yellow highlights, and it’s easy for me to imagine the royals of the Hawaiian Kingdom, in their time, enjoying the soft melodies being played on the grand piano in the corner of the room.

Chamberlains Tour 4

Photo: Courtesy of ʻIolani Palace

Next, we’re led up the stunning wooden stairs of ‘Iolani Palace, to the king’s bedroom and library. Here, I get a glimpse of the Merrie Monarch’s day-to-day life and passions. I inspect his personal possessions, including a straw hat, cane and a book on Hawaiian culture that he penned personally to help preserve the Islands’ Native culture. Getting such an up-close look at his belongings, I feel more immersed in the history of the place and have a better sense of the activity that once echoed through the rooms here.

Then we’re ushered to the palace’s patio, where Beckmann finishes off our tour by emphasizing the importance of King Kalākaua’s legacy and his commitment to Hawaiian culture. Everyone is given a souvenir—a coin with an engraving of the king—as we exit the palace. And before leaving the grounds, I look up at the palace’s regal architecture and the palm trees surrounding the property. I can’t help but marvel at the sight and smile.

The 90-minute tour for groups of six is every Wednesday beginning at 3:45 p.m. Tickets are $77.95 for adults and teens and $51.95 for children ages 5 to 12. You can book a tour here.

Categories: Oʻahu, O‘ahu Arts + Culture