HILO, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Even a year later, a grin still spreads across the face of Ka'iulani Carr when someone calls her Miss Aloha Hula.
"When I hear, sometimes, I'm just like … 'Oh yeah, that's me,'" Carr said. "The year is almost over, but I'm trying to take that in still."
The 26-year-old Kamehameha Schools graduate, who won the title last year in what she calls the ultimate honor for any young lady who grows up dancing hula, grew up in Makaha.
But her reign as Miss Aloha Hula has taken her to places far from West Oahu.
"I have had the opportunity to travel all over the world with my kumus, to basically do what I love, and that's dance hula and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture," she said.
From classroom visits with Halau Ku Mana to Mexico to her countless trips to Japan, Carr and her kumu have racked up plenty of frequent flier miles.
"Just the sheer amount of traveling that we had to do this year was probably the craziest thing," said Lono Padilla, of Halau Hi'iakainamakalehua. "It's like show, jump on a bus, go to sleep. Show, jump on a bus, go to sleep. And just over and over and over."
Neither Carr nor her kumu are complaining -- they're too busy soaking it all in, with a smile on their faces. After all, the halau's first Merrie Monarch appearance came just three years ago so to already have a Miss Aloha Hula title under their belt is an incredible feat not lost on the kumu.
"Hearing our names as kumu hula, and our halau being announced over the speakers for the first time, and then hearing your student's name being recognized…Those were two of the most profound Merrie Monarch moments of my life," said Robert Ka'upu IV, Halau Hi'iakainamakalehua kumu.
Carr calls one of the highlights of her tenure an opportunity to dance her Merrie Monarch mele during the Ka Hula tour in Japan for one of her favorite singers, Natalie Ai Kamau'u, who was Miss Aloha Hula 1990.
"She actually said something to me that kind of just stuck with me through the entire journey," Carr said. "It was: Aloha comes first in Miss Aloha Hula. So always be aloha first.
As is tradition, Ka'iulani Carr will take the stage as Miss Aloha Hula for the final time at this year's contest, performing a number while the judge's tally their scores to determine who will become Miss Aloha Hula 2017.
But it's a swan song that almost couldn't happen.
On Valentine's Day, Carr broke her ankle while jogging. The hairline fracture and torn ligaments have prevented her from being able to practice with her halau, but twice weekly physical therapy sessions for the last few months have her back on her feet.
And she says she's ready for her moment.
For more information on the 2017 Merrie Monarch Festival, click here.