Ancient legend tells us that “Maui,” the mythical demigod of a thousand tricks, reached down into the depths of the ocean and pulled up the Hawaiian Islands. He then lassoed the sun god “La” from atop Haleakala, holding it captive until it promised to move slowly through the sky, thus providing abundant daylight and warmth for the islands. If you’re a little skeptical of that story, here is another one. Approximately five million years ago, an undersea eruption created two volcanic mountains. The first, Mauna Kahalawai, now an extinct volcano, became the beautiful mountains of west Maui.
Today people use these mountains for hiking and camping. Exploring lush and unusual flora, or discovering strange fauna in the watery caves along black sand beaches, is a popular activity for visitors from all over the world. The second, Haleakala (house of the sun), a 10,023-foot dormant volcano, last erupted in 1790. Sitting on the rim of this impressive volcano is like sitting on the moon, because of the smooth, undulating volcanic rock surface that seems to go on forever. A highlight for many visitors is to bike down from the top of this volcano at dangerous speeds, passing through clouds and exotic landscapes on the way.
Some recent archaeological evidence suggests that the Tahitians found this paradise in 700 AD. For centuries, Maui was divided into separate kingdoms that fought for control. It wasn’t until the 15th century that the island was united by King Pi’ilani (pee-EE-lah-nee) under a single family. During this time Maui experienced peace and prosperity. In fact, the king and his son built the “alaloa,” a 138-mile ancient, seaside road that circles the island. They are also credited with installing an extensive irrigation system ,still in use today.
About 400 years later, in 1790, Kamehameha (kah-MEH-hah-MEH-hah) the Great invaded Maui and defeated its last king, king Kahekili, in the L’ao valley. The site of this battle is called Kepaniwai (keh-PAH-nee-why), which literally means, “stopping the waters,” because the bodies of slain warriors were so numerous, they temporarily damned the stream. Today, a tourist attraction, this valley is a monument to those soldiers and the sacred burial ground for many of the Hawaiian royal families.
The missionaries, who arrived in the 1800’s, exerted tremendous influence upon the Hawaiian government and society. They served as advisors to the royal family; established schools and churches; produced Hawaiian newspapers; fought against certain sinful Hawaiian customs; and paved the way for the production of sandalwood, and sugar. As the sugar industry grew, immigrants from around the world were recruited to work on the plantations, hailing from places as far away as China, Japan, Puerto Rico, Korea, the Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Germany and Scandinavia. That’s why Maui is called the melting pot of the Pacific.
In 1802, the quaint town of Lahaina (lah-HIGH-nah) was named the capital of the entire united Hawaiian Kingdom. Lahaina served as the center of government for nearly five decades, when the capital was moved to its present location in Honolulu on the island of O’ahu (oh-AH-hoo).
Whales were not plentiful in Hawaiian waters at this time, but Lahaina served as a safe harbor from which ships would set off to hunt whales in the North Pacific. The town provided a place to anchor, restock supplies and get medical attention. Today, whale hunting has given way to whale watching, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing and sunset cruises.
Lahaina remains the bridge to Maui’s past. Lahaina’s historic homes, buildings, churches and waterfront look much the same as they did when it was a whaling village. One of the town’s most striking landmarks, a giant banyan tree that shades two–thirds of an acre and is the largest tree of its kind in the Hawaiian Islands, has ancient roots. The giant branches that re-root themselves are romantically lighted, and are a favorite rendezvous for lovers and friends alike. The most popular attraction is “A Walking Tour Through Lahaina’s Past.” The journey opens with a chant at the sacred Hauola birthing stone near Lahaina Harbor, then travels along the pathways of the past, revealing the story of the historic town. There are stops at a prison built in 1853 to jail rowdy sailors, the Old Lahaina Courthouse, the (missionary) Richard’s House, and the Wo Hing Temple Museum where you can view some of Edison’s first silent movies.
Maui has been voted “Best Island in the World” for nine consecutive years, and it’s the only place in the world you can get a “just mauied” T-shirt. But beware. Maui is so captivating you may never want to leave.