Many people have remarked upon the verdant Valley Isle's resemblance to a woman. Whether you see it or not, this island certainly nurtures plenty of men, women and children from various parts of the world.
The jolly, busy resort town of Lahaina resembles Main Street Disneyland in many ways. Front Street, the main drag area, is wall-to-wall art galleries and fine restaurants. Dozens of pleasure cruisers and fishing boats set sail from the harbor daily, carrying vacationers to nearby coves and reefs. Lahaina is also the hot spot for shopping and nightlife.
About 10 minutes' driving distance from Lahaina is the resort community of Ka'anapali, famed for its golf courses, beaches and fantasy hotels. The golf courses are easy to spot; as you drive down the Honoapi'ilani Highway, the rolling greens stretch for acres along the landbound side. The coast side is bordered by the famous
Further down the coastal highway one will find the charming seaside towns of Kahana, Kapalua and Napili. The golf courses of Kapalua are also widely renowned.
Approximately 30 minutes from West Maui is the other main tourist area, known as South Maui even though it's actually further west than south. The uppermost segment of South Maui is Kihei, site of many mid-priced hotels and swimming beaches. This is a very popular spot with families; it's affordable, safe, and offers all kinds of diversions. Locals also frequent the South Kihei strip, particularly the
South of Kihei is Wailea, one of the most breathtaking communities in the world. The air is perfumed with island blossoms, the beaches (all of them public-access) are white sand, and the buildings are architectural wonders. The road travels along through a few miles of dry underbrush and weeds that give some indication of what South Kihei looked like before it was developed. About five minutes down the road are the three turn-offs to
The tiny towns in Upcountry Maui are the opposite of Wailea and Lahaina in every way. Laid-back, local, simple and friendly, they are populated by an odd mix of islanders, white locals, eccentric recluses and passionate nature lovers. Protea farms, cattle ranches and botanical gardens thrive on most of the land, while the "towns" are usually comprised of a few streets with a handful of stores and a couple of restaurants. Makawao and Pukalani are the two largest upcountry towns. Nestled in the mountains is the town of Kula. Most Haleakala downhill bike rides begin or end in Kula, as do many roadtrips to Hana. Olinda and Haiku are 'blink-and-you'll-miss-it' towns, worth visiting only if one prefers birdsong to human conversation.
(One thing to keep in mind when visiting Upcountry is that as the elevation rises, the temperature drops—so bring a sweater.)
While Haleakala and Hana are two of Maui's major tourist attractions, almost no tourists stay in either of the areas. Hana has a couple of hotels, but it's impossible to lodge at
Still, no trip to Maui is complete without a Hana or Haleakala experience. The twisty road to Hana is as famous as the epic waterfalls at journey's end. The sunrise over Haleakala is truly inspirational—as any fan of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" knows.
While the adorable seaside town of Paia is not in Hana—or anywhere near—it is probably the town that is most often passed through on the way to the rainforest. This town is a destination in itself. It is arguably the world's top windsurfing location. It's also home to some fabulous art galleries, clothing boutiques and restaurants. Anyone who wonders what ever happened to the '60s should visit Pa'ia—it seems to be stuck in them.
While some travel writers rave about the untouched-by-tourists appeal of Hana, the truth is that Hana's main industry is tourism. Central Maui is the place that offers authentic local color. Compared with the rest of the island, it's decidedly un-lovely. Even semi-touristy Kahului is choked with asphalt and chain link, while Wailuku is, at first glance, a cluster of dilapidated buildings that seem to be under a constant black cloud. However, Kahului is the closest thing to a city that Maui has, and Wailuku is the county seat. Across the Mokulele Highway is Ma'alaea, an up-and-coming town known for its picturesque harbor and its near-constant winds.
Perhaps the main appeal of Maui is the way it manages to have a little bit of everything. It is simultaneously an undeveloped jungle and a bustling town. By offering the perfect combination of secluded natural beauty and sophisticated commercial appeal, this little island manages to touch a special place in everyone's heart.
North Shore: The North Shore of Maui offers a refreshing change from the ordinary vacation. Between exotic recreational opportunities, a peaceful and natural setting, and a diversified cultural environment, this is not your typical vacation spot. The North Shore (encompassing Paia, Kuau, Sprecklesville, Haiku and Huelo) has both pros and cons compared to the more popular west and south areas. On the positive side you will enjoy a relatively unspoiled tropical setting and be close to rainforest hiking trails, waterfalls, world class windsurfing, and uncrowded beaches. While there are plenty of shops and restaurants, there is a welcome absence of commercialization and high-rise development. Accommodations will be small-scale, privately-owned B&B or vacation rentals, where you can become acquainted with your hosts and have more access to an authentic experience of island culture. You will be conveniently situated for a day trip to the remote jungle village of Hana, or a visit to the crater of the dormant volcano.
Unfortunately, few north shore properties offer direct beach access, so it will be a short drive to reach the white sand. For those of you who must have your creature comforts and round-the-clock service, North Shore will be roughing it. Imagine, no 24-hour room service, no night life within walking distance, and it will rain! (after all, it is a jungle). Maybe you'll find North Shore a hardship, but if you are tough enough then this is the ideal island getaway.
In the Beginning
Approximately five million years ago, an undersea eruption created two volcanic mountains, Mauna Kahalawai and Haleakala. Mauna Kahalawai, now an extinct volcano, became the rugged West Maui Mountains. Majestic 10,023-foot Haleakala, meaning 'house of the sun', last erupted in 1790 and is now considered a dormant volcano. Centuries of lava flows and erosion created an isthmus between the two mountains. This vale composed of rich volcanic soil gave Maui the nickname 'Valley Isle'.
According to ancient legend, the Hawaiian islands were created by Maui, the 'god of a thousand tricks', who pulled the islands from the ocean with his magic fishhook. This mythical demigod also lassoed the sun god 'La' from atop Haleakala, releasing it only after it promised to move slowly through the sky, thus providing abundant daylight and warmth for the islands.
Maui County, now four islands, was originally one land mass called 'Maui-Nui'. During the polar ice age, the glaciers thawed and the oceans swelled to separate the mountain peaks into the islands of Maui, Moloka'i, Lana'i and Kaho'olawe.
The First Settlers
According to legend, Hawai'i-loa and eight navigating seafarers from the Marquesa islands, 2,000 miles to the south, discovered the Hawai'ian islands in the eighth century A.D. The first inhabitants developed a simple agrarian culture.
Around the twelfth century A.D., the Tahitians arrived in Maui. Their chiefs became the ali'i, the Hawaiian ruling class. The Tahitians established the 'kapu' system, the rigid social order that became the foundation of ancient Hawaiian culture. Additionally, they introduced their religion with its many goddesses.
For several centuries, warfare raged among competing ali'i on Maui and between chieftains from the neighboring islands of O'ahu and Hawai'i. In 1550 AD the Ali'i Pi'ilani unified all the Maui districts, and after he died his two sons battled for control of the island. With the help of warriors from Hawai'i, Kiha-a-pi'ilani prevailed to become the supreme ruler of Maui.
Maui Becomes Part of the Monarchy
During the late 1700s, Kamehameha I, ruler of the big island Hawai'i, invaded the adjacent islands to establish the Hawaiian Kingdom. One of his armies, led by Kalani'opu'u, attacked Maui in 1776. He was soundly defeated by the warriors of King Kahekili, who surprised the invaders by hiding behind the sand dunes at Ma'alaea Bay. However, in 1790, Kamehameha I invaded Maui once again, this time with a fleet of war canoes so large it is alleged to have filled the bay from Hana to Kahului. Kamehameha finally conquered Maui in the brutal battle of Wailuku. This historic battle is now known as Kauwaupali ('clawed off the cliff') and Kepaniwai ('the damming of the waters'). In 1802 Kamehameha I built the "brick palace" in Lahaina, where he lived for a year.
The Influx of Westerners
The British explorer Captain James Cook landed in Kahului Bay on November 26, 1778, an event that began the influx of Western influence. French explorer Captain Jean-Francois La Pérouse, the first Westerner to settle on Maui, established a village in 1786. Probably the most significant influence was that of the Christian missionaries, who founded the first mission under Reverend Richards in Lahaina in 1823. However, whaling had begun to boom in Lahaina, and it swiftly introduced some of the more unsavory Western elements to the port town. A riot broke out in 1825 when a law was passed prohibiting the sale of alcohol, but it did not squelch the Christian presence. Meanwhile, the missionaries established their instrumental role in educating the local population. Since the Hawaiians had no written language, the missionaries developed a written language based on a twelve-letter alphabet. In 1835, the governor of Maui ordered all children over four to attend school. Missionaries taught reading, writing and Bible studies in Hawaiian, and by 1850, Hawaii had the world's highest literacy rate!
Unfortunately, the Westerners also brought diseases that over the next century would obliterate the native Hawaiian population. Viruses such as measles that were endemic in Westerners had a devastating effect on the previously unexposed Hawaiians. Soon the ratio of Hawaiians to immigrants began to drastically decrease.
Commercial Growth and the Advent of Tourism
As Western traders and seafarers flocked to Maui, commercial growth expanded. Lahaina became a major port during the whaling era, and by the 1840s, hundreds of ships anchored there. Merchants, prostitutes, saloons, and gambling establishments prospered, although tensions between the whalers and missionaries created social unrest. The discovery of oil in 1850 signified the decline of whaling.
George Wilfong, an entrepreneurial whaler, established Maui's first sugar plantation in Hana. During 1853-1854, a smallpox epidemic killed many native Hawaiians, resulting in a depleted work force. Immigrants from China, Japan, the Philippines, and even Europe flocked to Maui to work in the sugar cane fields. American businessmen began to invest in pineapple and sugar plantations, and in 1875 negotiated a reciprocity treaty with the governor of Maui to protect their investments.
The expansion of foreign power and influence ultimately led to the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. In 1894, American pineapple tycoon Dole became the governor of the Republic of Hawaii, which was annexed to the United States in 1898 and made a U.S. territory in 1890. During the early 1900s, Japanese immigration swelled; Maui's population was 40 percent Japanese by 1925.
The opening of the Best Western Pioneer Inn in 1901 signaled the beginning of tourism in Lahaina. Visitors Mark Twain and Robert Lewis Stevenson praised Maui, and Lahaina became a vacation hot spot for the rich and famous. After World War II, sugar production declined and tourism experienced phenomenal growth. Maui's first resort hotel, Hotel Hana-Maui and Honua Spa, was opened in 1946. After Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959, investment capitol poured in for development of vacation resorts. Ka'anapali, dubbed the world's first "master planned resort," and site of such mega-resorts as the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel and the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, was built in 1961. In the 1970s, sunny South Maui, with its great snorkeling beaches and constant sunshine, was discovered. Over the next few years, several plush resorts and championship golf courses were developed in Wailea. Maui continues to grow as more and more people discover the allure of the island.
Maui doesn't have a quarter of Oahu's population, but it seems to have almost as many activity choices. Whether hiking, biking, snorkeling or windsurfing is your passion, there are a dozen places to go and a dozen companies to act as guide.
The first thing to do on Maui (aside from checking into the hotel, of course) is to hit the beach. Ka'anapali Beach on West Maui is one of the top sunning spots, while Makena State Park Big Beach is probably the most popular swimming and bodyboarding beach. There are dozens of other beach parks, and since all of Hawaii's beaches are public-access, you're free to plop down in any spot that appeals to you.
Whether it is an early morning whale watch complete with breakfast, a full-day cruise to neighboring Lanai or a sunset cocktail cruise, Maui's boats are built for pleasure. The America II is a high-speed adventure; it was a former contender for the America's Cup. For something a bit different, climb aboard one of the Atlantis Submarines vessels.
The best time to snorkel or dive in the waters off Maui is the early morning. Tradewinds begin to pick up in the late morning, and usually by noon the water is a bit murky. Around 8 am dozens of tourists emerge from vans and busses onto Ulua/ Mokapu Beach, South Maui's favorite snorkeling spot. Rainbow Chaser offers day excursions to neighboring islands. For equipment or excursion booking, Snorkel Bob's and Boss Frog's Dive & Surf Shop-Napili are two standby companies.
Scuba companies are also numerous. Mike Severns Diving and Maui Sun Divers will work with any level diver, even the most nervous beginners. Makena Coast Charters offers a variety of underwater excursions to offshore wrecks, reefs and caverns.
As a world-class golf destination, the Valley Isle boasts over a dozen courses, spread across the island and ranging from inexpensive municipal courses to internationally famous resorts. The three Wailea Golf Clubs and the Makena Golf Courses cater to South Maui visitors, while on the West side lie the famed Kapalua Golf Club and Ka'anapali Golf Course.
While it doesn't have as much shopping as Honolulu, which seems to have a Louis Vuitton on every block, Maui certainly has its fair share of shopping areas. The largest is Kahului's Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. On the West side there are about a half-dozen smaller shopping centers, including the Lahaina Cannery Mall, Wharf Cinema Center and Whalers Village. Major shopping strips are located along South Kihei Road in South Maui. The latest shopping centers to open on the South Side are The Shops at Wailea and the Ma'alaea Harbor Village.
Maui boasts more galleries than any other city on the West Coast. Most of them are located in two blocks on Front Street. Don't forget to make a trip to the famous Wyland Galleries. Among the countless other Maui galleries are Artlines, Maui Hands, the Dolphin Galleries and, hidden in the jungles of Hana, the Hana Coast Gallery, critically acclaimed as the top cultural art gallery in the state.
Performing Arts: Music and Theater
The newest show to hit Maui is wowing the crowds and winning the hearts of critics and locals. Called 'Ulalena, it is performed nightly in the grandiose Maui Myth & Magic Theater. It uses dance, music, theater and a multi-million dollar lighting system to tell the story of Maui's creation.
When major acts come to Maui (which actually happens more often than one might think), there is really only one place for them to perform: the Maui Art & Cultural Center. The outdoor amphitheater has a maximum capacity of 5,000—most of the seating being on the lawn. It has hosted acts such as Santana and Ziggy Marley.
Smaller acts can perform practically anywhere in Maui. Every major hotel has thousands of square feet of conference space, and the three major malls (Whaler's Village, Lahaina Cannery and Ka'ahumanu Center) all have main stages which regularly host all kinds of entertainers.
Maybe it's the weather, maybe it's the music on the radio or maybe it's just the infectious Aloha spirit. Whatever the cause, it's a fact that anyone who visits Maui feels compelled to get to a luau. Visitors to South Maui have only a few choices: the Renaissance's Wailea Sunset Luau is a standby. West Maui offers several spectacular luaus. The Old Lahaina Luau and the Marriott Luau are two of the favorites, but everyone agrees that the Feast At Lele, held at Pacific'O, is hands-down the best. Other than the 'Feast', which won't lower its USD85 admission rate for anyone, most of the luaus offer discounted prices through activity brokers.
Everybody knows, if it's raging nightlife you're after, you should go...to Honolulu. That said, Maui does its best to rabble-rouse once the sun goes down. There are no full-scale nightclubs on the islands, but Casanova Italian Restaurant & Deli offers decent club nights. Brewpub Hapa's Brew Haus in Kihei always has something going on, and on the right night it can be a lot of fun. Live Hawaiian music is presented everywhere, and recently there's been a surge in the popularity of live jazz, swing and ballroom. Among the best places for dinner and dancing are Longhi's Restaurant and BJ's Chicago Pizzeria.
Had enough yet? If not, don't worry; there's more where that came from. Just when you think you've seen all of Maui, you realize that—no pun intended—you haven't even got your feet wet.