Maui is the second largest of all the islands that make up the state of Hawaii, and with a population of nearly 118,000 in 2000, it’s also the third most populous. Maui got its name from the legendary demigod Maui, who is said to have pulled the islands from the sea. The island is also frequently called Valley Isle for the isthmus between its northwest and southeast volcanoes, which merged into one island when lava flows cooled. Its eastern sides are marked by deep valleys and steep ravines that run down to rocky shorelines. The island is part of a much larger set of islands, including Lana’i, Kaho’olawe and Moloka’i. When sea levels are reduced, they are all joined together into a single island because of the shallowness of the channels connecting them – but don’t expect to see this anytime soon: the last time sea levels were low enough to show the land-bridges was 20,000 years ago.
Originally discovered and settled by Polynesians from Tahiti and the Marquesas, Maui was also “discovered” by Captain James Cook in 1778. Cook never actually landed because the rocky shoreline prevented him from finding a suitable spot to go ashore. Soon after, in 1786, the French admiral Jean Francois de la Perouse made landfall. (He would actually visit Maui again in 1788.) It wasn’t much later that Europeans realized the value of the islands’ vast rainforests as well as the potential whaling industry – and the potential to “civilize” the natives. Missionaries came in droves, nearly destroying the native culture by forcing the natives to wear clothes, outlawing the hula, and other changes. However, they also created the 12-letter Hawaiian alphabet and began making written records of the history of the culture.
In 1790, King Kamehameha attacked Maui from his base on the Big Island – though he wasn’t successful in this attempt to take over Maui, he returned a few years later and managed to bring the island into his growing Hawaiian empire.
As the whaling and logging industries faded in Maui, today’s major industries took over: agriculture and tourism. Maui’s major exports are coffee, macadamia nuts, fruits such as papaya and pineapple, sugar and tropical flowers. Maui has also become an important center for astronomical research, thanks to its clear views of the night sky, elevation and climate, which allows year-round observation.
Maui is also well known as the leading whale watching spot in Hawaii. Each year, humpbacks migrate south from Alaskan waters and winter in and near the Au’au Channel between the islands. Between October and April is prime whale sighting season, as they mate and give birth in the warm waters during those months.
Today Maui draws visitors from all over the world. Some come for the incredible natural sights, some come for the food, some for the culture – and some come just to drink it all in. There’s a little something for everyone in Maui that makes it well worth the trip from Oahu.
For the Art Connoisseur
Maui is perhaps better known for its nature and historical offerings than for its art scene, but there is at least one place you can always find excellent performances and exhibits: the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, www.mauiarts.org. Established in 1994, the center hosts more than 1,800 events each year, ranging from traditional Hawaiian arts to major national and international performers. Hula performances abound, as do symphony recitals, dance performances and children’s art exhibitions. The center hosts ongoing traditional cultural programs for both children and adults. On the calendar this year are acts such as John Legend, a ukulele festival and the Mark Morris Dance Group.
Maui is rife with music. On any weekend you can find local musicians at the bars, clubs and restaurants. There are concerts and exhibitions throughout the year all over Maui – check www.visitmaui.com for the latest information.
For the Foodie
Maui boasts an ever-growing number of renowned restaurants. The following are just a few highlights to look out for on your visit to the island.
- Kaso Sushi Bar – Many of the locals consider this the best sushi on the island – and in an island full of sushi, that says a lot. Kaso may be located in a small strip mall, but don’t let that deter you. They serve very traditional Japanese cuisine – and if you aren’t sure what to order, ask for the chef’s choice and allow him to create a very special, completely one-of-a-kind meal for you.
- Capische – An Opentable.com Diner’s Choice winner in 2009 and the recipient of Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellent, Capische serves an innovative French/Italian menu in a spectacular setting. Choose the dining room with a view of the south shore, or relax to the sounds of soft piano in the martini bar. www.capische.com
- Lahaina Grill – Located in the historic Lahaina Inn, the Grill has been voted the Best Maui Restaurant a whopping 11 years in a row in a Honolulu Magazine’s reader poll. It has also been Fodor’s Choice twice and has received 5Opentable.com awards. With a signature meal called the Cakewalk (a sampler of kona lobster crab cakes, seared ahi tuna cake, and a sweet Louisiana rock shrimp cake) as well as 350 wines to choose from – this is one eatery that should go on your “must visit” list. www.lahainagrill.com
- David Paul’s Island Grill – The menu at this eatery has been called both “new island cuisine” and “high-end comfort food” – either way, you are sure to get a fantastic meal at David Paul’s. Listed as one of Gourmet’s Americas Top Tables, Bon Appetit’s Restaurant of the Month and given three stars by Conde Nast Traveler (not to mention countless other awards and commendations for both the chef and the restaurant), David Paul buys only the freshest island ingredients and lets the food speak for itself. Be sure to take a walk through the wine cellar – and pick the label you’d like to accompany your meal. www.davidpaulsislandgrill.com
For the History Buff
For those interested in soaking up some of the history of the area, a visit to the following is definitely in order.
- Lahaina Kaanapali Railroad – Known locally as the “Sugarcane Train” this historic steam engine relives the way Islanders traveled at the height of the sugarcane industry. Travel over a 325-foot curved wooden trestle – and be on the lookout for humpback whales in the waters below, especially between the months of December and April.www.sugarcanetrain.com
- Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum – Located right next to Hawaii’s largest working sugar factory, this museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the sugar industry in Maui. The museum addresses not only the establishment and growth of the industry itself, but also sugar’s influence on the development of water resources and the ethnic makeup of the island. Exhibits include a display on the inner workings of a sugar mill and plantation as well as pioneers in the sugar industry. www.sugarmuseum.com
- Whalers’ Village Whaling Museum – From 1825 to 1860 Maui was a major center for the whaling industry, due to the winter migration of whales to the area. The Whaling Museum features a recreated forecastle of a whaling ship as well as exhibits of ornaments made from whale ivory. It also contains one of the largest scale models of a whaling ship, allowing you to get up close to what life was really like on one of these vessels. It also houses a prize collection of 19th-century scrimshaw. The museum is located in Whaler’s Village, one of the premier oceanfront shopping districts – in case not everyone in your party is interested in baleen and spears.
For the Nature Lover
Maui is lucky to be full of natural features – and centers that feature nature. While you are there, be sure to take a drive down Hana highway – a 68-mile stretch of road that connects Kahului with Hana. This very winding, narrow stretch of pavement takes you through lush, tropical rainforests with waterfalls galore. And at the end you’ll find the Seven Sacred Pools. See below for our list of off-road highlights.
- Haleakala National Park – Legend has it the great demigod Maui imprisoned the sun in Haleakala in order to lengthen the day. The park is known for its volcanic features and unusually clear night views. While there, be sure to catch the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala volcano, and spend the day exploring the crater. Pay special attention to the famous cinder cones scattered over the two-mile-wide crater. www.nps.gov/hale
- Waimoku Falls – The falls are found inside Haleakala National Park, at the end of the Pipiwai Trail, and are the largest in Maui. Water tumbles its way down a 400-foot wall made of sheer lava into a rocky pool below. The hike to the falls is about four miles round trip, and come prepared to get muddy.
- Iao Valley State Park – In central Maui, this gorgeous park is home to the Iao Needle – a 1,200-foot rock peak overlooking Iao Stream. The park also has historical significance: it was here that King Kamehameha fought the Battle of Kepaniwai in 1790. This was another attempt of his to unify the islands under his rule – and this time, he won. While you are in the park, take advantage of the rainforest walks and the interactive exhibits at the nature center.
- Maui Ocean Center – Visit a living reef with moray eels, octopi, sea horses and nocturnal fish. Or take in the sea turtle lagoon, with land and underwater views of the turtles. Check out hammerhead harbor to get up close and personal with hammerhead sharks, and take the little ones to the tide pool, to touch, pick up and interact with water life native to Maui. The Ocean center is dedicated to perpetuating coastal life and native species, all while showcasing Hawaii’s language, mythology and history. www.mauiocencenter.com
As you can see, Maui is full of exciting places to go and interesting things to see. There are also many festivals held on the island each year that may be of interest. Here are a few more places and activities you might want to consider during your trip to Maui.
- International Festival of Canoes – Canoes came to Maui with the original settlers, and this festival celebrates and preserves that heritage. Watch canoe-carving demonstrations, long board surfing, thatched-roof making and participate in cultural arts lessons. At the end of the festival, watch the parade of canoes and the sunset launch of canoes completed over the course of the festival. www.mauifestivalofcanoes.com
- Maui Onion Festival – Georgia has the Vidalia, and Maui has the Kula – onion. The kula onion is believed by many to be the sweetest in the world. This annual festival in Whaler’s Village includes recipe contests, cooking demos and a special onion pairing dinner. www.whalersvillage.com/onionfestival
- East Maui Taro Festival – Most people associate poi with Hawaii, and for good reason. This festival celebrates the importance of the taro (from which poi is made) in Maui’s history and culture throughout the years. Look forward to poi poundings, a farmer’s market and especially the taro pancake breakfast. www.tarofestival.org
- Source Interactive Arts Festival – Perhaps Hawaii’s version of Burning Man, this huge interactive arts festival is one in which the attendees ARE the art. Source suggests attending the festival with a heavy dose of grace and good attitude – and an open mind to boot. Sourcemaui.com
Maui’s wide variety of cultural opportunities makes it the perfect weekend trip for those living on Oahu. For more information on what to do and where to go check out www.visitmaui.com.