Lahaina, on western Maui, once was home to Hawaiian kings and queens
By JOHN MARSHALL | Associated Press | Published: January 5, 2017
The beach town of Lahaina in western Maui was once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, a place where kings were born. It later became a key port at the height of the 19th century whaling boom.
Though it transformed into a mostly tourist area in the 1960s, much of Lahaina’s history of more than 1,000 years can still be found sprinkled around town — including in the roots of a giant banyan tree.
“There’s just a ton of historical spots in town, really precious, sacred places,” said Amy Fuqua, manager of the Lahaina Visitor’s Center.
Those, in addition to its beaches, restaurants, entertainment and shopping, draw two million people, or approximately 80 percent of Maui’s tourism per year, to the town.
Located about 40 minutes from Kahului Airport, Lahaina was known in ancient Hawaiian times as Lele, meaning “cruel sun.” It was conquered by Kamehameha the Great in 1795.
Front Street, which runs along the shoreline, was known as King’s Road, where only kings and queens could walk. It’s now the town’s main thoroughfare, ranked one of the “Top Ten Greatest Streets” by the American Planning Association. It’s dotted with 62 historical sites as well as shops and restaurants with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and neighboring islands.
Among the historical sites is the Hauola Stone, a chair-shaped stone used by Hawaiian royalty as a birthing site starting around the 14th century. The smoothed-out rock at the north end of the harbor also was considered to have healing powers.
At the town center is Lahaina’s famous banyan tree, a 60-foot, multi-trunked tree that covers nearly an acre. Planted in 1873 to mark 50 years since the arrival of the first American Protestant mission, it is one of the largest banyan trees in the United States and is still used for celebrations, including one for the tree’s birthday every April. It grows new trunks via aerial roots that sink into the ground.
A great time to visit the tree is around sunset, when hundreds of mynah birds sing inside its canopy.
“It’s kind of the center of town,” Fuqua said. “Everyone knows where it’s at. It has an important significance to the town and it feels good under there.”
Not into history? Lahaina offers plenty of other touristy things to do.
Instead of whaling, the harbor has now become the launching point for fishing, parasailing, ocean cruising or whale watching in the winter. The restaurants along Front Street are top-notch, offering straight-out-of-the-ocean fish daily.
The tiny Lahaina Civic Center transforms from a local events center into the center of the college basketball universe during the Maui Invitational in the days before Thanksgiving every year.
Lahaina also is the hub of western Maui, a gateway to golf courses in Kaanapali and Kapalua, sandy beaches and some of the best snorkeling found anywhere in the world.
“There’s a lot to do here, even for a small town,” Fuqua said. “It’s just a cool town.”