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June 10, 2010


One of the most significant archaeological sites in Hawaii lies beneath a baseball park in Lahaina. The residence of Hawaiian high chiefs from the 16th to 18th centuries, the site, called Mokuula, was surrounded by a large, natural spring-fed pond where taro patches and fishponds thrived. Today, in a significant cultural, archaeological and environmental program, a group of citizens called Friends of Mokuula is working to restore the site and spread the word about this valuable pre-western resource.

Moku‘ula lies near the shoreline in West Maui’s Lahaina, directly in line with a steep valley that cuts through Mauna Kahalawai, the West Maui Mountains. While Lahaina faces west, Iao Needle, on the other side of Mauna Kahalawai, faces east – the dawn. On Summer Solstice, the sun comes from the east through the middle of the valley and illuminates West Maui, where it sets beyond its shores.

Mauna Kahalawai covers 52,000 acres and is home to hundreds of rare Hawaiian plants, animals and natural communities. At any time of the year, the drive to West Maui is a visual spectacle on both sides of the road. While the eye wants to rest on the ocean, Mauna Kahalawai seduces the viewer with its series of sculpted valleys that seem always to be veiled in rainbows. Hidden in those valleys are hundreds of waterfalls, including the second tallest cascade in the United States. Along the shoreline, bays and beaches have names that ring like an ancient litany: Honokowai, Honokeana, Honokahua, Honolua, Honokohau and Hononana.

Parts of West Maui are so rugged that they have never been explored, or are inaccessible. The summit of Mauna Kahalawai, Puu Kukui, is the largest private preserve in the State, a remote bog and cloud forest with a summit at 5,788 feet. Nearly 300 known species of native plants, including seven on the national Endangered Species list, live in the ecosystems of Puu Kukui.

These fragile habitats are the other side of the West Maui coin, eons away from the vacation activity that thrives along the coast. Along the coastline, the hotels and holiday condominiums of Kahana, Honokowai and Napili attract visitors who return year after year to soak up the Maui sun. The nine miles between Lahaina and Kapalua are dotted with the hotels, private homes and condominium villages of Kahana and Napili. This area offers moderately priced accommodations, shopping and dining opportunities, and beautiful bays and coves.

Dominating the West Maui coast is Kahakuloa Head, the “tall lord,” 60 stories of wind-sculpted rock that appears to be a stranger to Hawaii. It looks more like the lonely coast of Ireland – wind-scoured, haunted and tufted in gray, mauve and sage green brush. Great seabirds make it their home: koa‘e, shearwater and the prehistoric-looking frigate bird with its daunting, angular wingspan.

At Nakalele Point the rocky shoreline is eerie, otherworldly, with giant geysers shooting up through old lava tubes and the ocean moaning below. Everyone calls it Hobbitland.

And West Maui is surfer’s paradise. The best of the bunch test their skills at Mokuleia Beach, popularly called Slaughterhouse. The colorful tropical reef fish at Honolua Bay are so plentiful that the bay has been declared a marine life sanctuary by the State of Hawaii. The waters of West Maui are ideal for water sports, including diving, snorkeling, swimming, sailing, parasailing, surfing, and windsurfing. Experts give lessons and reinforce skills.

In Honokowai, West Maui’s top value, there are no hotels, just motels and condominiums in the low to moderate price range. This is where sun-starved visitors from colder climes pick up groceries, dine on their lanai, and listen to the sound of the surf. What a perfect spot from which to watch the sun make its final splash of the day.


Keli‘i Brown
Maui Visitors Bureau
808-244-3530 Ext. 716