“The high lands all along the south side of East Maui … are very fine for farming. It is the region in which most of the Irish potatoes are raised for the ships at Lāhainā, and all the wheat raised at the Islands is grown here.”
“Its climate, also, is highly salubrious, and it will yet be the garden of the Sandwich Islands, from which not only whale-ships, but the hotels of San Francisco, shall obtain their supplies.” (Cheever, 1851)
The first written description of the region was made by La Pérouse in 1786 while sailing along the southeast coast of Maui in search of a place to drop anchor:
“I coasted along its shore at a distance of a league (three miles) …. The aspect of the island of Mowee was delightful. We beheld water falling in cascades from the mountains, and running in streams to the sea, after having watered the habitations of the natives …”
“… which are so numerous that a space of three or four leagues (9 – 12 miles, about the distance from Hāna to Kaupō) may be taken for a single village.” (La Pérouse, 1786; Bushnell)
“But all the huts are on the seacoast, and the mountains are so near, that the habitable part of the island appeared to be less than half a league in depth.”
“The trees which crowned the mountains, and the verdure of the banana plants that surrounded the habitations, produced inexpressible charms to our senses…”
“… but the sea beat upon the coast with the utmost violence, and kept us in the situation of Tantalus, desiring and devouring with our eyes what it was impossible for us to attain … After passing Kaupō no more waterfalls are seen, and villages are fewer.” (La Pérouse, 1786; Bushnell)
“Two days and nights of continued mule-riding and canoeing from Wailuku, through the bishopric of Mr Green and the Blind Preacher (Pua‘aiki – Bartimeus) have brought us, worn and weary, to the quiet station of Hana, East Maui, where visitors, or haoles of any sort, seldom make their way.”
“It is too inaccessible, and far from any port, for sailors to get to; and the way is too rough and long for common travellers and explorers.” (Then Rev Henry T Cheever describes the Alaloa (long trail) in southeast Maui, built by Kihapi‘ilani and improved by Hoapili.)
“Yet it is a way not devoid of interest and novelty, especially that part of it which runs from Honuaula to Kahikinui and Kaupo; for it is a road built by the convicts of adultery, some years ago, when the laws relating to that and other crimes were first enacted, under the administration of the celebrated chief Hoapili, in whom was the first example of a Christian marriage.”
“It is altogether the noblest and best Hawaiian work of internal improvement I have anywhere seen. It is carried directly over a large verdureless tract, inundated and heaved up by an eruption from the giant crater of Hale-a-ka-la …”
“… and when it is considered that it was made by convicts, without sledge-hammers, or crowbars, or any other instrument but the human hands, holding a stone, and the Hawaiian Oo, it is worthy of great admiration. It is as great a work for Hawaiians, as digging the Erie Canal to Americans.”
“A Yankee engineer, to stand on either side of that vast field and yet, by reason of its pits, and ravines, and blown-up hills, and dislocations, not a field, but a chaos of blackened lava-would be confounded and put to his wit’s end to know where to begin and carry a road.”
“Were the waves of the ocean, in a tempest, when wind and current, or the former swell, were in conflict, to be suddenly congealed to the depth of twenty or thirty feet, and the water below to be then in a moment let off, or vanish, the bed of old Ocean would not exhibit such a rugged, confused, and unnavigable waste as these tracts of broken lava.”
“Or, as I have seen it somewhere illustrated, if the furious rapids of a mighty river had been turned into ink, and the cold of a winter’s day at the poles applied, and every part had become instantaneously congealed in the position …”
“… where it was just then whirling, tossing, foaming, and tumbling, while millions of flint-like particles, shivered from the mass by the suddenness and intensity of the operation, lay scattered about, it might perhaps present an aspect like that of this old current from a volcano.” (Cheever, 1851)
“Straight over such a tract, crime itself, under the energetic management of Hoapili, has built a commodious road from Honolulu to Kaupo. Like the old man in ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’ we almost ‘blessed it unawares,’ as our mules safely trotted or cantered by moonlight over the path it had made.”
“It is made by running two parallel walls about twenty feet apart, then partially macadamizing the space between, and covering it with grass or stubble.”
“For fifteen or twenty miles it runs almost like a railroad, only turning a little now and then to avoid some gigantic boulder, or forced into a zigzag to get over some precipitous ravine, which it would seem as if an impetuous after-stream of devouring fire from the mountain had ploughed and eaten through, till it reached the sea.” (Cheever)
Because Haleakalā creates a rain shadow effect, the leeward lands at Kahikinui are quite arid. They typify what the Hawaiian scholar David Malo called the “dry lands,” the ‘āina malo‘o.
In such areas the sweet potato was the principal crop of the Hawaiian inhabitants, although dryland taro might also have been grown in the higher elevations. In Malo’s words, farming such an ‘āina malo‘o “was a laborious occupation and called for great patience, being attended with many drawbacks”. (Pacific Legacy)
A little farther north is Kaupo. Historic records note that this region was identified as “the greatest continuous dry planting area in the Hawaiian islands,” both in ancient times and well into the 1930s. But this old culture was vanishing due to a combination of economic and climatic circumstances.
Oral traditions state that sweet potatoes were cultivated from sea level up to about 2,000 feet elevation and great quantities of dry taro were planted in the lower forest belt from one end of the district to the other.
Using high-resolution color aerial photographs of Kaupō and then confirming their findings on the ground, archaeologists identified grid patterns over significant parts of the landscape, confirming the existence of a major dryland field system, the first to be identified for Maui Island.
The field system a closely spaced grid of east-west embankments and small field plots bisected at right angles by longer north-south trending walls; it covered an area of 3,000 to nearly 4,000-acres and could have supported a population of 8,000-10,000 people. (Kirch)