In northwest Maui, the district the ancients called Kaʻānapali, there are six hono bays (uniting of the bays,) which are legendary: from South to North, Honokōwai (bay drawing fresh water), Honokeana (cave bay), Honokahua (sites bay,) Honolua (two bays), Honokōhau (bay drawing dew) and Hononana (animated bay).
All were extensively terraced for wet taro (loʻi) in early historic and later times. Honokahua Valley has been described as having loʻi lands. Sweet potatoes were reportedly grown between the Honokohau and Kahakuloa Ahupuaʻa.
Collectively, these picturesque and productive bays are called Nā Hono A Piʻilani, The Bays of Piʻilani (aka Honoapiʻilani.)
In the 1500s, Chief Piʻilani (“stairway to heaven”) unified West Maui and ruled in peace and prosperity. His territory included the six West Maui bays, a place he frequented.
He ruled from the Royal Center in Lāhaina, where he was born (and died.) His residence was at Moku‘ula.
During his reign, Piʻilani gained political prominence for Maui by unifying the East and West of the island, elevating the political status of Maui.
Piʻilani’s power eventually extended from Hāna on one end of the island to the West at Nā Hono A Piʻilani, in addition to the islands visible from Honoapiʻilani – Kahoʻolawe, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi.
Piʻilani’s prosperity was exemplified by a boom in agriculture and construction of heiau, fishponds, trails and irrigation systems.
Famed for his energy and intelligence, Piʻilani constructed the West Maui phase of the noted Alaloa, or long trail (also known as the King’s Highway.)
His son, Kihapiʻilani laid the East Maui section and connected the island. This trail was the only ancient pathway to encircle any Hawaiian island (not only along the coast, but also up the Kaupo Gap and through the summit area and crater of Haleakalā.)
Four to six feet wide and 138 miles long, this rock-paved path facilitated both peace and war. It simplified local and regional travel and communication, and allowed the chief’s messengers to quickly get from one part of the island to another.
The trail was used for the annual harvest festival of Makahiki and to collect taxes, promote production, enforce order and move armies.
Missionaries Richards, Andrews and Green noted in 1828, “a pavement said to have been built by Kihapiilani, a king … afforded us no inconsiderable assistance in traveling as we ascended and descended a great number of steep and difficult paries (pali.)” (Missionary Herald)
Today, Lower Honoapiʻilani Road and parts of Route 30 (Honoapiʻilani Highway) near the beach approximately trace the route of the ancient Alaloa (parts of the Alaloa were destroyed by development and sugar plantation uses.)
On the East side, portions of the Road to Hāna are a remnant of this 16th century coastal footpath, also known in this area as the King’s Highway, King Kiha-a-pi‘ilani Trail or even Kipapa o Kiha-a-pi’ilani (the pavement of Kiha-a-pi’ilani.)
Some beaches on the east side of the Alaloa along Route 360 were often used to cross gulches, since there were no bridges. It has also been reported that travelers would swing across the streams on ropes or vines, or climbed across the cliffs.
Around 1759, Kalaniʻōpuʻu (King of the Big Island) captured Hāna and held it for a couple decades; the footpath fell into disrepair. In 1780, Kahekili, the King of North Maui, retook Hāna, made improvements and reopened the trail.
It was accessible only by foot until around 1900; likewise, travel by canoe, and later other vessels, provided access from Hāna to other parts of Maui.
The ancient trails have typically been covered by modern highways and other development and only a few remnants of the King’s Highway remain.
Honoapiʻilani Highway, around the western edge of West Maui, and the Pi‘ilani Highway, along the Kihei coast, remain the namesakes for Piʻilani.