It was an innocent suggestion … we were on Maui and there was a road I had never been on. We were staying with our former Kailua neighbors at their house on Maui.
On the map the road winds from Waiheʻe up and around the northwest side of the island and ultimately connects with Honoapiʻilani Highway by Honolua.
I should have known – it’s called Kahekili Highway.
Born at Hāliʻimaile, Maui, Kahekili was the son of the high chief Kekaulike. In 1765, Kahekili inherited all of Maui Nui and O‘ahu and was appointed successor to his brother Kamehamehanui’s kingdom (not to be confused with Hawai‘i Island’s Kamehameha I.)
While he gained much through inheritance, Kahekili wanted recognition and influence through his own accomplishments and chose to prove himself through warfare.
Kahekili was a formidable adversary by defeating the Hawaiʻi army led by Kalaniʻōpuʻu in 1775. Kalaniʻōpuʻu promised revenge and, in 1776, he again went to battle against Kahekili – Kalaniʻōpuʻu was defeated, again.
Peace and tranquility returned. Kahekili took his leadership seriously; he was faithful to his people, made changes, established rules and took active interest in the welfare of his people and lands.
During times of peace and celebration, when tournaments that required great strength, stamina and ability were held, Kahekili continued to amass great respect with his victories. Such victories assisted in further cementing his position as the son of the divine ruling family of Maui.
Later, Kahekili and his eldest son and heir-apparent, Kalanikūpule, were carrying on war and conquered Kahahana, adding Oʻahu under his control.
Through subsequent inter-island conquest, the marriage of his brother to the Queen of Kauaʻi, and appointment of his son to alternately govern Maui, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe and Oʻahu during his periodic absences, by 1783, Kahekili dominated all the Hawaiian Islands, except for Hawaiʻi.
In the late-1780s into 1790, Kamehameha conquered the Island of Hawai‘i and was pursuing conquest of Maui and eventually sought to conquer the rest of the archipelago.
In 1790, Kamehameha travelled to Maui. Hearing this, Kahekili sent Kalanikūpule back to Maui with a number of chiefs (Kahekili remained on O‘ahu to maintain order there.)
Kahekili’s rule stretched for almost thirty years. He became known for his extreme measures whether it was making sure his people were obeying the kapu and the gods, or by destroying his enemies.
(He ruled on Maui before he fell ill and returned to Waikīkī, until his death in 1793 at the age of eighty-seven. Kahekili’s son, Kalanikūpule, inherited his kingdom, but lost Maui and then Oʻahu to Kamehameha.)
OK, back to the road …
Another thing Kahekili was known for were the respective ‘Kahekili Leaps’ across the Islands; there is one ‘leap’ site along the route.
Kahekili excelled at the ancient Hawaiian sport of lele kawa (to leap feet first from a cliff into water without splashing.) Legend says that in the early morning, the King would climb up the hill and “leap” into the ocean below from about the 200-foot height.
That starts to give you a sense of what Kahekili Highway is like – a simple coastal line on a map, but once you get there, you see that goats would feel more at home here than autos.
Actually, calling it a ‘highway’ is being generous … although it has traffic in both directions, it’s a narrow, winding one-lane road, approximately 10 to 12-feet wide, cut into the side of the cliff.
It is said to follow an old pathway that was once used by King Kahekili and his court, known as the King Kahekili Trail.
The original construction into a road is estimated to have taken place during the 1930s. The road was later used by the military during World War II to transport tanks and other military vehicles.
The military conducted road improvements and stabilizations during this time to accommodate an increased level of vehicular movement. However, the transportation pathway existed as a simple dirt road that would often get flooded and slippery with the onset of rains in the area.
In addition to military vehicles, the road also served the needs of plantation workers and other residents who lived in the area.
It wasn’t until sometime in the 1990s that this road was completely paved, and open to travel for rental cars (though some companies may still place it off-limits, so visitors should check their rental contracts.) This place is not safe, news reports confirm it.
For those who are vertically challenged, not in personal stature, but rather in the relationship of you to your surroundings, this is not the place to be.
I was a passenger – I still wasn’t able to get any photos along the way, I wouldn’t loosen my white knuckle grip … nor gander out to never-never land. (OK, been there, done that; there is no chance of a second chance – the photos do not give this ride justice – I, nor anyone else, was able to capture the ‘essence’ of this road.)
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Anna Derby Blackwell says
I knew that road long before it was paved. Sometime around 1960, I made the entire circuit – Puunene to Puunene via Lahaina town – in three hours, from 9 am to noon.
That was separate from the many trips back and forth when I was the Census Enumerator in 1960 from the north-east side of the Wailuku River to the lighthouse that marks the boundary between Wailuku and Lahaina. One day I was given lunch in Kahakuloa: tea with canned milk, (slightly stale) white cake with white frosting, and poi which was a little mane`o because they’d just gotten electricity in Kahakuloa and hadn’t boiled the taro long enough. (Those opinions were all private).
Linda Faye Collins says
Hi Anna Derbey. Linda Faye Collins here. Loved your comments!
Richard Kuaana Jr. says
Aloha Anna Derbe Blackwell. My family who lived on that side of Maui were often traveling on this ominous road; There were many stories of strange events happening, while they traverse this Kahekili Highway. I than realize how much Ka Mo’i Kahekili covered several Ahupua’a(s) in his day. There always seem a strange relationship between Kalaniopu’u and Kahekili, especially as to whom fathered Kamehameha the Great. I seem to favor Kamehameha’s uncle Kalaniopu’u. Kalaniopu’u had many interpersonal relationship with the Kuaana(s) from HIlo. They are my descendants from which I remain to carry their names.
Ireg Azuos says
Love driving on thus highway, no problem..my KEKONA FAMILY is from KAHAKULOA..MY MOM’S PARENT ARE PETER AND REBECCA KEKONA (decease)..