Maui captured “Best Island in the World” honors in the annual Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards Poll nearly twenty-years in a row. Readers rave about this “veritable paradise,” calling it a “combination of tropical ambience and American comforts.”
Maui is known for its beaches and water activities, and the west side boasts some of the most beautiful shores in Hawaiʻi, and it also has the distinction of having some of the most beautiful sunset views on the planet.
West Maui is the second most visited place in Maui – (behind the beaches) – a combination of natural scenic beauty, white sandy beaches, lush green uplands, and near-perfect weather, rich culture and a good serving of Hawaiian history in its sunny shores.
In West Maui, you can head to the beach, be captivated by the beauty of its natural scenes and marine life, visit the different historical attractions, and immerse yourself in the local art and culture.
West Maui has experienced six major historical eras, from its days as an ancient Hawaiian Royal Center, capital and home of the Hawaiian Monarchy, home to Missionaries, Landing/Provisioning for Whalers, the Sugar and Pineapple Plantation era and now Tourism.
All of these historical eras are still visible in West Maui today.
West Maui has played an important role in the history of Maui and the neighboring islands of Molokai, Lānaʻi and Kahoʻolawe, with West Maui serving as the Royal Center, selected for its abundance of resources and recreation opportunities, with good surfing and canoe-landing sites being favored.
Probably there is no portion of the Valley Isle, around which gathers so much historic value as West Maui. It was the former capital and favorite residence of kings and chiefs.
After serving for centuries as home to ruling chiefs, West Maui was selected by Kamehameha III and his chiefs to be the seat of government; here the first Hawaiian constitution was drafted and the first legislature was convened.
Hawai‘i’s whaling era began in 1819 when two New England ships became the first whaling ships to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands. Over the next two decades, the Pacific whaling fleet nearly quadrupled in size and in the record year of 1846, 736-whaling ships arrived in Hawai’i.
West Maui was the port of choice for whaling ships. Central among the islands, West Maui was a convenient spot from which to administer the affairs of both Hawaiian and foreigner.
Since the anchorage was an open roadstead, vessels could always approach or leave it with any wind that blew. No pilot was needed here. Vessels generally approached through the channel between Maui and Moloka‘i, standing well over to Lanai, as far as the trade would carry them, then take the sea breeze, which would set in during the forenoon, and head for the town.
In November 1822, the 2nd Company from the New England missionaries set sail on the ‘Thames’ from New Haven, Connecticut for the Hawaiian Islands; they arrived on April 23, 1823 (included in this Company were missionaries Charles Stewart, William Richards and Betsey Stockton – they were the first to settle and set up a mission in West Maui.)
The Christian religion really caught on when High Chiefess Keōpūolani (widow of Kamehameha I and mother of future kings) is said to have been the first convert of the missionaries in the islands, receiving baptism from Rev. William Ellis in West Maui on September 16, 1823, just before her death.
In 1831, classes at the new Mission Seminary at Lahainaluna (later known as Lahainaluna (‘Upper Lahaina’)) began. The school was established by the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions “to instruct young men of piety and promising talents” (training preachers and teachers.) It is the oldest high school west of the Mississippi River.
Per the requests of the chiefs, the American Protestant missionaries began teaching the makaʻāinana (commoners.) Literacy levels exploded.
From 1820 to 1832, in which Hawaiian literacy grew by 91 percent, the literacy rate on the US continent grew by only 6 percent and did not exceed the 90 percent level until 1902 – three hundred years after the first settlers landed in Jamestown – overall European literacy rates in 1850 had not been much above 50 percent.
Centuries ago, the early Polynesian settlers to Hawaiʻi brought sugar cane with them and demonstrated that it could be grown successfully.
It was not until 1823 that several members of the West Maui Mission Station began to process sugar from native sugarcanes for their tables. By the 1840s, efforts were underway in West Maui to develop a means for making sugar as a commodity.
Starting in the 1850s, when the Hawaiian Legislature passed “An Act for the Governance of Masters and Servants,” a section of which provided the legal basis for a contract-labor system, labor shortages were eased by bringing in contract workers from Asia, Europe and North America.
It is not likely anyone then foresaw the impact this would have on the cultural and social structure of the islands. The sugar industry is at the center of Hawaiʻi’s modern diversity of races and ethnic cultures.
Of the nearly 385,000-workers that came, many thousands stayed to become a part of Hawai‘i’s unique ethnic mix. Hawai‘i continues to be one of the most culturally-diverse and racially-integrated places.
Historically Maui’s second largest industry, pineapple cultivation has also played a large role in forming Maui’s modern day landscape. The pineapple industry began on Maui in 1890 with Dwight D. Baldwin’s Haiku Fruit and Packing Company on the northeast side of the island.
One of the first hotels in West Maui was the Pioneer Hotel – founded in 1901. George Freeland arrived in the Lahaina roadstead on a ship that had just come from a long voyage through the south seas; he noted a need for a hotel.
It remained the only place for visitors to stay on Maui’s west side until the early-1960s. Tourism exploded; West Maui is a full-fledged tourist destination second only to Waikīkī.
Lahaina’s Front Street, offering an incredible oceanfront setting, people of diverse cultures, architecture and incredible stories of Hawaiʻi’s past, was recognized as one of the American Planning Association’s 2011 “Great Streets in America.”
For many, it’s more simply stated … Maui No Ka Oi (Maui is the best)
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Elaine Shinagawa says
Really appreciate your research and informative blogs.