Old Town Lahaina has been Maui’s hot spot, literally and figuratively, since ancient times. Lahaina translates to mean “cruel sun,” in Hawaiian. While this may seem like a harsh description, it’s almost always warm, sunny and dry in this otherwise picturesque seaside town.
Long ago, alii (Hawaiian royalty) recognized that Lahaina’s calm, blue waters were ideal for swimming, paddling, fishing and surfing. They visited here often to relax and play.
In the 19th century, foreigners were also charmed by Old Town Lahaina, whose wide roadstead provided safe anchorage year-round for their ships. Traders came, then whalers and missionaries. Noting its importance as a stop along Pacific sea routes, King Kamehameha established Lahaina as the first capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1802.
During the heyday of whaling in the mid-1840s, more than 400 ships moored in Lahaina every year. While the vessels were reprovisioned, their crews enjoyed shore life to the fullest.
“For a few days, they raised hell at the port of Lahaina,” writes Maxine Mrantz in her historical book, “Hawaii’s Whaling Days.”
Appalled by the sailors’ behavior, the staid missionaries urged the alii to enforce a strict code of laws, which Mrantz shares in part: “No more fiddling or dancing on the Sabbath … no more going for horse rides on the Sabbath … no more gabbling … no more taking girls out to the ships.”
Nevertheless, Hale Paahao, the town’s prison, was continually packed with rowdy sailors who continued to break the laws.
More than a 160 years later, Lahaina maintains its lively demeanor. Although the town proper measures just one-and-a-half miles long and a few blocks deep, it is chock-full of intriguing diversions, including 19th century historic sights, fine art galleries, trendy boutiques, souvenir shops and award-winning local restaurants. There are also many museums that perpetuate the story of Hawaii’s whalers, missionaries and other immigrants.
Lahaina hosts several annual events coordinated by the nonprofit, Lahaina Town Action Committee, whose mission is to promote, preserve and encourage the historical, cultural, social, commercial and environmental vitality and significance of Old Town Lahaina
Among these events are the Ocean Arts Festival in March, the Banyan Tree Birthday Party in April, Na Kamehameha Pau Parade and Hoolaulea in June, 4th of July Fireworks, Halloween on Front Street and the Holiday Lighting of the Banyan Tree in December.
Click here to learn more about Old Town Lahaina.
Photos by Wayne Shinbara