If you’re looking for a classic beach resort town with all the shops, restaurants, perfect weather, and great beaches nearby – Lahaina on the island of Maui is perhaps your best choice. This little town exudes country tourism charm. Be warned though – during the peak season this little village swells from a population of about 12,000 to nearly 40,000! That’s not even including the nearby resorts of Ka’anapali and Kapalua.
Still, Lahaina is a fun place to go and offers something for everyone. However, if you are looking to buy a slice of Hawaiian paradise, this may not be the place for you. Lahaina has some of Hawaii’s most expensive real estate with homes that can cost as much as $5 million dollars.
There’s a reason for those prices. Prior to contact, Lahaina was the capitol of the Maui Kingdom. It was also the capitol of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820-1845 under King Kamehameha III – he preferred it to Honolulu. There are still vestiges of that legacy there. Front Street, the bustling main drag of Lahaina dates back to that period. While some guides will tell you that the big banyan tree at Banyan Court Park was planted by Kamehameha III’s queen, it’s not true. It was planted by William Owen Smith in 1873 to celebrate 50 yeas of missionary work. There is no larger banyan tree in the United States. Nearby are the reconstructed bulwarks of Fort Lahaina.
It’s a sunny spot which is reflected in the Hawaiian name – meaning ‘cruel sun’. It’s dry most of the time but gets a bit of rain in the winter months. Lahaina was an important center of the whaling industry in the 1800s and the conflict between conservative missionaries and horny sailors was the stuff of legends. Fort Lahaina was actually built to protect the town against rioting sailors! The whaling has stopped but Lahaina is still a heavily used port for whale watching cruises from November to May.
There is no shortage of historical or tourist attractions in Lahaina. Among them the Bailey Museum, the Lahaina Courthouse, and the Prison. Walking maps are available at the Baldwin House Museum for a couple of dollars. There are a huge number of restaurants, bars, and shops on Front Street.
The biggest celebration in Lahaina every year is Halloween with huge crowds walking up and down the main street. It’s not exactly kid friendly after dark because of the many drunks staggering around. Mardii Gras of the Pacific is what I’ve heard it called, but I think that overstates things by quite a bit.
When I first came to Maui, sometime in the early 2000’s – I was in awe. I’d grown up hearing about Maui – mostly in terms of Maui Wowee – but also about the beauty, how it was place the stars gathered, and one of the most spiritual places on the planet.
My first time here (because I’m here again as I write this) was a budget trip just to see the place. I stayed in hostels, hitchhiked around, swam, drank, smoked my first Maui Wowee and seriously felt the vibe. I don’t have pictures from that trip because I didn’t have a camera and in those days, there were no cameras on phones – but in fact, I didn’t have a phone at that point either.
However, it pretty much felt like this picture. It was awesome.
The next trip was totally different. Troubled relationship, four star resort, great food and wine, luxury experience but with personal and money issues. It felt more like this picture:
Then, there was a trip where I was working as a driver – taking PGA golfers on tours and to their tee times. I was a servant and I hated it – though there were moments like when one of them generously bought me a $150 Kobe Beef hamburger at the end of the Road to Hana. That one felt more like this picture:
After that, I had one trip where I stayed a couple of nights in Lahaina before going to Lanai. That one was a little bit like the first trip but without the carefree – more like I was looking for the carefree but still carrying all my cares. That trip felt like this:
Now, back again and I have to admit – Maui is a great reflector of what you are feeling in your life. It’s a bit like a magic mirror. I’ll be writing about Maui and the adventures and experiences I find here this time around – I’ll try to keep it to the facts and try to understand that what I experience here is still likely a reflection of my own inner experience – at the moment – it feels a bit like this picture – So far, so good!