However, if the volcano is measured all the way from the bottom of the sea, it even reaches the remarkable height of about 8000 meters - with that, Haleakala would be one of the highest mountains of the world. The other main volcano from which the island is formed, is eroded for a good part and has been split into several peaks. Taken together, these peaks make up the West Maui Mountains, of which the Pu’u Kukui is the tallest with an altitude of 1764 meters. According to geologic research, the mountain range was created by three massive eruptions, the last of which had taken place about half a million years ago. Parts of the range are organized as protected habitats, but these areas remain in the private property of the Maui Land & Pineapple Company. The Haleakala on the other half was responsible for forming about three fourths of the entire Maui area. In a Hawaiian folk legend, the peak of that mountain is the residence of the demi-god Maui’s grandmother. The highest point of the volcano, called Red Hill, is a popular day trip destination as it allows for a view down a steep cliff about 800 meters high. This unique scenery is part of Haleakala National Park.
Originally settled by Polynesians, the first contact between the native population and a European happened in 1778. The English explorer James Cook did not set foot on the island for he could not find a suitable landing spot, nevertheless he is considered as the “discoverer” of Maui. Next after Cook was French Admiral de La Pérouse, who went ashore in May of 1786. In 1790, the King of Big Island, Kamehameha I, successfully invaded the smaller neighboring island. But more significance for the historic development can be derived from the fact that in the following years European missionaries moved to Maui, often coming over from the American mainland. While it is true that these missionaries prohibited the natives’ age-old traditions like the Hula, they also took care of preserving culture in other instances, for example by beginning to chronicle the history of the island or by setting up schools. In that time, people mostly earned their living as whale hunters and a little of that heritage has been carried over to this day and Maui is often associated with whaling. This although the submarine habitat including the coral reefs has been radically changed by continuous environmental pollution.
Maui is famous for being a good location for whale watching. This, however, is only true in the winter months, when many humpback whales from the waters around Alaska come here to spend the winter in the warmer waters of the shallow Au’au Channel between the islands. Many operators offer watching tours. In April, at the latest, the animals begin their return journey home, travelling some 5600 kilometers back to Alaska.
Whale hunting was replaced by cultivating sugarcane as the island’s most important industry in the 19th century. Today it’s tourism - more than 2.5 million travelers come to Maui annually - and agriculture that form the strongest parts of the local economy. The agricultural products primarily grown here are coffee beans, nuts, pineapple and flowers, there are also still a number of sugar cane plantations. In the past years, employment in the sectors of research and technology has grown considerably. Tourism is mostly focused on the small town of Lahaina (population 12,000) in the Western part of the island. Lahaina is the former capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii and once was one of the most important places for whale hunting. Parts of the historic downtown area is registered as a historic district. This primarily concerns an area around the corner of Front Street and Canal Street, where the majority of buildings dates back to the first half of the 19th century. Front Street is also the place where numerous shops, boutiques, restaurants and bars can be found. The main attraction is the former location of Lahaina Fort, built in 1832 on orders of Queen Ka’ahumanu to protect Maui. It was later used as a prison and as residence of the Governor of Maui. The original buildings were demolished in 1854 and in 1964, a true-to-original replica of one side of the fort was erected. At the end of Front Street, there is the pier from where various boat tours are departing. In addition, Lahaina is the annual home to several sport events in Golf, Basketball and Sailing.
While there is a good selection of hotels and other types of accommodation available in and around Lahaina, the cruise tourism is focused on Kahului, where also the island’s airport is located. With a population of about 26,000, Kahului is the largest town on the island and in many regards it is also its center point - for example there are a lot of shopping opportunities here. Among the attractions here are the rather small Maui Nui Botanical Gardens (150 Kanaloa Avenue), which is active in conserving domestic plant species and whose premises have been built into the dunes. Many tourists are also interested in the Kanaha Pond State Wildlife Sanctuary (Amala Road), a protected habitat covering the area of a former royal fishing pond. The wetlands. located near the port area, today is breeding ground and retreat for several domestic bird species, some of which are endangered. The small community of Pu’unene in the vicinity of Kahului is home to the rather interesting Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum (3957 Hansen Road, open daily 9:30 am-4 pm), which offers insights into history and tradition of sugar cane plantations in Hawaii. Also, the museum attempts to cast a light on the impact of this type of agriculture on the environment.
While Maui’s main tourist attraction is the impressive scenery of Haleakala National Park in the Southern half of the island, where about one million visitors are registered per year, many tourists also take the opportunity to gain an impression of the entire island’s versatility by travelling the so-called Hana Highway. This term is applied to sections of State Routes 36 and 360, 100 kilometers in total between Kahului and Hana at the eastern coast. Even if the many points worth seeing along the route are ignored, one has to schedule the drive with 2.5 hours, because the street not only leads over almost 60 bridges, most of which have only one lane, but also through more than 600 curves. However, everyone taking this route will discover countless points worth stopping for. For example, a long section goes through a rain forest and a large number of viewpoints and waterfalls are located along the way.
But - the drive is not only recommendable because of the route itself, but also because of the destination. Hana is one of the island’s most remote places, has once been the location of sugarcane plantations and today counts about 1200 inhabitants. In 1970, Charles Lindbergh moved to Hana, his grave is in the cemetery in neighboring Kipahulu. While a few tourists continue down the - even more challenging - road to Kipahulu, most stay in Hana and enjoy the wonderful black sand beaches that can be found around town. Especially worth mentioning is Waianapanapa State Park (photo), where a large colony of seabirds has its home. In addition, some interesting sculptures formed by lava can be found in the surrounding waters, a natural bridge being one of those. Also, there is yet another rain forest section there and a so-called Heiau, the word designates a temple of the traditional Hawaiian religion. The State Park has sanitary facilities and fresh water, also camping is permitted. Among further attractions of Hana are the botanic gardens at Kaia Ranch (470 Ulaino Road). These gardens may be comparatively small in size, but they have a large selection of colorful domestic and polynesian plants on display. The Kahanu Garden (650 Ulaino Road) is a little larger than that and can be discovered both in guided tours and on one’s own account. Next to the magnificent plants, visitors can also find a lava rock formation called Pi’ilanihale here, which is one of Hawaii’s oldest prayer temples (heiau).
Maui’s second-largest town, Kihei with some 21,000 residents, mostly attracts visitors with its beautiful beaches. Those are exceptionally clean and feature a very nice scenery, but they can get crowded in the main season. Also, Kihei is home to the visitors center of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, the National Marine Sanctuary (726 South Kihei Road). Here, guests can learn about whales, their habitats and other sea creatures in the waters around Hawaii. There are also watching and exploration tours being offered from here. However, to see whales, it is already sufficient to sit on the center’s terrace - even from there, whales can be watched in the season. Also interesting for nature lovers is Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge (Mokulele Highway, Milepost 6). This is a wetland area where countless bird species have made their home. Sometimes, there are birds here which have come all the way from Asia or Alaska. The best time to watch them is very early in the morning.