Watch whales from a beach town where kings were born
The beach town of Lahaina in western Maui was once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, a place where kings were born. It became a key port at the height of the 19th century whaling boom.
Though it transformed into a mostly tourist area in the 1960s, much of Lahaina’s history can still be found sprinkled around town — including in the roots of a giant banyan tree.
“There’s just a ton of historical spots in town, really precious, sacred places,” says Amy Fuqua, manager of the Lahaina Visitor’s Center.
Located about 40 minutes from Kahului Airport, Lahaina was known in ancient Hawaiian times as Lele, meaning “cruel sun”. It was conquered by Kamehameha the Great in 1795.
Front Street, which runs along the shoreline, was known as King’s Road, where only kings and queens could walk. It’s now the town’s main thoroughfare, dotted with historical sites — 62 in all around town — as well as shops and restaurants with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and neighboring islands.
Among the historical sites is the Hauola Stone, a chair-shaped stone used by Hawaiian royalty as a birthing site starting around the 14 th century. The smoothed-out rock at the north end of the harbor also was considered to have healing powers.
At the town center is the Lahaina’s famous banyan tree, a 18-meter, multi-trunked tree that covers nearly an acre. Planted in 1873, it is one of the largest banyan trees in the United States and is still used for celebrations, including one for the tree’s birthday every April. It grows new trunks via aerial roots that sink into the ground.
And make sure to visit the tree around sunset, when hundreds of mynah birds sing inside its canopy.
“It’s kind of the center of town,” Fuqua says. “Everyone knows where it’s at. It has an important significance to the town and it feels good under there.”
Not into history? Lahaina offers plenty of other touristy things to do.
Instead of whaling, the harbor has now become the launching point for fishing, parasailing, ocean cruising or whale watching in the winter. The restaurants along Front Street are top-notch, offering straight-out-of-the-ocean fish daily.
The tiny Lahaina Civic Center transforms from a local events center into the center of the college basketball universe during the Maui Invitational in the days before Thanksgiving every year.
Lahaina also is the hub of western Maui, a gateway to golf courses in Kaanapali and Kapalua, sandy beaches and some of the best snorkeling found anywhere in the world.
“There’s a lot to do here, even for a small town,” Fuqua says. “It’s just a cool town.”
The old banyan tree rises 18 meters and covers nearly an acre in Lahaina, Hawaii. The tree’s multiple trunks and large canopy make it a great gathering place for events in town. Front Street is Lahaina’s main downtown street, home to bars, clubs, restaurants, shopping and art galleries.
Oriental Salt Lake Resort draws visitors with its picturesque landscape, ancient-looking buildings and Taoism-themed activities.