A GI­ANT BANYAN TREE IN A BEACH TOWN WHERE KINGS WERE BORN

Kuwait Times - - WEEKENDER -

The beach town of La­haina in western Maui was once the cap­i­tal of the Hawai­ian King­dom, a place where kings were born. It later 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,” said 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 14th 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 60-foot, 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 said. “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 said. “It’s just a cool town.”

This un­dated photo pro­vided by the Hawaii Tourism Au­thor­ity shows a wa­ter­front view of Front Street in La­haina, Maui, Hawaii.

Photo pro­vided by the Hawaii Tourism Au­thor­ity shows a view of Front Street in La­haina, Maui, Hawaii.

Peo­ple look­ing at La­haina’s banyan tree, ris­ing 60 feet and cov­er­ing nearly an acre in La­haina, Maui, Hawaii.

This photo shows the La­haina Court and Cus­tom House in Maui, Hawaii.

— AP pho­tos

Photo shows La­haina Har­bor in Maui, Hawaii.

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