Lahaina, “Jewel in the Crown of Maui”

Lahaina, “Jewel in the Crown of Maui”

Like snowbirds people migrate to chase sunshine in warmer destinations where snow plows and ear muffs have no place.

LAHAINA, often called the “Jewel in the Crown of Maui’ could be a perfect getaway to avoid the wrath of winter. Its name translates from Hawaiian as “cruel sun” describing the warm sunny dry climate in this picturesque seaside town of the “Valley Isle” of Maui, the second largest of the six Hawaiian Islands open to tourism.

The gateway to touristy Kapalua and Ka’anapali Beach Resorts, Lahaina, nestled between the coast and West Maui Mountains, exemplifies the harmonious blending of the two major industries of the State of Hawaii, i.e., tourism and agriculture.

The focus of activity in Lahaina is along the world-famous Front Street, ranked as one of the “Top Ten Greatest Streets” by the American Planning Association. The only walkable downtown street you’ll find in Maui, Front Street is compact and crowded most of time, day and night. A stroll along this historic landmark with perfect view of the Pacific Ocean and the island of Lanai is a must.

Once the centre of world’s global whaling industry with many sailing ships anchoring at its waterfront, today Lahaina is internationally famous for its Front Street shopping, art galleries, oceanfront restaurants, trendy boutiques, false-front stores, and stunning mountain scenery.

Long ago even before the arrival of the whalers in the 1800s Lahaina with its calm and blue waters is a special destination spot as a resort for the “ali’i” or ruling class of the Hawaiian royalty. With the coming of the traders, whalers and missionaries that fueled the economy and impacted the cultural climate of Hawaii, King Kamehameha, the founder and first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii, noting the importance of Lahaina as a stopping place along the Pacific sea routes, established Lahaina as the first capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1802. Lahaina remained capital until 1845 when King Kamehameha III named Honolulu in Oahu Island as capital.

During the heyday of global whaling industry more than 400 whale-hunting ships from the Americas, Europe and Asia moored in Lahaina harbour every year. In the early 19th century whale products used to be in great demand as whale oil is used to provide heat in oil lamps for lighting and for powering equipment and whale jaws are needed for making corsets, skirt hoops, umbrellas, and buggy whips.

While the whaling vessels are being replenished with supplies and provisions their crews enjoy their shore leave to the fullest raising hell and rambunctious atmosphere in the town, creating clashes and conflicts with the staid missionaries from New England who started settling in the island around the same time as the whaling ships. To counter the rampant sailors’ misbehaviour the island chiefs enforce strict code of laws to tame the bawdy sailors – no more gambling, no more women going to the ships for prostitution, and no more fiddling or dancing on Sabbath. The whalers become furious blaming the missionaries. Riots break out and the town is shelled by whaling ships more than once that led to the building of a fort to protect the town. Built in 1831 the fort, doubled as a prison, becomes continually packed for rowdy sailors who do not return to the ships before the sunset curfew. The old fort is later demolished in 1852 for the construction of the more spacious Old Prison, called Hale Pa’ahao.

Lahaina is best explored on foot. We’ll do it on the next issue.