Look, no waves!
“I was really excited to check out the webcam to see if there were any waves at Freight Trains or Buzz’s. Then I remembered that it only breaks once every 100 years. HAHA!”
Justin Cooper – Wailuku
Maui’s coastal towns tend to get the most love from those visiting off-island. It’s a no-brainer—many come to the Valley Isle specifically for its legendary beaches—but other parts of the island can be just as enchanting. One in particular? Wailuku—a bohemian beauty at the base of the West Maui Mountains.
To outsiders, this small but urban town is little more than the bridge between Kahului (home to Maui’s international airport) and ‘Iao Valley, a state park that boasts a 1,200-foot lava spire and 4,000 acres of lush greenery.
But insiders know that Wailuku—which houses the county courthouse and Maui’s biggest performing arts center—is not only rich in Hawaiian history but also seeing a resurgence of noteworthy measure.
With a population of less than 16,000 and attractions that deviate from the common perception of Hawaii, it may be challenging to imagine that the city was once a thriving community, home to the boom of Maui’s sugarcane era and serving as the island’s hub of activity.
But with the decline of sugar in the 60s and 70s, the bustling county seat of Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Kaho’olawe faced dilapidation, becoming a place strictly for business rather than pleasure—and falling on the wayside of sleepy and wilted.
Consider that on the upswing—a rise that began a decade ago and continues now in earnest and passion, from the recent unveiling of a colorful four-story mural on Main Street and the opening of Wai Bar in the town’s center, to the restoration of buildings from the 194os. Yoga, sushi, tattoo parlors, a crystal shop, holistic healers, hostels, a monthly street festival that celebrates the island’s vendors, artists, and people—it’s no wonder some say Wailuku is Maui’s San Francisco. Happen to be visiting? Here’s where to go and what to see, both new and old (and some right in between):
In the roaring 20s, ‘Iao Theater served as the island’s movie palace, as well as a hip spot to catch vaudeville performances and live music, even drawing the likes of Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Mickey Rooney to its stage. (Side note: ‘Iao’s theater director was arrested in 1973 for screening the scandalous film, Deep Throat.) After enduring a decade and a half of neglect in the 1980s, it was carefully restored to retain its architectural integrity and historical legacy. Today, it’s a popular venue for Maui’s kama’aina and a veritable institution on the island, offering shows, presented by MauiOnStage, that range from Cabaret and Elf to a live chamber orchestra.
Antique shopping might not immediately spring to mind when thinking of Maui, but realize that Wailuku’s plantation past brought an influx of global workers and the vibrant cultures that defined them. Wailuku’s main drag underscores this fact with antique shops that are downright fascinating. Brown-Kobyashi, located on North Market, presents distinctive pieces that date back to the 1800s, many from the Ming and Ching dynasties; the prices may be steep but the inventory is museum-quality. Bird of Paradise is just as compelling, boasting everything from silk kimonos to old Hawaiian albums. And while Request is a music store, its very existence is somewhat of an artifact; navigate the crowded aisles to find used CDs and vintage records.
Part of the charm of dining in Wailuku is that it’s not overrun with tourist traffic—and, to that end, caters more to the local palate. Sam Sato’s—which has been on the island since 1933—might be the best representation of this, offering dry mein noodles at their industrial park venue that have earned them widespread praise. The sidewalk in front of Wailuku Coffee Company buzzes with budding artists and lunching lawyers; no surprise there, as their coffees, smoothies, and fare—including a berry and chevre salad and daily quiches—strike that ideal balance between comfy and gourmet. A Saigon Cafe—a popular hangout for Wailuku locals—offers inspired eats ranging from Spicy Island Eggplant with lemongrass and basil to Duck Noodle Soup with anise and shitake mushrooms, and Four Sisters Bakery specializes in local favorites like malasadas, butter buns, and manapua. 808 on Main swiftly became a choice stop with their burger bar, fresh salads, and paninis, while Tasty Crust has been beloved since it opened its doors in the 1950s. Here you’ll find homey, inexpensive fare and a retro vibe that is in itself nutritional. Those looking to wet their whistle with an island libation needn’t look further than the aforementioned Wai Bar. Located across the street from Wailuku Coffee Company, this hopping spot quickly became a community tavern upon its opening, thanks to a collection of excellent drinks (they feature every liquor made in Hawaii, from Koloa Rum to Ocean Vodka), BYOF (F as in food—yes, they’re that laidback), and live music most evenings of the week (they also host LGBT nights and holiday parties). And for an extraordinary meal, meander just outside Wailuku to Waikapu, a former kalo and sugar plantation community that boasts The Mill House—an award-winning venue (including 2017’s ‘Aipono for Maui’s Most Innovative Menu) that authenticates “farm to table.”
One of the most recent entertainment sensations to land in the Aloha State, Mystery Maui is one of the newest and most popular ways to spend a memorable evening in central Maui’s Wailuku Town.
Armed with your own private group of 2 to 6 friends, family members or coworkers, you’ll be given a handful of clues and a cleverly-themed mystery to solve, all with the goal of escaping the room in 60 minutes or less. Receive a brief introduction and overview from your personal game marshal, and you’re on your way to becoming the next Sherlock Holmes. Or at least his less talented second cousin. Either way, get ready to have a ton of fun and put your detective skills to the test at this kid and adult-friendly escape room.
Shopping on Maui is more diverse than one might initially think, from Makawao’s luxe shops to Paia’s quirky boutiques. Wailuku adds to the mix with a swath of stores that specialize in funk and local flavor. Among them? Native Intelligence, where one can find fresh lei, artisan woodwork, and contemporary Hawaiiana; Maui Thing, where men, women, and keiki can shop island-inspired “clothing with a conscience” (and where children are encouraged to take their free art classes), and the gloriously named If The Shoe Fits, which offers specialty sandals, hiking boots, heels (and, yes, custom fits). Those looking for art will be pleasantly surprised by the zany creations at Sandell Artworks; here, local artisan and cartoonist David Sandell gives patrons much to consider with his bold paintings of everyone from the Beatles to Hillary Clinton.
Food for thought: Wailuku houses more sights on the National Register of Historic Places than any other town on Maui, giving it its intriguing, old-world quality. The Bailey House Museum, just upslope from Wailuku’s retail center, originated as the Wailuku Female Seminary during the missionary days—situated as such so that men at Lahaina’s male iteration could meet “suitable Christian girls” to marry “but not have them close enough so that they could meet at night,” said the museum’s docent, Maxine DelFant. Built in 1833, the gorgeously-maintained sight is home to the Maui Historical Society, and displays striking treasures from Hawaii’s bygone eras, including photographs, Hawaiian quilts, wooden spears, and calabashes (as well as 19th century paintings from the museum’s uber-talented namesake). Meanwhile, Ka’ahumanu Congregational Church—constructed in 1876—looms nearby; curious travelers can visit the graveyard to get a deeper look into Maui’s antiquity. For more on Hawaiian history, visit an exhibit or event at the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center, where the 42nd Regimental Combat Team of WWII—the most highly decorated battalion of its size in US history—honors the Japanese-Americans that primarily comprised the division. Maui Tropical Plantation, located just outside Wailuku, blends the past with the present, exhibiting everything from two zip lines and a farm stand to a historic house featuring stunning old photographs of the verdant and mystical Waikapu Valley. Savor the sight and then revel in the fact that Wailuku is well on its way from faded to, well, flourishing.
The Sunflower fields draw the attention of motorists passing through central Maui. Pacific Biodiesel planted the sunflowers in order to make the biggest biofuel crop in the State of Hawaii.
The harvest process usually takes place within 110 days after planting. Currently the sunflower crop is a 115-acre biofuel crop where approximately 12 acres are used primarily for the sunflowers.
Pacific Biodiesel aims to expand the diversity of fields previously used for sugarcane production by growing combine-harvested oil crops. You’ll notice the wave of yellow sunflowers stands erected and bent in the direction of the sun’s rays. These rays are being converted to energy via this precious oil and being used to power the island. The best opportunity to visit these fields in safe, legal manner is by parking at the Maui Tropical Plantation and walking through their fields when in bloom.
On your way to Lahaina, you will find this little gem located on the Honoapiilani Highway. With a casual atmosphere, Leoda’s Pie Shop caters for the tourists as well as the locals. This shop makes you feel right at home, with its metal bar stools, wooden panels and the hearty southern charm.
Leoda’s Pie Shop is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, offering filling meals with options like burgers, sandwiches, hoagies, salads, and hot dogs. Despite the odd location, they’ve built a great name for themselves, attracting visitors from far and wide. It sounds like a cliché, but you can taste the heart and freshness in their products.
Leoda’s Pie shop’s focus is on fresh ingredients purchased from local suppliers to offer the best possible product to their clients.
Kamaole Beach Park III is located in Kihei, South Maui. This has one of the best lawns on Maui for families and party goers alike.
Across from the golden beach is a huge lawn area; the lawn area is also equipped with bathrooms and showers as well as picnic tables and BBQ facilities. It is perfect for a day out with the family or a sunset picnic with your beloved.
The beach area is surrounded by rocks, but there’s still space to swim and body surf. Just watch out for rock formations just below the surface.
Tin roof Maui is a new era “mom and pop shop”. This shop is owned by internationally recognized chef Sheldon Simeon and his wife, Janice. The food at Tin Roof is described as “Aloha Love” which explains the fact that it is always busy.
Simeon keeps his menu’s simple, consisting of comforting food in the form of rice bowls with great topping at affordable prices. They named the restaurant “Tin Roof” because of the consistent rain we get in Hawaii; the day they named the restaurant it was raining and they wanted to stay grounded. The sound of the rain on the tin roof made them think of simple living.
With their many combined textures and flavors, your lunch experience will be one to remember. Tin Roof has a modern vibe with friendly staff, and the waiting period on your meals usually vary from about 15 minutes. We suggest ordering on their website beforehand, and you can skip the line.
Much of the success of this restaurant rests in the ability to order great quality take out at incredible prices. Their goal is to provide the community with honest, great food.
The Maui Tropical Plantation has been around for decades, providing tours of the plantation and demonstrating the benefits of diversified agriculture. Over many years, the grounds have been transformed to offer local farmers the perfect location for organically grown crops and happy livestock.
Here you’ll find: The Mill House Roasting Company, The Mill House Restaurant, Tram Tours, Farm Stand, Retail Shops, Ziplines, Occassional Entertainment, Culinary Events, Historical Display Pieces and more.
One of the biggest draws of this property lie in the stunning view of the Waikapu Valley and the beautiful grounds, from the Mill House lanai. You can’t beat a more Hawaiian view.
As two of the most influential (though controversial) figures in the Valley Isle’s history, Samuel Thomas Alexander and Henry Perrine Baldwin shaped the Maui we know today, having paved the way for its designation as one of the largest sugar providers on the planet.
That legacy began at least thirteen centuries ago when Polynesians transported ‘ko’—or sugar—in their canoes before settling into the Hawaiian Islands.
“Native Hawaiian planters would typically maintain a patch of ko on the perimeter of their farm plots,” writes Paul Wood in Hana Hou. “They recognized some two dozen varieties and used the juice in food and as medicine, the leaves for thatch and the plumelike flowers in many ways.”
Operations for commercial sugar-harvesting began in the island’s Central Valley—specifically, Wailuku and Waikapu—during the 1820s. By 1870, Alexander and Baldwin made their first mark when they planted a sugarcane crop on their plantation below Makawao. Four years later, Wood writes, King David Kalakaua “helped persuade the U.S. government to enact the Reciprocity Treaty, allowing island sugar growers to sell their product duty-free.” As “boomtime” ensued, Alexander and Baldwin—childhood friends, both Protestants—expanded operations and created Maui Agricultural Company, an outfit that was incorporated with Claus Spreckel’s Hawaiian Commercial Co. and eventually became Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.—a corporation that included California and Hawaii Sugar Company (that of the iconic pink and blue C & H label) and went on to dominate the Western World as one of the biggest suppliers of the sweet stuff.
By 1901, those original efforts by Alexander and Baldwin were palpable across the island. The construction of Kahului Railroad and Kahului Harbor provided greater means to transport both sugar and people, while the erection of a towering mill in “goose hill”—a small community in the center of the island that’s known as Pu’unene—allowed HC&S to reuse its cane wash water for irrigation. Through the acquisition of additional land, HC&S’s plantations went on to span an enormous swath of the island’s 727 square miles, ultimately comprising 36,000 of Maui’s acres and giving kama’aina and visitors sweeping views of the crop’s tall, green stalks.
For years, Alexander and Baldwin’s harvest was a tremendous boon for Hawaii’s economy; it also served as one of the driving forces behind the “mixed pot” demographic for which the Aloha State is famous. Droves of farmhands arrived from as far away as the Philippines and Portugal, taking Maui and the other islands from a place inhabited primarily by native Hawaiians and missionaries to one that included a variety of peoples and their attending cultures. As Hawai’i Magazine puts it, “Everyone who lives here now can see, hear, and taste the effect of the sugar plantations on the islands, from the landscape carved out by acres of cane to the pidgin we speak to the foods we eat: teri beef, manapua, adobo.”
But by 2016, nearly a century and a half after Alexander and Baldwin planted that first upcountry crop, the island’s sugarcane era reached its end when A&B announced the closure of HC&S, citing a transition to a diversified farm model and huge economic losses as the chief reasons for shuttering up its site in Pu’unene and letting go of 675 employees. (Other factors, including weather challenges and community opposition to cane burning and water use, also contributed to the decision, A&B’s President and CEO Christopher Benjamin said.)
Many Mauians are mourning—and bemoaning—the closure of HC&S. Aside from the job losses and displacements it’s caused, there’s the whole aspect of nostalgia—and necessity. For some, the smokestacks in Pu’unene served as a weather vane, illustrating whether the winds coming across the Central Valley were Konas or trades. For others, the closure hammers home the end of island life as it was known. “There is that nostalgia about that community life,” says Dorothy Pyle, a former professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii Maui College, whose husband, Bill, served as a long-time employee of HC&S. “It’s changing us forever because I will never see 36,000 acres of agriculture again, it just won’t happen. So that whole feel of the island—flying in over these fields and driving through them going to Lahaina—never going to be again.”
“That smell, it’s nostalgic,” agrees Larry Lambert, a former field engineering technician. “That’s what I’m going to miss. The squeezed, juicy, hot molasses. You can still smell it out in the fields, that aroma of burnt cane.”
Meanwhile, there is, pressingly so, the logistics of the land that was once devoted to cane—an area of Maui, Hawai’i Magazine reminds us, that is the twice the size of Manhattan.
“The challenge and opportunity we face is 36,000 acres from sea level to 1,000 feet, with 60 inches of rain on the windward side to 12 inches of rain on the leeward side and all the conceivable soil types and typography,” says Jerrod Schreck, director of land stewardship and renewable energy development at A&B. “We were spoiled by sugar, it’s a really forgiving crop, and the market facilitated it for a long time. But the circumstances have changed, and we’re not convinced an industrial monocrop is the solution.” In the meantime, A&B is, Hawai’i Magazines writes, “experimenting with biofuel crops including sorghum and is in the process of converting 4,000 acres into pasture for grass-finished beef.”
As Maui adjusts to this shift, a number of islanders are determined to keep HC&S’s heritage alive. Pyle, Hawaii Public Radio reports, lives in an upcountry home created by “sanded slabs of redwood from leftover molasses crates that floated across the Pacific”—remnants from the Paia Mill, which closed in 2000. Others keep photos and keepsakes from the epoch. But it is The Mill House, and the Maui Tropical Plantation upon which it sits, that is going above and beyond to both honor and sustain sugarcane’s history in Hawaii.
A brief glance at the history behind Maui Tropical Plantation and The Mill House suggests why. The name of the restaurant itself was inspired by its rich history in Waikapu—a region, near the original site of The Cornwell Mill, that once housed mill workers and their modest homes and camps. When production increased and The Cornwell Mill closed, Wailuku and other mills opened in the area, and the extended acreage of the Maui Tropical Plantation was leased for harvesting sugarcane.
When news that the Wailuku Mill would be closing, Mr. Atherton—one of the owners of the Maui Tropical Plantation—felt it was vital to salvage and preserve some of its pieces. For years, these vestiges rested at the plantation, but as the idea of opening The Mill House came to bear, it became clear how these relics could be celebrated. Over time, and in conjunction with local artists and the plantation’s co-owner, Mr. Boyce, it was decided that the larger pieces of the Wailuku Mill could be installed at The Mill House as part of its infrastructure and to serve as displays. The effect, in a word, is stunning—and one of the many draws that lure people to the plantation and its award-winning restaurant.
The impending closure of the Pu’unene Mill deepened The Mill House’s resolve to pay proper homage to the island’s past. The closure, says The Mill House’s Director of Communications, Marketing, and Education Amanda Hall, “affected Maui Tropical Plantation as much of the land, which had been leased for sugarcane growing, would now be available for other farmers. At the same time, we realized it also meant we would no longer see the mill in operation—and we felt it was important for our employees to get a chance to see what the mill looked like in all of its glory.”
To that end, Mr. Boyce “reached out to his connections at the mill and we were afforded the chance to tour the mill in full operation,” says Hall. “For the chefs this was an exciting experience as they got to see the full production process of an ingredient they use every day. For many of us, we left the mill feeling closer to each other and closer to Maui. We all commented that the connection to the sugarcane fields that we passed as we drove back to the plantation and the pieces that we see here every day had a much deeper meaning for us.”
When the Pu’unene Mill completely ceased production, Hall and other plantation employees were invited to save and restore pieces from the mill. “These visits to the plant were far different than the ones before,” she says. “They were sad and eerie as there were no workers around and the machinery had come to a halt. There was a strong realization among all of us of how many lives have been involved in the history of the plant.” Vast rooms that once hummed with the sound of large machinery had gone silent. Employee lockers were left untouched, still containing bits and pieces from the laborers’ lives. Stations in the blacksmith shop were peppered with tools from previous operators just walking away. “You could hear the clink of a piece of metal if you dropped it on the floor a hundred yards away,” Hall adds, saying that the mill was “reminiscent of a ghost town.”
But in the wake of these trips, Hall says, “we became even more closely connected with what this mill had stood for and the impact it had on Maui. Our desire to preserve these items became all consuming. Where once we had salvaged large 12-ton gears from the Wailuku plant, now we were in search of small treasures. Blacksmith goggles, hammers, calendars from employee lockers, bolts, nuts, anything that a human hand had touched. A chalkboard with blacksmith measurements written across it still intact. Locker doors lined with Playboy magazine centerfolds and photos from coed softball championships. Lamps strung over workstations were dismantled and brought to The Mill House in hopes to repurpose them and allow a new electricity to flow through.”
Since then, the Maui Tropical Plantation has done just that—literally and metaphorically—by spending a great deal of time installing vignettes throughout the property to tell the story of the mill’s importance. “In a way, the story is universal,” Hall says. “Myself and our owner grew up in areas where steel and lumber mills once stood and now as a result of globalization have moved to other countries. The abandoned sites that dot the American landscape and the stories of those who worked in them still resonates with many.”
“Sugarcane growing and processing is such a big part of Maui’s history,” she says, so much so, “it’s important for us to have guests at The Mill House get to see that story in as much of its entirety as possible. For us it’s about connecting the dots between the farmland that was grown for sugarcane, to the ways it was transported to the processing plants, to the large machinery that operated within those plants, down to the small tools used each day by the many workers whose lives were supported by this industry—and then now, to reflect upon what we learned.”
As for the sugar museum itself? The Pu’unene-based exhibition hall, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in July of 2017, isn’t just thriving—it’s stronger than ever.
“We have nowhere to go but up,” museum director Roslyn Lightfoot told The Maui News. “The closing of the mill has been a death in the family…but it is opening up other opportunities for us. People are recognizing the value of what we support.”
Accordingly, The Maui News reports, “expansion plans are underway,” including a train museum (that will feature the Kahuku steam engine and the locomotives on display at Maui Tropical Plantation), and a plantation village, as well as “increased outdoor displays of the mill and field equipment, and a large grassy area for community events, including cultural festivals and plantation camp reunions.”
Those who visit the museum in Pu’unene often pause outside its entrance to snap shots of what went down as the last functioning sugar mill in Hawaii. Posterity may be one of the aims, but the impact sugar had on Maui will always remain. “It might be a few different shades of green,” HC&S’s former General Manager Rick Volner said of the future of Maui’s cane fields, “but it will still be green.”
Now that our whales are officially home for the winter, we thought we’d share our favorite whale watch from last season. Here we are off the coast of Maalaea with a group of humpback whales that mugged our boat for over 30 minutes. We saw over a dozen breaches, and this playful pod observed us with incredible proximity.
This is going to be another amazing season with record number of returning humpback whales, we can just feel it! Having been on a sunset cruise last week and seeing 3 breaches and plenty of whales so early, we’re confident it’ll be a season to remember.
Endemic flies are flightless. The native spider—fittingly called the Happy Face Spider—is non-poisonous; the cave cricket is blind. Even flora in the 50th state is passive: raspberries are thorn-less, nettles are nettle-less, and mint is mint-less—mint being, of course, an evolutionary strategy to ward off potential hunters.
Technically, yes—but not necessarily in the way you’re probably thinking of. Read More
We’re not sure about you, but the Summer Olympics are one of our favorite things to watch! And as much as we support all of our U.S. teams and athletes, we can’t deny our excitement for the Aloha Olympics, open only to Hawaii residents.
This Aloha Olympics team sport begins with a qualifier round on flat ground to see who will be given the advantage of the higher elevation side of the net once the official games begin on the slopes of Haleakala Volcano. The two teams of 6 will be challenged not only by the intensely sloping ground, which must be played at elevation levels of no less than 8,000 feet, but the added challenges of occasional fly-by clouds or Nene goose visitors.
Raise your hand if money has ever stopped you from doing something absolutely amazing.
Now assuming you’re not Larry Ellison, and everyone else has answered in the affirmative, let’s now assume that you have the opportunity to explore Maui with the ultimate ‘treat yo’self’ mantra in mind. You don’t need to be Ellison to enjoy some luxurious Maui experiences. It’s worth holding back on consistent and extravagant vacation indulging in order to enjoy one or two truly sumptuous life long memories.
While everyone’s list would obviously vary based on their specific desires and interests, we hope you enjoy the following treat yo’self suggestions! And get a +1 to join you. Ahem.
In the meantime, check out our aerial video of Maalaea Harbor.
“I was really excited to check out the webcam to see if there were any waves at Freight Trains or Buzz’s. Then I remembered that it only breaks once every 100 years. HAHA!”
Justin Cooper – Wailuku
“I look forward to checking the weather before we go on our boat trip out of Maalaea Harbor. We’re on the fence whether to do a sunset cruise or a luau. Now we can make that decision before driving down there!”