Hawaii is the 50th American State and a group of islands in the Pacific. Annexed to the Us in 1898, it is made of eight islands, several atolls and smaller islets. Maui is the third largest island in Hawaii. Native Hawaiian religion, abolished in the 1800s, considered Maui an ancient hero and chief. The island was named by Hawaiʻiloa, the explorer, who is believed to have discovered the islands, after his son of the same name.
There is indeed something magical and very spiritual about Maui. From ancient volcanos to a dark missionary and whaling past the island also played a center role in the Pacific’s WWII stage.
Today, Maui has a laid-back-stuck-in-the-60s feel that puts you immediately in the right frame of mind. Everyone has a tattoo somewhere, everyone surfs or windsurfs at sunrise before going to work, everyone smiles, everyone listens to reggae and bounces with the rhythm of the music and everyone spends time in nature at one of its many hikes. Maui simply confirms the idea that island living is the best type of living.
Outside of the main town of Lahaina, the beauty and ruggedness of the island’s volcanic origins can only top this feeling. Maui was formed millions of years ago, like the rest of the Hawaiian islands, from volcanic eruptions. What makes Maui even more unique is its double volcano. One of them, Haleakalā, is 8,000m tall from the bottom to the top, making it one of the tallest mountains in the world. The majority of the mountain is below the surface. From a Maui helicopter ride, the views of the caldera and the waterfalls built across the many drainage points are stunning. Haleakalā is capable of erupting in the future though it is considered dormant and last erupted at the end of the 18th century. The nature of the island, its volcanos, mountains and valleys give the island an evergreen look. Rain is common and weather changes a lot. It feels like a giant mythological God is watching over the island and keeping it modern but happily relaxed.
When I worked in Manila, I used to see the Hawaiian Airlines flight every week. As I was checking into my Manila-Dubai flight on Thursdays, Hawaiian was checking passengers to Honolulu just one hour after our flight. Eventually my curiosity won and I researched the flight and the possibility of traveling. At only one hour longer than my Dubai flight, Honolulu did not seem such an unrealistic option anymore.
That trip made me the coolest and luckiest person among my friends. It was slightly crazy, only forgiven by the fact that I was already flying 9h each way every week. My friend and colleague Anna came with me. She was flying from Australia. And so, from Manila and Sydney, we met in Maui. What an international and completely insane life we had back then. While my friends were going to London for the weekend I was going to Maui. What I did not realize at first is that Hawaii is on the other side of the date line so I would land before taking off. On the way back, I would lose an entire day that will never exist.
Maui’s split personality
After only a few hours on the island we realized that it had split personality.
In the South, chain resorts dominated the landscape and the beaches. Resort after resort lined up next to each other by the sea. Away from that area, the rest of Maui was a different world. Rough one lane roads with barely any traffic, curves without visibility, empty beaches. Some parts were so remote that we almost ran out of petrol. Most of the winding cliff-side roads were too narrow for more than one car. Peace was only disturbed by volcanic cliffs, natural pools and idyllic lookouts. We searched for a small roadside post selling banana cake and candy. We spotted a colorful food truck in the most impossible of locations. We descended down into natural lava pools. It seemed that Maui had something for us at every turn.
Driving on the north of the island along the coast was magical. We stopped at beaches filled with surfers trying their luck and watched them riding waves. I was mesmerized by the rhythmic moves and the coordinated dancing. Everybody was a surfer on Maui, from the eldest to the youngest. Parents took their kids, often not older than 2-3 years, to the beach to learn to surf.
The small tows along the main road were filled with organic shops, hippie markets, freshly baked produce, people chilling in the sun with a cup of coffee. At night, reggae and life music prevailed. Locals smiled, grinned even, from ear to ear, as if they knew that they lived in the world’s happiest place. Could this all be real?
Lahaina had vestiges of the missionaries and its whaling past. Very reminiscent of New Zealand’s Russell and the Maori history, Hawaii’s whaling history ended abruptly when petrol replaced whale oil. At its peak, the whaling industry could draw as much as 400 ships who would anchor for days on the island, as much as 100 vessels could be anchored in Lahaina at the same time bringing prostitution and alcohol. The beautiful buildings of that era, with their tall first floors, wooden structures, pillars and verandahs were still common in historical Lahaina, as were the references and pictures of Elvis Presley and the posted from the 50s and 60s.
On the West of the island, when we drove through the Hana Highway we saw some incredible scenery. From rugged mountain passes, narrow bridges, black sand beaches and dramatic waterfalls we criss-crossed streams and valleys. The drive was only 100km but it took over 3h because of the zigzagging road and the incredible landscapes prompting the traveler to stop frequently.
Maui served as proof that it is possible to preserve a way of life that balances modernization and peace. I doubted any local would want to leave the island for any American urban center.