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Extremes in the Middle of Maui

The broad green plain between the magnificently sculpted West Maui Mountains and the massive slopes of Haleakala Volcano gave Maui its nickname, "The Valley Isle." The Hawaiians called the isthmus Kula-o-ka-Mao-Mao, The Land of Mirages. Two of Maui's principal cities, Kahului and Wailuku lie three miles apart but any resemblance to each other is purely illusion.

Wailuku, Maui's county seat, is the older of the sister cities, sleepy, picturesque and full of local charm. In ancient times it was guarded by two temples that still afford spectacular views of the city and surrounding countryside. Both are on the National Register of Historic Places, as are many buildings in the center of town. Wailuku is the birthplace of some of Maui's most famous citizens, among them Keopuolani, the most sacred wife of Kamehameha the Great and Jesse Kuhaulua, the sumo champion known as Takamiyama.

The Bailey House Museum, an 1833 missionary home, has a wonderful collection of landscape paintings done by Edward Bailey during the period from 1866 through 1896. There is also a collection of Hawaiian and missionary artifacts providing a fascinating window on the past.

Neighboring Kahului is much younger and unencumbered by history. Built in the 1950s by the plantation company Alexander and Baldwin, it was hailed as a "Dream City," providing affordable housing for plantation workers. Its tidy streets fan out on the plain. It has become Maui's major population center with subdivisions and shopping malls. It boasts the island's only deep- water port for shipping, and Maui's principal and recently modernized airport.

As the jets descend to a landing, passengers are greeted with their first vision of Maui. They see clouds billowing on dramatic mountain tops and fields of green sugarcane stretching to the distant hills. The scene is repeated from new and breathtaking angles as they leave the terminal. There's always a breeze, and the scent of flowers. It's a magic moment.

Behind the sister cities the land narrows and curls into the mountains, forming the most magnificent valley on the island, Iao, Maui's Valley of the Kings. Few places in Hawaii are more sacred. Mark Twain, in a euphoric moment called Iao "The Yosemite of the Pacific."

Most visitors drive into the valley, view the famous Iao Needle, a 1200-foot green monolith that pierces the mist, then leave, missing the real splendor of the valley carved over the course of 10,000 lifetimes by the forces of wind and water and the flow of `Iao's waters.

Moonstones sparkle in the stream bed and wild orchids cheer the banks. Hiking trails lead through stands of giant tree fern, ti and ohia. At the head of the valley is a natural amphitheater, the caldera of the original volcano that formed Maui.

Two hundred years ago, one of the most famous battles in Hawaiian history was fought here when Kamehameha conquered the island and added it to his expanding Hawaiian nation.

Kepaniwai Gardens is named for the battle. Kepaniwai is actually a collection of ethnic gardens and pavilions representing the various groups that have settled on Maui. Included are Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and American gardens.

At Maui Tropical Plantation, near Wailuku, visitors are introduced to Maui's commercial crops, pineapple, sugarcane, macadamia nuts, guava, and banana. There are tram rides, evening barbecues and a nursery.

The Hawaii Nature Center offers free trail maps and guided hikes into `Iao Valley. It's a chance to walk right into that magical vision perceived at the moment of first contact with Maui.


Hawaii Nature Center, Jim Morgan, Manager, 875 Iao Valley Road, Wailuku, HI 96793, 808-244-6500.

Maui Historical Society, Cathy Riley, Executive Director, 2375-A Main Street, Wailuku, HI 96793; 808-244-3326.

Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum, Gaylord Kubota, Executive Director, 3957 Hansen Road, Puunene, HI; 808-871-8058

Article Courtesy of the Maui Visitors Bureau

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