Cultural tourism on Maui encapsulates art, architecture, food, age-old customs, Hawaiian language, the aloha spirit and much more. However, there is no better place to start a voyage of discovery into the islands history than touring its museums and cultural sites.
In the Lahaina area alone, there are 65 significant cultural sites, museums and buildings that tell its 500 year-old story. There is a colorful walking map and kiosks along the route. Here are a few highlights.
On the grounds of Lahaina’s original secondary school, Hale Pa’i, or “house of printing” is where text books were created. Along with print making exhibits, you can also view Hawaii’s ancient currency, the Dala.
The Lahaina Heritage Museum is located right across from Lahaina Harbor in the Old Lahaina Courthouse. The museum contains exhibits from pre-contact Hawai‘i to the Monarchy era, including the missionary and whaling period, and from the Plantation era to early tourism. Here you’ll find the original Hawaiian flag that was lowered on the day the US annexed Hawaii in 1898, plus photos and memorabilia dating back to Lahaina’s whaling days.
Why is there a Chinese museum in downtown Lahaina? Amid bustling restaurants and galleries of high end art, visit the Wo Hing Museum to discover how hard-working immigrants from China helped sculpt the island economy. Arriving on early whaling and merchant ships, Chinese men helped build tunnels, bridges and irrigation ditches throughout the island. Their work is most evident when you cross the bridges on the road to Hana. Irrigation on Maui still flows through troughs and tunnels built by Chinese labor.
Find out more about Lahaina museums and cultural sites by visiting the Lahaina Restoration Foundation.
Interested in learning more about humpback whales? The Hawaiian Islands Humpback National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center in Kihei has a sweeping view of distant islands and Ma‘alaea Bay, you may even catch a whale breach from this beachfront location. Recently renovated, the visitor center currently showcases temporary exhibits, while permanent exhibits are still being planned for the future.
The old Bailey House Museum in Wailuku, now called Hale Hō’ike’ike, is the largest repository of ancient island artifacts on the island. There are rooms of pieces dating to before European arrival through period pieces from 19th century missionaries. Among iconic cultural pieces is a surfboard that belonged to Duke Kahanamoku. Hale Hō’ike’ike is also and excellent place for researchers to pour through document archives, many of which have been digitized.
It took more than dirt, sun, and rain to make Maui green. The Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum explores the lives of men and women who supported the sugar industry. Exhibits include plantation life, and stories of the immigrants who came to Hawaii from around the world to cultivated the fields, work in the mills and lived in cultural communities with the all the basic necessities provided by the company. It’s a fascinating look into a bygone era since the last sugar mill in Hawaii, located across from the museum, closed in December 17, 2016. In addition to artifacts and interactive displays indoors, the museum grounds have a walking tour of sugar industry equipment, including a cane hauler, tractors and a cane grabber.
From ranches to rodeo, upcountry Maui is Paniolo territory, or the Hawaiian cowboy. Capt. George Vancouver gave a handful of longhorn cattle to King Kamehameha I, the first ruler of a unified Hawaii. The king put a kapu — an order of protection that is both sacred and legal — on the animals, forbidding them from being slaughtered. The longhorns flourished all to well, and were soon ravaging towns and destroying fields. The king’s son brought in vaqueros, skilled horsemen of Spanish descent, from Mexico. They were nicknamed Paniolo, thought to derive from the word Espanoles.
There are two great places to learn more about the roping and riding Paniolos that flavor upcountry communities today- the Makawao History Museum in a town where hitching posts still line the streets, and Maui Wine in Ulupalakua, set among Ulupalakua Ranch where horse trailers rattle down the road and horseback ranch hands dot the fields. Both have exception historical displays.
Finally, fortify your cultural knowledge in Maui’s most Hawaiian place, Hana, Maui. Take a break after the windy road and visit the Hana Cultural Center and Museum. Learn of the towns history, maintaining its cultural identity as a rural agricultural and fishing village, while living with a growing tourism industry. It’s a land of ranchers and an ancient retreat for Hawaiian royalty.