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Maui is the second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands at 727 square miles (1883 km²). Maui was named for the demi-god Maui who, according to legend, raised all the Hawaiian Islands from the sea. It is also known as the "Valley Isle" for the large fertile isthmus between two volcanoes.

Maui is part of the State of Hawai'i and had a resident population of 134,007 in mid-2002; second only in the state to O'ahu. The population is diverse, with many ethnic groups having originally arrived in the islands to work sugar cane and pineapple plantations from countries of the Western Pacific rim. Maui is part of Maui County, the other islands comprising the county being Lana'i, Kaho'olawe, and Moloka'i. The larger towns on Maui island include Kahului, Wailuku, Lahaina, and Kihei. See Maui County for a list of towns.

Ī'ao Valley


Polynesians, from Tahiti and the Marquesas, were the original peoples to populate Maui. The Tahitians introduced the kapu system, a strict social order that affected all aspects of life and became the core of Hawaiian culture. The mid 1700s began the modern Hawaiian history. King Kamehameha I took up residence (and later made his capital) in Lahaina after conquering Maui in the bloody Battle of Kepaniwai in 1790 in the Ī'ao Valley.

Captain James Cook "discovered" Maui on November 26, 1778. In Cook's wake came traders, whalers, loggers (e.g., of Sandalwood) and missionaries. The missionaries began to arrive from New England in 1823, choosing Lahaina because it was the capital. They clothed the natives, banned them from dancing hula, and greatly altered the culture. They tried to keep whalers and sailors out of the bawdy houses. The missionaries taught reading and writing, created the 12-letter Hawaiian alphabet, started a printing press in Lahaina, and began writing the islands' history, until then existing only in oral accounts. They started the first school in Lahaina, which still exists today: Lahainaluna Mission School. The Mission school opened in 1831 and was the first secondary school to open West of the Rockies.

Looking into Haleakala "crater"

At the height of the whaling era (1840-1865), Lahaina was a major whaling centre with anchorage in Lahaina Roads; in one season over 400 ships visited Lahaina and the greatest number of ships berthed at one time was about 100. A given ship tended to stay months rather than days which explains the drinking and prostitution in the town at that time. Whaling declined steeply at the end of the 19th century as crude oil came on-stream.

Kamehameha's descendants reigned in the islands until 1872. They were followed by rulers from another ancient family of chiefs, including Queen Liliuokalani who ruled in 1893 when the monarchy was overturned. One year later, the Republic of Hawaii was founded. The island was annexed by the United States in 1898 and made a territory in 1900. Hawai'i became the 50th state in U.S. in 1959.

Maui was centrally involved in the Pacific War of World War II (as a staging centre, training base and for R&R), and at its peak in 1943-44 the number of troops stationed on Maui exceeded 100,000; the main base of 4th Marines was in Haiku. Beaches (e.g., in Kihei) were used for practice landings and training in marine demolition and sabotage.

Modern Development

The island has experienced rapid population growth in recent years (e.g., 4.6% in 2001/2002) with Kihei one of the most rapidly growing towns in the U.S. (see chart). The growth is occurring because many people, having visited Maui, decide to move or retire to the island.

Maui County Population, 1960-2000
Total 42,576 45,984 70,847 100,374 128,094
Change 3,408 24,863 29,527 27,720
Percent Change 8.0% 54.1% 41.7% 27.6%
source: CensusScope 2000 Census analysis

Population growth, the influx of new people typically from Canada and the U.S. mainland, is producing strains, including growing congestion on many of the major roads. There is concern about the availability of affordable housing and access to water. The problem of affordable housing is that property prices have risen to levels that families on average incomes find difficult to afford (either renting or buying). Property developers are believed to have insufficient regulatory and financial incentive to build less expensive (affordable) homes. Maui County Council has been investigating ways of changing the situation.

There have been long-term concerns about the reliability of supply of potable water: droughts have been declared in most recent years and the Iao aquifer has been drawn down at what are believed may be unsustainable rates (above 18 million gallons per day). Whilst the situation remains unclear, and reliable supply has not been secured, recent estimates indicate that the total potential supply of potable water on Maui is (at an estimated 476 million gallons per day) many times greater than foreseeable demand.

There is a great deal of discussion about the meaning of, and the way to achieve, smart development. There is understood to be a tension between economic growth and urbanisation on the one hand, and the wish to preserve the beauty of Maui and a relaxed way of life on the other. In the past there was a pro-growth bias in policy with developers and politicians working to stimulate the economy; now the balance has swung toward more sensitive consideration of community concerns (about the dangers of unwise growth/development) and developers no longer have everything their own way.


The major industries are agriculture and tourism. Maui Land & Pineapple and Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar (HC&S - a subsidiary of Alexander and Baldwin Company) dominate agricultural activity. HC&S produces sugarcane on about 37,000 acres of the Maui central valley, the largest sugarcane operation remaining in Hawai'i. The cane is irrigated mostly with water drawn from aqueducts that run from the windward (northern) slopes of Haleakala that receive considerable rainfall. A controversial feature of sugarcane production is the burning that is done for about 9 months of the year. These are controlled burns of fields to reduce the crop to bare canes just before harvesting. The fires produce smoke that towers above the Maui central valley most early mornings, and ash (locally referred to as "Maui snow") that is carried downwind (often towards Kihei).

The retail center for Maui residents is Kahului.

Maui is also an important centre for astronomy with the Haleakala High Altitude Observatory Site being one of the five best astronomical and space surveillance sites in the world.


Maui is a volcanic doublet: an island formed from two volcanic mountains that abut one another. The older volcano, Mauna Kahalawai, is much older and has been eroded considerably; it is called the West Maui Mountains. The larger volcano, Haleakala, rises above 10,023 feet (3,050 m). The last eruption of Haleakala occurred in ca. 1790, and this lava flow can be viewed between 'Ahihi Bay and La Perouse Bay on the southwest shore of East Maui. Both volcanoes are shield volcanoes and the low viscosity of the Hawaiian lava makes the likelihood of large explosive volcanic eruptions negligible.


At sea level Maui has a remarkably stable tropical climate with highs in the region of 80-85 fahrenheit and lows around 65-70 fahrenheit; rainfall is greater in the northern hemisphere winter (wet season is November through April). However, because of the two volcanoes that dominate the topography of the island, Maui has a very wide range of climatic conditions depending on elevation and whether an area faces toward or away from the prevailing trade winds (blowing from the north east). For example the top of the West Maui mountain receives over 400 inches of rainfall per year whereas Kihei receives less than 10 inches, being in the rain shadow of Haleakala (see Orographic precipitation); Kahului airport (the main airport on Maui) has average rainfall of about 19 inches whereas Olinda (upcountry above Makawao) receives about 73 inches.

Maui has an unusual weather feature known as the Maui vortex, an area of clear sky that often forms over Pukalani due to the swirling of air (a vortex) as it enters the central valley after being forced to rise and move around Haleakala.

Maui, like the whole of Hawaii, has a hurricane season in the late summer and fall, with the storms typically approaching from the south-east. Storms initiated by hurricanes or tropical depressions that approach from the south-east are known locally as Kona storms.


Maui welcomed 2,225,060 tourists in 2002. The main tourism centres are Lahaina to Kapalua and Kihei-Wailea, each of which has luxury resort hotels. Whereas O'ahu is most popular with Japanese tourists, Maui tends to appeal especially to visitors from the US mainland and Canada.

Maui is a leading whale-watching center in the Hawaiian Islands due to the fact that many Humpback whales winter in the sheltered channel waters between the islands of Maui county. The whales migrate approximately 3,500 miles from Alaskan waters each autumn and spend the northern hemisphere winter months in the warm waters off Maui. The whales are typically sighted in pods: small groups of several adults and one or more calves. Humpbacks are an endangered species protected by U.S. federal and Hawai'i state law. There are estimated to be about 3000 humpbacks in the North Pacific.

Among the many features on Maui popular with tourists are the "Road to Hana" (the drive from the central valley to Hana and beyond), the drive up to Haleakala crater, Makawao (and Maui's Upcountry region), the Ī'ao Valley, and Lindbergh's grave (near Kaupo on East Maui).

Road to HānaWai'ānapanapa

The Maui Chamber of Commerce issues medals, called Maui Dollars, that can be used as currency in local shops and are valued as collectables.

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