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History of Lahaina and Looking Ahead

A brief history of Lahaina and how to support Maui respectfully and responsibly.

January 26, 2024

Lahaina continues to recover from the devastating wildfires of August 2023. The beach resorts near Lahaina on the northwestern coast of Maui have been slowly reopening to tourists since October 2023. However, the region is still in recovery. Prospective visitors are asked to be respectful and conscientious when visiting West Maui. 

History of Lahaina

Originally called Lele, this small town on Maui was later renamed Lahaina which means the “merciless sun” in the Hawaiian language. The island takes its own name from a Polynesian god of fire and was formed by the now-dormant volcano Puu Kukui and the still-active shield volcano Haleakala. 

King Kamehameha I established Lahaina as the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1795. This predates his unification of the Hawaiian islands in 1810. The little fishing village of Lahaina became an important whaling station and popular tourist spot during the 19th century. 

Growth of tourism 

Unified Hawaii blossomed as a vacation destination from the late 1800s and onwards. Tourism boomed during the 20th century as North Americans sought warmer climates and air travel became prevalent.

The Lahaina Banyan Tree was planted in 1873 and became emblematic of the town and its festivals. This beloved tree is being cared for by arborists and volunteers. 

Tourism in Lahaina has traditionally orbited around Front Street and the historic Mala Wharf. Lahaina is well-positioned for the beautiful beaches of West Maui. The beach resorts of Kaanapali and Launiupoko sit to the north and south of town. 

Photo by Max Harlynking on Unsplash

How to support Lahaina

Lahaina town and the surrounding area are gradually reopening to tourists. Families and businesses rely on the tourism economy and many are anxious to see normalcy return to northwest Maui. However, many residents of Lahaina continue to live in hotels where they’re rebuilding their lives and grieving.

If you plan on traveling to Maui, these are some recommendations on how to support the local community of Lahaina.

  • Pay attention to where tourists are permitted to go and avoid any prohibited areas. 
  • Be sensitive and respectful when taking photos in and around Lahaina.
  • Tip generously. 
  • Prioritize independent businesses and family-owned hotels. 
  • Enlist local guides as a means of connecting with local culture and history. 
  • Donate to local donation centers or online to the Maui Strong Fund or the American Red Cross of Hawaii.

Mālama Hawaii

Mālama is the practice of caring for the land and preserving traditional culture. The Mālama initiative invites travelers to give back while on vacation in Hawaii. Schemes on Maui include beach clean-ups and supporting animal sanctuaries. As part of the Mālama Maui Recovery program, visitors can partake in sorting and distributing food and donations. Volunteering with Mālama is the most responsible means of voluntourism.

Hotels near Lahaina welcoming tourists 

The Mauian Hotel in Lahaina’s Napili Bay is now open to North American and international tourists. Bamboo-accented beachfront and ocean-view studios come with private lanais and a beautiful granite kitchen for that pre-breakfast cup of coffee. The resort has beach access and a large pool amid the lush garden.  

Ho'oilo House, Maui’s most luxurious bed and breakfast, sits south of Lahaina town. All suites are individually styled: some overlook the Pacific Ocean, others have a deluxe indoor-outdoor bathroom, and another is devoted to the flamingo.

Contact Darby at Darby’s Destinations to discuss how to visit Lahaina and Maui responsibly.

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