Lahaina, Maui, has experienced a significant evolution over the years. From a quiet patch of land, to capital of the royal Hawaiian kingdom, to a popular party spot for whalers and sailors, to the bustling tourist destination that it is today.
The city saw its first major development in 1802 when King Kamehameha I built his “Brick Palace”, marking the capital of his kingdom (encompassing all Hawaiian islands except Kauai). The culture of the area experienced a major upheaval with the arrival of American missionaries in 1820. In 1825 the whaling era began in Lahaina, bringing in sailors looking for a mid-Pacific rest stop. At that time, whaling of humpbacks was uncommon, as these and other fast-swimming whales were not accessible without steam engines and explosive harpoon heads. Later, the development of sugar cane plantations provided a major source of income in the area. In 1898 Hawaii officially became US territory, and in 1959 it became the 50th state, setting the stage for the tropical island chain to become a major tourism destination.
Today Lahaina is a must-see for visitors to Maui, and it’s waterside Front Street is world famous for it’s shopping, art galleries, and restaurant selection. It is also a major whale watching centre, and the harbour bustles with numerous tour operators. Immediately upon exiting the harbour, spouts are visible in all directions, as humpbacks flock to the warm, relatively shallow bowl formed between Hawaiian islands. It is because of this immediate abundance that most whale research organizations are based out of Lahaina, and also the reason why I am lucky enough to be living in this vibrant town today.
(Fun Fact: Lahaina averages 33cm of rain annually. Tofino’s annual rainfall? 3.25m. That’s nearly 10 times more rain!)