Maui’s shores provide regular sunny escapes from dreary winters. This time, our getaway begins with several magical days in Wailuku, a charming town minutes from the island’s international airport.
Settled comfortably in a heritage inn, we soon discover Central Maui’s natural beauty, investigate its compelling past, and even savour culinary delights along the way, starting when local friends host a family-style dinner: delectable green papaya salad, succulent shrimp in a steaming Vietnamese hotpot, crisped whole fish and garden-fresh vegetables on delicate noodles.
At breakfast in the enclosed lanai next morning, everyone tucks into cheese-stuffed French toast sprinkled with mac-nuts; one guest gushes, “Some of us book stays according to Janice’s gourmet menus!” While lingering over aromatic Ulupono coffees, our innkeeper introduces her town, “When Westerners arrived, this was the favourite place of island royalty; thousands lived here in traditional thatched dwellings. Ancestors fished in outrigger canoes and extensively farmed taro, the root crop for making poi - still an important food for Hawaiians. For years, Wailuku remained Hawaii’s largest taro-growing town. This residence was built later, during the sugar industry’s heyday - as a wedding gift!”
Inspired, we head into Iao Valley, known as a sacred burial place for royalty and famed for legendary battles. Illustrated storyboards describe the decisive Battle of Kepaniwai. In an effort to unite the islands, the Big Island’s King Kamehameha swept through Kahului and Wailuku in 1790, challenging powerful King Kahekili’s supremacy - and ultimately annihilating Maui’s courageous forces. Legend recalls, “Iao stream ran red, carrying the blood of many brave warriors.”
Mark Twain loved hiking here. Robert Louis Stevenson even invented the word “viridescent” to describe its lush grandeur. A paved pathway leads us upward through this tumultuous greenery to a viewpoint offering spectacular vistas; Iao Needle rises 685 metres over the historic stream and verdant valley. Used as an early lookout and altar, this enduring volcanic pillar aptly marks the site of countless fallen warriors.
An amazing 10,000-millimetre annual rainfall creates this luxuriant landscape - and dangers. Prominent signs warn: FLASH FLOODS HAPPEN WITHOUT WARNING! A shaded lower path guides us past the normally murmuring creek, calm pools and tempting swimming holes. Though some hikers follow the dirt-side trails higher into the mists, our pathway loops gently back to the restored native gardens.
Mid-valley, we investigate Hawaii Nature Center’s natural history exhibits and, crossing a narrow bridge, take an interpretive walk into the rainforest. Sunlight filters through high leafy canopies evoking a mystic aura; golden guavas perfume the warm air. Winding along reconstructed footpaths, our guide comments, “I pick wild fruit here, those tiny mountain apples above us are delicious, and red ginger’s bud cups offer natural shampoo.” Noting stony remains of ancient habitation and re-established taro patches, she pauses to explain that according to island lore, Hawaiians were created from taro, making nutritious and tasty poi a sacred part of daily life.
At adjacent Kepaniwai Park, seven pavilions celebrate Hawaii’s multi-cultural population: a tiled Portuguese villa and outdoor oven; thatch-roofed native hale; Filipino bamboo house; New England saltbox home; decorative Korean gates; Chinese pagoda; Japanese teahouse and garden. Bringing unique traditions, waves of these settlers arrived to work the sugarcane fields. Like other families gathered in streamside picnic shelters for lunch, we nibble our fresh sushi as scarlet cardinals and mourning doves compete for tasty tidbits.
Next morning, we walk back in time, Re-Discover Wailuku Walking Tour maps firmly in hand. A block from our inn stands the island’s handsomest public school, constructed in Iao Valley stone in 1904 and the 1928 Wailuku Library, which started as a small reading club. Across the street, we admire the courthouse built in 1907 when Wailuku replaced Lahaina as county seat; down the way, the 1927 County building sits beside a large banyan tree commemorating settlement of a 1930s strike.
At the corner is Maui’s oldest stone church, named for Queen Ka’ahumanu an early Christian convert. It recognizes that Kamehameha’s preferred wife was instrumental in establishing Christianity throughout Hawaii. Beginning as a grass shack atop King Kahekili’s old heiau temple, this New England-style church and lofty white spire symbolizes quashing old beliefs while advancing the new religion; hymns here are still sung in Hawaiian.
On these grounds every third Thursday, Poki of KPOA radio sponsors free Hawaiian performances for large lunch crowds. Lining up with locals at tiny Ichiban Okazuya, we pick up plate lunches, a takeout staple since the plantation era. Picnicking on grilled mahi-mahi and teriyaki salmon under a centuries-old monkey pod tree, we listen to lilting Hawaiian melodies and watch story-telling hulas.
Nearby, Bailey House Museum reveals wonderful artifacts portraying ancient Hawaiian life: primitive weapons - sling stones, spears, swords and clubs - stone and shell tools and dishes; bone fishhooks; ornaments made from feathers, kukui nuts and whale teeth; tapa cloth and woven mats. In 1837, the Kamehamehas and their chiefs granted land adjacent to Kahekili’s old royal compound to missionaries, encouraging them to organize schools for instructing their people to read. Arriving to teach at the girls’ boarding school, Missionary Edward Bailey lived in this lava rock and ohia timber house until 1889.
The spinning wheel, writing desk, organ, koa bed, quilts, armoire, dressers, delicate bone china and Hawaiian Bible help us visualize mid-century missionary life - and subtly hint at changes in Hawaiian lifestyles to come. In his sitting room, Bailey’s paintings reflect early landscapes.
In the back garden, we marvel at an 1800’s fishing outrigger made from a single koa log, and a century-old redwood surfboard belonging to Duke Kahanamoku. This Olympic swimmer popularized surfing, previously an exclusive sport for royalty.
Downtown on Market Street, restored buildings and new blend together, integrating low-rise offices and eateries, unique galleries, boutiques, clothiers and antiques shops. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 1928 Iao Theater continues producing quality live shows from October to July. Perfumed plumeria trees and hedges of flowering hibiscus abound along winding backstreets and surrounding neighbourhoods. Shiplap plantation-style bungalows reflecting the prosperity of the '20s still outnumber modern homes.
Indulging in the unique Tour da Food on our last day, an expert foodie exposes us to a wide range of ethnic foods. Culinary surprises include Malasadas, mouthwatering Portuguese doughnuts; Mochi, traditional rice flour cake; crunchy taro chips and Miso butterfish a.k.a. Black Cod, a favourite.
At a supermarket, the “great wall of Spam” surprises us: turkey-Spam, bacon-Spam, cheese-Spam, hot and spicy Spam, hickory-flavoured Spam, garlic Spam and Spam lite! Original Spam recalls childhood comfort breakfasts, usually pan-fried with eggs and toast. Down another aisle, there’s Musubi, a “sushi” snack made from sticky rice, seaweed - and thinly sliced teriyaki Spam! An entire glass case displays poke, ahi-tuna marinated in a myriad of specialty sauces, often enjoyed as sunset suppers on the beach.
Just outside Wailuku, we stop at 60-acre Tropical Plantation for an overview of Maui’s current agriculture. Our narrated tram ride loops through sugarcane and orchid fields to orchards growing tasty avocados, guavas, mangos, pineapples, coffee and macadamia nuts. In the shop, we buy sweet apple-bananas, luscious dried papaya and Roselani ice cream, Maui-made from scratch since 1932.
Licking creamy mac-nut and pineapple-coconut cones, we reflect on days filled with riveting encounters and gastronomic experiences, agreeing that old town Wailuku offers a memorable way to start a Maui holiday!
MARCH 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER AND LOWER MAINLAND
WHEN YOU GO:
Maui Visitors Bureau - www.visitmaui.com for planning information.
Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono - www.mauiinn.com - historic award-winning B&B accommodations.
Find walking maps at Wailuku Main Street Association Resource Center - email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tour da Food - www.tourdafoodmaui.com for an illuminating custom experience.
Maui Nature Center - www.hawaiinaturecenter.org
Maui Arts & Cultural Center - www.mauiarts.org
A Saigon Café - for a menu of delicious food in a casual atmosphere.
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