Chapter 8 – Makena
Travelers-in-the-know flock to this southwest area of Maui for its tranquil beaches and the Makena Beach & Golf Resort, a destination in itself. Makena, which means “land of abundance and plenty” in Hawaiian, is home to one of Maui’s largest, and arguably best, beaches. Called Makena Beach State Park, it is more often referred to as Big Beach.
Just south of Wailea and a 50-minute drive from Lahaina, this crescent-shaped beach extends nearly two-thirds of a mile long and 100 yards wide. Though large, Big Beach has a secluded feel with golden sand as far as the eye can see, crystal-clear waters and location between two black-lava outcroppings that provide protection from the trade winds, as well as spectacular views of the islands Molokini and Kahoolawe.
It wasn’t until the 1980s, when construction began on The Makena Beach & Golf Resort, that the area saw a steady stream of visitors. Situated on 1,800 acres between Big Beach and Maui’s largest dormant volcano (Haleakala), this resort has it all—“a true Aloha experience,” as the resort promises. There are 310 rooms, all with ocean views and private lanais; an Asian meditation garden with stone paths, waterfalls, streams and koi ponds; world-class cuisine; spa; fitness center; pools with cabanas; and, of course, golf.
Although it’s only been in the past several decades that Makena has been a draw for travelers, the area has an interesting history that dates back to ancient times when native Hawaiians lived in small fishing villages along the coastline. It was slightly south of Makena that the first European—French explorer Jean-Francois de Galaup de La Pérouse—set foot on Maui. Visitors may note La Pérouse Bay, the site where he landed.
The area also served as an international shipping port used by Maui farmers to ship their crops. Up until 1948, paniolo (Hawaiian cowboys) from the upcountry would steer their herds down Haleakala’s slopes into the surf at Makena Landing in order to load the cattle onto barges setting sail for West Coast markets.
During World War II, Makena became a training and military exercise site. The U.S. Army built barracks, bunkers and the shoreline road. The historic pier at Makena Landing was also torn down, ceasing active trading in the area.
Besides its human history, Makena has an extraordinary geological history, which modern science, through carbon testing of lava, has been piecing together. About three miles south of Makena Beach & Golf Resort, visitors can take in Haleakala’s last lava flow which occurred between 400 and 500 years ago. A smooth, narrow road winds through a natural area reserve and then suddenly changes landscape into a mile-wide river of jagged rock formations or coastal lava field—ruin and beauty in one. Looking up to the volcano’s summit, there’s smoother lava flow at the top, then a mixture of smooth and rocky lava, and finally even more jagged lava that seems to tumble down Haleakala’s south side.
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