Chapter 7 – Lahaina
An historic whaling town, Lahaina was once the whale capital of the world as well as the royal capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom. With its famous Front Street—ranked one of the “Top Ten Greatest Streets” by the American Planning Association—that runs through its downtown, Lahaina still exudes an old-world vibe. More than 55 acres of Lahaina have been designated as historic districts.
Among the must-see historic stops are the U.S. Seamen’s Hospital, Hale Paaho (Lahaina Prison), Lahaina Lighthouse (oldest lighthouse in the Pacific) and the Pioneer Inn—Hawaii’s oldest hotel, built in 1901.
Although now completely remodeled and operated by Best Western, the Pioneer Inn’s turn-of-the-century architecture still conveys the essence of old whaling days and the plantation era of the mid-1800s. During this time, it is said up to 1,500 sailors on 400 ships took leave in Lahaina. It was also this time and place that inspired Herman Melville to write his classic Moby Dick.
Just across from the Pioneer Inn is a recreation of the “Carthaginian II,” a 19th-century whaler ship that was converted into a museum of whaling. From 1980 to 2005, the steel hull ship floated dockside and displayed many artifacts related to the whaling industry that thrived around Lahaina during the “golden era of whaling.” In 2005, the ship was sunk 100 feet below water, where it’s now a submarine tourist and diver attraction.
Located on the West Maui coast along Hawaii Route 30, Lahaina is still one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Because the waters off West and South Maui are shielded by the West Maui Mountains and Haleakala (Maui’s highest peak), the waters are calm and clear, providing excellent visibility. Humpback Whales, in particular, are abundant, as they are drawn to the area’s shallow waters, less than 600 feet deep. The winter whale watching season from December to May is the perfect time to set sail from Lahaina Harbor on a whale watching tour.
Besides whale watching, Lahaina has a prominent art market with dozens of art galleries. Every Friday in Lahaina is Art Night. From 7 to 10 p.m. along and around Front Street, all of the galleries open their doors to the public. Visitors can peruse the art pieces, chat with the artists and listen to music. Many types of unique art abound in Lahaina, including ceramics, handcrafted woodwork and jewelry. Not surprisingly, Lahaina is also one of the world’s largest markets for scrimshaw, the whalers’ art of carving on ivory.
A few galleries to check out are the Old Jail Gallery run by the non-profit Lahaina Arts Society, home to 185 member artists; Village Galleries, Maui’s oldest gallery; and Martin Lawrence Galleries, which showcases kinetic sculptures and pop art. There’s also Lahaina Printsellers, where you can find collections of maps, prints and engravings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
For the ultimate cultural experience, don’t miss Ulalena at the Maui Theatre. This world-renowned production tells the story of Hawaii’s people by combining ancient Hawaiian history with state-of-the-art theater technology, along with stunning music, chant, dance and acrobatics.
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