Most people drive right by Olowalu, on the Honoapiilani Highway 5 miles south of Lahaina; there's little to mark the spot but a small general store. Olowalu (Many Hills) was the scene of a bloody massacre in 1790. The Hawaiians stole a skiff from the USS Eleanora, took it back to shore here, and burned it for its iron parts. The captain of the ship, Simon Metcalf, was furious and tricked the Hawaiians into sailing out in their canoes to trade with the ship. As the canoes approached, he mowed them down with his cannons, killing 100 people and wounding many others.
Olowalu has great snorkeling around mile marker 14, where there is a turtle-cleaning station about 150 to 225 feet out from shore. Turtles line up here to have cleaner wrasses (small bony fish) pick off small parasites.
Located between the West Maui Mountains and the deep azure ocean offshore, Lahaina stands out as one of the few places in Hawaii that has managed to preserve its 19th-century heritage while still accommodating 21st-century guests.
In ancient times, powerful chiefs and kings ruled this hot, dry, oceanside village. At the turn of the 19th century, after King Kamehameha united the Hawaiian Islands, he made Lahaina the royal capital -- which it remained until 1845, when Kamehameha III moved the capital to the larger port of Honolulu.
In the 1840s, the whaling industry was at its peak: Hundreds of ships called into Lahaina every year. The streets were filled with sailors 24 hours a day. Even Herman Melville, who later wrote Moby-Dick, visited Lahaina.
Just 20 years later, the whaling industry was waning, and sugar had taken over the town. The Pioneer Sugar Mill Co. reigned over Lahaina for the next 100 years.
Today, the drunken and derelict whalers who wandered through Lahaina's streets in search of bars, dance halls, and brothels have been replaced by hordes of tourists crowding into the small mile-long main section of town in search of boutiques, art galleries, and chic gourmet eateries. Lahaina's colorful past continues to have a profound influence. This is no quiet seaside village, but a vibrant, cutting-edge kind of place, filled with a sense of history -- but definitely with its mind on the future.
Where to park for Free - or Next to Free - in Lahaina -- Lahaina is the worst place on Maui for parking. The town was created and filled with shops, restaurants, and historic sites before the throngs of tourists (and their cars) invaded. Street parking is hit or miss. You can either drive around the block for hours looking for a free place to park on the street or park in one of the nearly 20 parking lots. I've identified below the lots that are free for customers and those that offer a discount with validation.
Free for Customers: The three lots on Papalaua Street are all free for customers. The largest is the Lahaina Shopping Center lot, with 2 free hours with validation. Next in size is the Lahaina Center, across the street (which allows 4 hr. free, but you must get validation from a store in the Lahaina Center). The smallest is the Lahaina Square lot at Wainee Street, which offers 2 free hours for customers.
Discount with Validation: Customers of the Wharf Cinema Center, located on Front Street, can get a discount by parking at either of the theater's two lots -- both are between Dickenson and Prison streets, but one is on Wainee Street and the other on Luakini Street.
A Whale of a Place in Kaanapali
Heading north from Lahaina, the next resort area you'll come to is Kaanapali, which boasts a gorgeous stretch of beach. If you haven't seen a real whale yet, go to Whalers Village, 2435 Kaanapali Pkwy., an oceanfront shopping center that has adopted the whale as its mascot. You can't miss it: A huge, almost life-size metal sculpture of a mother whale and two nursing calves greets you. A few more steps, and you're met by the looming, bleached-white skeleton of a 40-foot sperm whale; it's pretty impressive.
On the second floor of the mall is the Whalers Village Museum (tel. 808/661-5992; www.whalersvillage.com/mallinfo.htm), which celebrates the "Golden Era of Whaling" from 1825 to 1860. Harpoons and scrimshaw are on display; the museum has even re-created the cramped quarters of a whaler's seagoing vessel. It's open during mall hours, daily from 10am to 6pm; admission is free.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.