Pedaling Paradise: Cycling Hawaii’s First Capital in Lahaina, Maui
Renting beach cruisers off gridlocked Hoapilani Highway, my wife Chris and I don beaked blue helmets and navigate our way into the heart of Hawaii’s first capital, Lahaina on the beautiful island of Maui. Rolling past fellow tourists stuck in traffic, I recall Joni Mitchell’s catchy lyrics they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
Mitchell's 1973 experience in Hawaii inspired Big Yellow Taxi, an anthem for environmentalists. Using a modicum of asphalt, cyclists like us will help preserve its green serenity. Why drive here? On this Eden bikes can accomplish errands and terrific adventures.
Breathing in the fresh salty air, we soon arrive in the dead center of town. Pausing along narrow Wainee Street, we check out two heritage cemeteries strewn with flowers and shell leis. If passing motorists wished to stop and investigate these historic sites, they’d face grave difficulties parking.
High coral walls enclose nearby Hale Pa’ahao or “Stuck-in-irons-house.” Wheeling into the old prison’s open gates and large courtyard, we lean our cruisers against the remaining cellblock. Peering into a white washed cell, we see a hard narrow cot and iron shackles draping a wall. Beside the barred door an 1850’s document cites confinements for ship desertion, adultery, drunkenness and dangerous horseback riding.
Outside, a tall tree tempts me with plump, yellow papayas. At the entry a more generous tree dropped a treasure of golden mangos. Thus during my prison stay, I become a mango thief. Or did I only respond naturally while in Eden? After stowing this tasty fruit, Chris spies several humungous avocados lying listless along the lane. Removing two of these buttery treats from harm’s way, I secure them in my bike basket and pedal onward.
A rich multicultural legacy embraces Lahaina. In fact a Buddhist temple stands nearby, twin pagoda towers flanking its main entrance. The bronzed founder of their Japanese Buddhist sect, Jodo Shinshu stands adorned with shell leis in the center of the Hongwanji Mission.
Ahead missionary families eternally rest with Hawaiian royalty, commoners and seafarers in Waiola Churchyard. Skirting Shaw to Front Street we see playing fields created upon a former 14-acre freshwater pond.
Maui chiefs and three Hawaiian kings lived for centuries upon its little island. And Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, Queen Liliokalani was raised nearby in a grass house. At this site a welcoming sign beckons us into the present open-air Episcopal Church. Many visitors like us step inside to view the painting of the Hawaiian Madonna above its rare koa wood altar.
Stopping under Lahaina’s huge banyan tree, Pacific islanders gather to fashion new canoes during the annual Festival of Canoes which takes place in May. A Maori artisan explains to us how the carved, many hued designs of these crafts reflect their ancient lore. Leaving Chris amidst the artistic hubbub, I slip into Lahaina’s Courthouse to view artifacts at its small museum and pick up the visitor center’s free walking guides.
Since 1859 this venerable building served as customs house, post office, police station and courtroom. From 1820 to 1860 hundreds of whaling ships anchored in Lahaina harbor. When missionaries stopped Hawaiian women from visiting these ships in 1831, sailors lobbed cannonballs into town. So a coral stone fortification was constructed, protecting Lahaina for over two decades. Corner remnants of this fort still flank the courthouse.
Using the visitor guide, we sweep past the busy waterfront into a shady park. We locate the tile floor remains of Kamehameha III’s brick palace and the nearby hauola stone, a sacred healing place used in royal birthing. Local cyclists relax around the former royal compound. Leaning against trees, some read books from Lahaina’s nearby library. Seeing their cruisers, we feel part of the town’s bike subculture. And, as wheelie tourists, we’re soon studying the many bronze heritage plaques on turn-of-the-century buildings that line bustling Front Street. Maui’s icon, the Pioneer Inn expanded over the years, without ever losing its 1901 style.
Across the street, built of coral, stone and wood Baldwin Mission Home represents Lahaina’s oldest surviving structure. Inside this former medical and missionary center, the curator informs us the surrounding furnishings were mostly payments from Dr. Baldwin’s patients. An array of medical, dentistry and veterinarian instruments reflects his varied services. And on the piano a fascinating range of sheet music suggests his home once buzzed with social gatherings.
Asking about the Baldwins’ social status, the curator declares, “…Doctor Dwight Baldwin saved thousands during this island’s smallpox epidemic with rigorous quarantines and recently developed vaccinations.” I inquire about his assumed wealth. She smiles. “Dr. Baldwin had little. Yet his youngest son Henry and a friend invested in acreage around Paia. They engineered a remarkable ditch to irrigate their sugarcane. This successful venture resulted in the famed Baldwin fortune.”
In the next block, Lahaina’s further development is literally enshrined at Wo Hing Temple. When Chinese sugarcane workers arrived, they formed a fraternal society and constructed this two-story temple. Interesting artifacts include the upstairs Taoist Altar and bronze incense burner. Downstairs, we cross the lawn into its community cookhouse. Gigantic rusty woks surround us as we absorb the romance of old Hawaii in two of Thomas Edison’s earliest movies.
At an ocean view restaurant, we feed an historic hunger, savor the seascape and speculate on other cyclists swooping by. “Why did they choose to use bicycles?” I muse. Fanning her pretty face, Chris replies, “Maybe they like the natural air conditioning.” Like us, they must like to be high in the saddle enjoying an unbeatable 360-degree island panorama. And they’re avoiding Lahaina’s traffic snarls and parking hassles. Being car free often means going carefree.
Refueled and reenergized, we ride northward and turn onto Ala Moana Street to visit Lahaina’s Jodo Mission. Its extensive gated courtyard embraces a large temple bell, tall pagoda, temple and impressive Amida Buddha. Completed in 1968, the huge bronze Buddha commemorated the centennial of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. The site offers a serene beauty and inspires meditation. Similar to other religions, Jodo Buddhism offers the tao of personal salvation. Their insights also seem very cycle logical: “Life is a bumpy road, but can be enjoyable.”
A short pedal up the gentle slope of busy Papalaua Street brings us to Hilo Hattie’s. Named after a famed 1950’s Honolulu entertainer, the first Hilo Hattie store opened on Kauai in 1963 as a “fun” island venture. The fun begins for us in the reception area where floral muumuu-ed ladies greet us with “Aloha!” placing shell leis on our necks and offering samples of cold tropical juice, hot Kona coffee and tasty macadamia nuts. Every Hawaiian product imaginable may be found in this pleasantly air-conditioned and vibrantly arrayed emporium. Our bike baskets overflowing with tropical salsa, floral mug, native fish t-shirt and Maui chips, we head for the day’s final destination.
Located across from Hilo Hattie lies Lahaina’s exclusive Hawaiian museum. Strolling freely through outdoor Hale Kahiko, we read about the native plants surrounding its three pili grass-clad houses. Investigating the ancient craft hale, men’s eating hale and sleeping hale, we try to visualize this close-knit community. A placard explains Hawaiians’ concept of malama puno, which respects all of nature and supersedes selfish destructive pursuits.
Island officialdom now encourages visitors to use bicycles welcoming cyclists with widened road shoulders and friendly signage. Saving today’s paradise from becoming a parking lot may well depend on malama puno and the tao of transport. Generally a healthy way to get around, bikes enabled us to very pleasantly investigate Lahaina’s fascinating history.
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Both retired educators, Rick and Chris Millikan now share their world travel adventures with newspaper, magazine and travel-zine audiences. Living a robust life on the west coast of Canada, they often write about cycling experiences enjoyed in British Columbia and elsewhere. Reflecting on sunny visits to the South Pacific, they have recently become travel columnists for the Fiji Times Canada.