Not far from the resort towns to the west and south of the island is the heart of central Maui – Wailuku. This is an area that is steeped in the aura of old-world Hawaii, where battles were fought and early missionaries came to settle. Wailuku is located on the lush, green mountainside, and then stretches down to the sea.
This area is not only rich in beauty, but also in history, culture, and the heritage of the island. Wailuku means “water of destruction,” and is fitting due to the fact that one of Hawaii’s most famous and fiercest battles was fought here. In 1790, King Kamehameha sought to add Maui to his Hawaiian empire, and was met by fiery Maui warriors.
Today, Wailuku remains as Maui's center for business and government. It offers island visitors a taste of the historic past, as well as a promise of the future. Vacationers can experience some of this region’s history at the Ka’ahumanu Church, the oldest existing stone church on Maui. This church was built to honor King Kamehamena’ wife, who was an early convert to Christianity and was instrumental in the conversion of the Hawaiian people. You can still experience Sunday morning services there to this day, where the Hawaiian congregation sings hymns in their native language. Edward Bailey, a missionary, sugar cane cultivator and painter, supervised the construction of the church in 1879. More information on Bailey, and his impact on the cultural, spiritual, and artistic elements of the island of Maui can be found at The Bailey House Museum.
Up the road from the church, you will find the mystical and scenic Iao Valley State Park, one of Maui’s most beautiful destinations.
Downtown Wailuku is in the process of renovation and is being replenished with intriguing art galleries, retail shops, cafés, and restaurants. Market Street, known as Maui’s “Antique Row,” is a place to discover treasures, specialty items that can not be found anywhere else in the world. This is also the home of the historic Iao Theater. Built in 1928, the theater is noteworthy for being the oldest theater building in Hawaii. In 1995, it was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Famous names such as Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra played USO shows here during World War II, and the premiere for the film From Here to Eternity was also held there.
Dining in Wailuku is an international adventure, with restaurants boasting cuisines from the four corners of the earth. Whether you are in the mood for zesty Mexican food, fresh seafood, crispy Thai noodles, or anything in between, you will find some of the best and most affordable restaurants that Maui has to offer.