Did you know that Hawaii used to have its own currency? Or that Chinese immigrants built the flumes on the Road to Hana? Have you ever seen Duke Kahanamoku’s surfboard, or heard the stories of families who lived through the 1946 tsunami?
You can find all this info and more at Maui’s museums, which are not only great for spending rainy days, but also for learning about the fascinating history and events that have shaped the island.
While it’s possible to spend an entire vacation exploring Maui’s museums, you can easily expand your knowledge of Maui in as little as five or ten minutes. If you’re planning a whale watch from Lahaina Harbor, pop across the street to the Lahaina Courthouse Museum. At this museum, learn about the history of Lahaina and see the Hawaiian flag that was lowered the day that Hawaii became an American territory. Also in Lahaina is the Baldwin Home Museum, built in 1834. Aside from being Maui’s oldest house, Baldwin Home offers a window into daily life for the island’s earliest missionaries. To learn the history of Maui’s Chinese—including the travels of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, who lived on Maui before eventually becoming the founder of modern China—visit the Wo Hing Museum on Front Street.
On the hillside above Lahaina, the Hale Pai Printing Museum is another one of Maui’s interesting attractions. Set on the grounds of Lahainaluna High School—which is also America’s oldest high school west of the Rocky Mountains—Hale Pai is dedicated to the impact of the printing press on Hawaii. Since Hawaii lacked written language when missionaries arrived, an alphabet was created so that bibles, hymns, and religious materials could help the missionaries gain converts. The religious component aside, however, a written language also brought newspapers, a constitution, and laws. The original printing press is still on display inside this tiny museum.
Over in Wailuku, by Iao Valley, visitors can learn about ancient Hawaii at Hale Hoikeike, which features displays of 19th century settlers living in Hawaii. See how early homes were furnished, and marvel at archaeological finds that date back to Hawaii’s original Polynesian settlers.
The Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum, set at the base of the Puunene sugar mill, teaches visitors about the influence of the sugar industry on Maui’s island community. Hear the stories of immigrant families from Japan, the Philippines, and Portugal, as well as the logistics of operating a plantation of 36,000 acres.
Finally, visitors to Hana should stop in the Hana Cultural Center and Museum that’s right in the center of this small community. Combined with a one-room courthouse that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Hana Cultural Center and Museum tells the stories of local families whose lives were changed when a tsunami struck the town in 1946. It also explains how Hana, historically, was politically closer to the Big Island of Hawaii than the ruling chiefs of Maui. You can spend as little as 15 minutes exploring the small museum, and supplement your trip to Hana with some knowledge to accompany the waterfalls and sights.