Travel to Hana used to be a little problematic. Once, the only way to get to the historic community was by sea or by driving the beautiful and famously twisting Road to Hana from Paia. Today, Hana Hawaii is accessible by air from the Big Island, Oahu, and from Maui’s main airport in Kahului.
Because of its sheltered bay, safe anchorage, and excellent fishing Hana travel was popular with Polynesian and other Pacific mariners for centuries before Europeans arrived on the island. Until the gravel road from Kahului was completed in 1927, ocean access was the only way to reach the isolated area. This is where Captain James Cook’s ships anchored in 1778. These strange visitors riding the waves on what the Hawaiians thought were heiau, or temples, of the god Lono, were greeted by the Maui Chief Kalaniopuu and the young man who would later become King Kamehameha I and unite the Hawaiian islands. The future king’s future wife, the beloved Kaahumanu, was born in one of the caves along the Hana coast. These caves and lava tubes are Hana attractions today, and there are several outfitters in town who offer tours.
As queen, Kaahumanu converted to Christianity and was instrumental in allowing missionaries to settle and set up churches throughout the islands—a move that changed the course of Hawaii’s history. Hana travel by missionaries began in the early 1820s, when they first arrived from Massachusetts and other New England states.
The sons of two prominent missionaries, Samuel Alexander and Henry Baldwin, founded the island’s first sugar cane plantation and mill in Paia. Sugar cane had been planted by the native Hawaiians in Hana, and another plantation was set up in 1849 at what is now the Hotel Hana-Maui. This was the first sugar plantation in Hawaii and is what saved the island from obscurity when the capital of the islands was moved from Lahaina to Honolulu. For nearly 75 years, sugar reigned supreme on the island, contributing to the downfall of the venerable Hawaiian monarchy and the establishment of the islands as a territory of the United States and ruled by Sanford Dole (of today’s worldwide Dole fruit empire) and his fellow plantation owners.
It was American Paul Fagan who first thought a Hana vacation was desirable. He purchased the original sugar plantation in 1944 and transformed it into a huge cattle ranch. He then founded the Kauiki Inn, forerunner of the current hotel. Hana travel quickly became popular among wealthy mainlanders, and the inn became one of the first beach resorts in Hawaii. Today one of the attractions of a Hana vacation is the breathtaking view from the 545-foot summit of Puu o Kahaula, known as Lyon’s Hill and where a large lava cross, called Fagan’s Cross, was built as a memorial to him after his death in 1960. The road is often closed to vehicle traffic, but the view is worth the long, steep climb. It was Fagan’s genius for marketing that gave Hana the name that still sticks—Heavenly Hana.
Today there are numerous attractions and things to do in Hana Hawaii, including visiting the Haleakala Crater at the 10,000-foot summit of the House of the Sun volcano. Don’t bring home a souvenir piece of lava from the sleeping giant. Legend has it that the volcano goddess Pele will bring bad luck to anyone who takes a piece away. While this may be debatable, it is a fact that National Park headquarters regularly receives lumps of lava mailed back from all corners of the world, as the tourists found bad luck dogging their footsteps after removing them. The huge park includes miles of wilderness hiking trails, and the coastal region of the park is filled with lush forests and waterfalls.
As the sugar industry declined, the plantation owners were instrumental in turning the cane refuse area outside of Lahaina into the prime resort area of Kaanapali. And Alexander and Baldwin turned the arid part of their holdings into the resort of Wailea Beach. Both of these transformations occurred in the 1970s. Within 30 years, more than 2 million visitors a year came to Maui, and a Hana vacation became among the most popular of all Maui destinations. Today, you can visit Hana Hawaii and join other notable visitors such as Charles Lindbergh, George Harrison, and Woody Harrelson. Another of the popular Hana attractions is the Kahanu Garden of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, which also has two gardens and a nature preserve on the island of Kauai.