The demi-god Maui is a household name from Tonga to the Society Islands, to the Marquesas to Hawaii. Something of a trickster, Maui had a place in his heart for mortals and is celebrated throughout the Pacific for such feats as giving fire to humans (after stealing it from its supernatural guardians) and fishing the islands of the Pacific from out of their watery depths. So great is his renown, in fact, that Maui is the only deity in Polynesia to currently have a major island named after him. (“Currently,” because the Hawaiian island of Kaho’olawe was in earlier times named for the god Kanaloa).
Formed by two giant shield volcanoes, when seen from above, Maui looks like the head and torso of a man. West Maui, the head, is the older portion of the island, and at one time the volcano that formed it was probably as large as Haleakala, the 10,023-foot-tall volcano whose flanks form the whole of East Maui’s “body.”
But time has done its part: Though it’s estimated the volcano that formed Maui’s head once had a crater some five miles across, eruptions, collapse and stream erosion so changed the landscape that Pu’u Kukui, the highest point in the West Maui mountains, now stands at 5,788 feet. The craggy landscape that replaced this once-massive volcano also helped give rise to Maui’s nickname: “The Valley Isle.”
The underwater valleys that once connected the islands of Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kaho’olawe are shallower than the surrounding ocean, providing shelter for an abundance of marine life — including the humpback whales that migrate to Hawaiian waters during winter months to give birth to their calves.
Temperatures on Maui range from 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, although the slopes of Haleakala Crater often see lows of 40 degrees. The lowest recorded temperature on Haleakala was 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
Points of Interest
Over the millennia Maui’s geography has changed even more drastically. Formed by six different volcanoes, Maui, Moloka’i, Lana’i and Kaho’olawe were once a single landmass known as Maui Nui (“Great Maui”). Rising sea levels eventually separated the islands, though they are still legally linked today — all are part of Maui County.
This varied landscape offers different climactic zones and societies. The Road to Hana gives us spectacular waterfalls and cliffs along rainforested East Maui. Haleakala, whose name translates as “House of the Sun,” is the largest dormant volcano in the world. Its crater has a depth of almost 3000 ft with its giant cinder cones inside. Then there’s upcountry’s cowboy town of Makawao, and Kula’s Lavender Farm and Keokea’s Tedeschi Wine Vineyard. Paia, a beach town of windsurfers located in the tropical north shore of Maui, is as charming as it is historic. Of course, West Maui’s magnificent beaches and the historic whaling town of Lahaina, along with South Maui’s luxury resort of Wailea are all part of what makes Maui the best island in the world.
Maui’s official flower is the loke lani (pink cottage rose).