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The History of Honolua Bay

In northwest Maui, the district the ancients called Kaʻānapali, there are six hono bays (uniting of the bays,) which are legendary: from South to North, Honokowai (bay drawing fresh water), Honokeana (cave bay), Honokahua (sites bay,) Honolua (two bays), Honokohau (bay drawing dew) and Hononana (animated bay).

This area was likely settled between 600-1100 AD. By about the 15th century, all of Nā Hono were under the realm of Pi’ilani, the ruling chief of Maui, Kahoʻolawe, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi.

During his reign, Piʻilani gained political prominence for Maui by unifying the East and West of the island, bringing rise to the political status of Maui.

Piʻilani’s power eventually extended from Hāna on one end of the island to the West, in addition to the islands visible from Honoapiʻilani – Kahoʻolawe, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi.

Piʻilani (“stairway to heaven”) unified West Maui; his territory included the six West Maui bays (Nā Hono A Pi‘ilani,) a place he frequented with his court to relax, fish and surf.

One of these, Honolua, is the subject of this summary.

Settlement patterns of Honolua followed patterns elsewhere, permanent habitation around the coastal and near shore lands, as well as the inland Honolua valley land. The forested and ridge-top lands were used for gathering forest products, and for forest plantings of various utilitarian Hawaiian plants.

Ancient Hawaiian villages on Maui were generally placed at the mouths of the larger gulches or at least within sight of the sea. Both pre-contact and historic features have been identified in the coastal and nearshore lands region. It can be inferred that the coastal lands were settled since the pre-contact period and extensively used during the historic period. (Cultural Surveys)

Piʻilani had two sons, according to legend, one of whom, Kihaʻaʻpiʻilani, surfed at Honolua Bay.

Kekaulike, a descendant of Piʻilani, later became chief. He had two sons, Kauhiʻaimoku a Kama and Kamehamehanui, who engaged in civil war.

Honolua Bay was a landing site for Peleʻioholani, ruling chief of Kauaʻi and Oʻahu (mid- to late-1700s,) an ally of Kauhiʻaimoku a Kama. Warriors would convene at Honolua Valley, prior to traveling to Honokahua Bay.

Through the Māhele, the bulk of Honolua was awarded to William C Lunalilo (later King Lunalilo) on June 19, 1852. In addition, kuleana lands were awarded to native tenants.

After Lunalilo’s death, his will established a trust to build a home to accommodate the poor, destitute and inform people of Hawaiian (aboriginal) blood or extraction, with preference given to older people.

Eventually, the land subsequently transferred several times, culminating with HP Baldwin in 1889.

Honolua (and neighboring Līpoa Point) was used in a variety of ways, coffee and cattle (Honolua Ranch, starting in late-1880s,) pineapple (Baldwin Packers and later Maui Land and Pineapple, starting in 1912,) an alternative airplane landing field (1920) and West Maui Golf Club (1926.) Later, portions were included in the Kapalua Resort area (Kapalua Land Company, 1974.)

In 1946, a tsunami was generated by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake in the Aleutian Islands. This tsunami struck Hawaiʻi on April 1st. Wave run-up at Honolua was recorded at 24-feet, destroying coastal improvements.

Honolua Bay was the historic starting point for the Hōkūleʻa’s first trip to the South Pacific. As part of the US Bicentennial, on May 1, 1976, Captain Kawika Kapahulehua and Navigator Mau Pialug, departed Honolua Bay for Papeʻete, Tahiti.

Mau navigated the leg to Tahiti with only his traditional knowledge and skills while the return leg was navigated using modern methods and tools.

Following the ill-fated 1978 capsizing of Hōkūleʻa, Nainoa Thompson successfully navigated a second voyage to Tahiti – a 6,000 mile round trip – with Mau on board in 1980.

In 1979, the Honolua-Mokulēʻia Marine Life Conservation District was established to conserve and replenish marine resources in Mokulēʻia and Honolua Bays.

With the protections and management through the Marine Life Conservation District, Honolua has some of the best snorkeling on Maui.

Today, on a good day, Honolua is reportedly one of the best surfing spots in the world. Breaking wave heights associated with the largest north and northwest swells range between 10-20-feet near Honolua Bay.

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