Native Hawaiian tradition gives the origin of the island's name in the legend of Hawaiʻiloa, the navigator credited with discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. According to it, Hawaiʻiloa named the island after his son, who in turn was named for the demigod Māui. The earlier name of Maui was ʻIhikapalaumaewa. The Island of Maui is also called the "Valley Isle" for the large isthmus separating its northwestern and southeastern volcanic masses.
Maui's diverse landscapes are the result of a unique combination of geology, topography, and climate. Each volcanic cone in the chain of the Hawaiian Islands is built of dark, iron-rich/quartz-poor rocks, which poured out of thousands of vents as highly fluid lava over a period of millions of years. Several of the volcanoes were close enough to each other that lava flows on their flanks overlapped one another, merging into a single island. Maui is such a "volcanic doublet," formed from two shield volcanoes that overlapped one another to form an isthmus between them.
The older, western volcano has been eroded considerably and is cut by numerous drainages, forming the peaks of the West Maui Mountains (in Hawaiian, Mauna Kahalawai). Puʻu Kukui is the highest of the peaks at 5,788 feet (1,764 m). The larger, younger volcano to the east, Haleakalā, rises to more than 10,000 feet (3,000 m) above sea level, and measures 5 miles (8.0 km) from seafloor to summit.
The eastern flanks of both volcanoes are cut by deeply incised valleys and steep-sided ravines that run downslope to the rocky, windswept shoreline. The valley-like Isthmus of Maui that separates the two volcanic masses was formed by sandy erosional deposits.
Maui's last eruption (originating in Haleakalā's Southwest Rift Zone) occurred around 1790; two of the resulting lava flows are located (1) at Cape Kīnaʻu between ʻĀhihi Bay and La Perouse Bay on the southwest shore of East Maui, and (2) at Makaluapuna Point on Honokahua Bay on the northwest shore of West Maui. Although considered to be dormant by volcanologists, Haleakalā is certainly capable of further eruptions.
Maui is part of a much larger unit, Maui Nui, that includes the islands of Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Molokaʻi, and the now submerged Penguin Bank. During periods of reduced sea level, including as recently as 20,000 years ago, they are joined together as a single island due to the shallowness of the channels between them.
The climate of the Hawaiian Islands is characterized by a two-season year, tropical and uniform temperatures everywhere (except at high elevations), marked geographic differences in rainfall, high relative humidity, extensive cloud formations (except on the driest coasts and at high elevations), and dominant trade-wind flow (especially at elevations below a few thousand feet). Maui itself has a wide range of climatic conditions and weather patterns that are influenced by several different factors in the physical environment:
Maui displays a unique and diverse set of climatic conditions, each of which is specific to a loosely defined sub-region of the island. These sub-regions are defined by major physiographic features (such as mountains and valleys) and by location on the windward or leeward side of the island.
Showers are very common; while some of these are very heavy, the vast majority are light and brief. Even the heaviest rain showers are seldom accompanied by thunder and lightning. Throughout the lowlands in summer an overwhelming dominance of trade winds produces a drier season. At one extreme, the annual rainfall averages 17 inches (430 mm) to 20 inches (510 mm) or less in leeward coastal areas, such as the shoreline from Maalaea Bay to Kaupo, and near the summit of Haleakalā. At the other extreme, the annual average rainfall exceeds 300 inches (7,600 mm) along the lower windward slopes of Haleakalā, particularly along the Hāna Highway. "Big Bog," a spot on the edge of Haleakala National Park overlooking Hana at about 5,400 feet elevation had an estimated mean annual rainfall of 404.4 inches over the 30-year period of 1978 to 2007. If the islands of the State of Hawaii did not exist, the average annual rainfall on the same patch of water would be about 25 inches (640 mm). Instead, the mountainous topography of Maui and the other islands induce an actual average of about 70 inches (1,800 mm).
In the lowlands rainfall is most likely to occur throughout the year during the night or morning hours, and least likely in mid-afternoon. The most pronounced daily variations in rainfall occur during the summer because most summer rainfall consists of trade winds showers that most often occur at night. Winter rainfall in the lowlands is the result of storm activity, which is as likely to occur in the daytime as at night. Rainfall variability is far greater during the winter, when occasional storms contribute appreciably to rainfall totals. With such wide swings in rainfall, it is inevitable that there are occasional droughts, sometimes causing economic losses. These occur when winter rains fail to produce sufficient significant rainstorms, impacting normally dry areas outside the trade winds that depend on them the most. The winter of 2011-2012 produced extreme drought on the leeward sides of Moloka'i, Maui, and Island of Hawaii.
The blend of warm tropical sunshine, varying humidity, ocean breezes and trade winds, and varying elevations createa variety of microclimatess. Although the Island of Maui is small, it can feel quite different in each district resulting in a unique selection of micro-climates that are typical to each of its distinctive locations: Central Maui; leeward South Maui and West Maui; windward North Shore and East Maui; and Upcountry Maui.
Although Maui’s daytime temperatures average between 75 and 90 degrees year round, evening temperatures are about 15 degrees cooler in the more humid windward areas, about 18 degrees cooler in the dryer leeward areas, and cooler yet in higher elevations.
Central Maui consists primarily of Kahului and Wailuku. Kahului is literally the center of the island, and tends to keep steady, high temperatures throughout the year. The micro-climate in Kahului can be at times muggy, but it usually feels relatively dry and is often very breezy. The Wailuku area is set closer to the West Maui Mountain range. Here, more rainfall will be found throughout the year, and higher humidity levels.
Leeward side includes South Maui (Kihei, Wailea and Makena) and West Maui (Lahaina, Kaanapali and Kapalua). These areas are typically drier, with higher daytime temperature (up to 92 degrees), and the least amount of rainfall. (An exception is the high-altitude, unpopulated West Maui summit, which boasts up to 400 inches of rainfall per year on its north and east side.)
Windward side includes the North Shore (Paia and Haiku) and East Maui (Keanae, Hana and Kipahulu). Located in the prevailing, northeast trade winds, these areas have heavier rainfall levels, which increase considerably at higher elevations.
Upcountry Maui (Makawao, Pukalani, and Kula) at the 1,700- to 4,500-foot levels, provides mild heat (70s and low 80s) during the day and cool evenings. The higher the elevation, the cooler the evenings. During Maui's winter, Upper Kula can be as cold as 40 degrees in the early morning hours, and the Haleakala summit can dip below freezing.
An exception to the normal pattern is the occasional winter “Kona storms” which bring rainfall to the South and West areas accompanied by high southwesterly winds (opposite of the prevailing trade wind direction).
Maui is a leading whale-watching center in the Hawaiian Islands due to Humpback whales wintering in the sheltered ʻAuʻau Channel between the islands of Maui county. The whales migrate approximately 3,500 miles (5,600 km) from Alaskan waters each autumn and spend the winter months mating and birthing in the warm waters off Maui, with most leaving by the end of April. The whales are typically sighted in pods: small groups of several adults, or groups of a mother, her calf, and a few suitors. Humpbacks are an endangered species protected by U.S. federal and Hawaiʻi state law. There are estimated to be about 22,000 humpbacks in the North Pacific. Although Maui's Humpback face many dangers, due to pollution, high-speed commercial vessels, and military sonar testing, their numbers have increased rapidly in recent years, estimated at 7% growth per year.
Maui is home to a large rainforest on the northeastern flanks of Haleakalā, which serves as the drainage basin for the rest of the island. The extremely difficult terrain has prevented exploitation of much of the forest.
Agricultural and coastal industrial land use has had an adverse effect on much of Maui's coastal regions. Many of Maui's extraordinary coral reefs have been damaged by pollution, run-off, and tourism, although finding sea turtles, dolphins, and Hawaii's celebrated tropical fish, is still common. Leeward Maui used to boast a vibrant dry 'cloud forest' as well but this was destroyed by human activities over the last three hundred years.
Polynesians from Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands were the original people to populate Maui. The Tahitians introduced the kapu system, a strict social order that affected all aspects of life and became the core of Hawaiʻian culture. Modern Hawaiʻian history began in the mid-18th century. Kamehameha I, king of the island of Hawaiʻi, invaded Maui in 1790 and fought the inconclusive Battle of Kepaniwai, but returned to Hawaiʻi to battle a rival, finally subduing Maui a few years later.
On November 26, 1778, explorer James Cook became the first European to see Maui. Cook never set foot on the island because he was unable to find a suitable landing. The first European to visit Maui was the French admiral Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse, who landed on the shores of what is now known as La Perouse Bay on May 29, 1786. More Europeans followed: traders, whalers, loggers (e.g., of sandalwood) and missionaries. The latter began to arrive from New England in 1823, settling in Lahaina, which at that time was the capital. They clothed the natives, banned them from dancing hula, and greatly altered the culture. The missionaries taught reading and writing, created the 12-letter Hawaiian alphabet, started a printing press in Lahaina, and began writing the islands' history, which until then was transmitted orally. Ironically, the missionaries both altered and preserved the native culture. The religious work altered the culture while the literacy efforts preserved native history and language. Missionaries started the first school in Lahaina, which still exists today: Lahainaluna Mission School, which opened in 1831.
At the height of the whaling era (1843–1860), Lahaina was a major center. In one season over 400 ships visitedm with up toh 100 anchored at one time in Lāhainā Roads. Ships tended to stay for weeks rather than days, fostering extended drinking and the rise of prostitution, against which the missionaries vainly battled. Whaling declined steeply at the end of the 19th century as petroleum replaced whale oil.
Kamehameha's descendants reigned until 1872. They were followed by rulers from another ancient family of chiefs, including Queen Liliʻuokalani, deposed in the 1893 when overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii by American business interests. One year later, the Republic of Hawaii was founded. The island was annexed by the United States in 1898 and made a territory in 1900. Hawaiʻi became the 50th U.S. state in 1959.
In 1937, Vibora Luviminda trade union conducted the last strike action of an ethnic nature in the Hawaiʻian Islands against four Maui sugarcane plantations, demanding higher wages and the dismissal of five foremen. Manuel Fagel and nine other strike leaders were arrested, and charged with kidnapping a worker. Fagel spent four months in jail while the strike continued. Eventually, Vibora Luviminda made its point and the workers won a 15% increase in wages after 85 days on strike, but there was no written contract signed.
Maui was centrally involved in the Pacific Theater of World War II as a staging center, training base, and rest and relaxation site. At the peak in 1943-44, more than 100,000 soldiers were there. The main base of the 4th Marine Division was in Haiku. Beaches were used to practice landings and train in marine demolition and sabotage.
The island experienced rapid population growth through 2007, with Kīhei one of the most rapidly growing towns in the United States (see chart, below). The island attracted many retirees, adding service providers for them to the rapidly increasing number of tourists. Population growth produced strains, including traffic congestion, housing affordability, and access to water.
Most recent years have brought droughts, resulting in the ʻĪao aquifer being drawn at possibly unsustainable rates above 18 million U.S. gallons (68,000 m3) per day. Recent estimates indicate that the total potential supply of potable water on Maui is around 476 million U.S. gallons (1,800,000 m3) per day, virtually all of which runs off into the ocean.
Sugar cane cultivation once used over 80% of the island's managed water supply. One pound of refined sugar requires one ton of water to produce. Water for sugar cultivation comes mostly from the streams of East Maui, routed though a network of tunnels and ditches hand dug by Chinese labor in the 19th century. In 2006, the town of Paia successfully petitioned the County against mixing in treated water from wells known to be contaminated with both EDB and DBCP from former pineapple cultivation in the area (Environment Hawaii, 1996). Agricultural companies have been released from all future liability for these chemicals (County of Maui, 1999). In 2009, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and others successfully argued in court that sugar companies should reduce the amount of water they take from four streams.
In 1974, Emil Tedeschi of the Napa Valley winegrower family of Calistoga, California, established the first Hawaiian commercial winery, the Tedeschi Winery at Ulupalakua Ranch.
In the 2000s, controversies over whether to continue rapid real-estate development, vacation rentals in which homeowners rent their homes to visitors, and Hawaii Superferry preoccupied local residents. In 2003, Corey Ryder of the Earth Foundation gave a presentation regarding the unique situation on Maui, "Hazard mitigation, safety & security", before the Maui County Council. In 2009, the county approved a 1,000-unit development in South Maui in the teeth of the financial crisis. Vacation rentals are now strictly limited, with greater enforcement than previously. Hawaii Superferry, which offered transport between Maui and Oahu, ceased operations in May 2009, ended by a court decision that required environmental studies from which Governor Linda Lingle had exempted the operator.
The two major industries on Maui are agriculture and tourism. Government research groups and high technology companies have discovered that Maui has a business environment favorable for growth in those sectors as well. Agriculture value-added enterprises are growing rapidly.
Coffee, macadamia, papaya, tropical flowers, sugar and fresh pineapple are just some of Hawaii's premium exports and are a prime example of its diversified agriculture. Maui Land & Pineapple Company and Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company (HC&S, a subsidiary of Alexander and Baldwin Company) dominated agricultural activity. HC&S produced sugarcane on about 37,000 acres (150 km2) of the Maui central valley, the largest sugarcane operation that remained in Hawaii. In January 2016, Alexander and Baldwin announced the end of sugar production on Maui, effective the end of 2016.
A controversial feature of Maui sugarcane production has been the harvesting method of controlled cane field fires for nine months of the year. Burns reduce the crop to bare canes just before harvesting. The fires produce smoke that towers above the Maui central valley most early mornings, and ash (locally referred to as "Maui snow") that is carried downwind (often towards north Kīhei).
In November 2009 Maui Land & Pineapple Company announced it was ceasing pineapple growing operations on Maui effective January 1, 2010. The assets of Maui Land & Pineapple Company were purchased by Haliimaile Pineapple Co. which included five former Maui Pineapple Co. executives. Haliimaile Pineapple Co. assumed operations from Maui Land & Pineapple Co. on Jan. 1, 2010.
In November 2014, the majority of voters on Maui passed a moratorium on genetically engineered crops, followed one day later by Monsanto and other businesses filing a lawsuit to challenge.
The Maui High Performance Computing Center (MHPCC) at the Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing observatory in Kīhei is a United States Air Force research laboratory center which is managed by the University of Hawaii. It provides more than 10 million hours of computing time per year to the research, science, and military communities.
Another promoter of high technology on the island is the Maui Research and Technology Center, also located in Kihei. The MRTC is a program of the High Technology Development Corporation (HTDC), an agency of the State of Hawaii, whose focus is to facilitate the growth of Hawaii's commercial high-technology sector.
Maui is also an important center for advanced astronomical research. The Haleakala Observatory was Hawaii's first astronomical research and development facility at the Maui Space Surveillance Site (MSSS) electro-optical facility. "At the 10,023-foot summit of the long dormant volcano Haleakala, operational satellite tracking facilities are co-located with a research and development facility providing superb data acquisition and communication support. The high elevation, dry climate, and freedom from light pollution offer virtually year-round observation of satellites, missiles, man-made orbital debris, and astronomical objects."
The unemployment rate reached a low of 1.7% in December 2006, rising to 9% in March 2009 before falling back to 4.6% by the end of 2013.
Snorkeling is one of the most popular activities on Maui. There are over 30 beaches and bays to snorkel at around the island.
Maui is a well known destination for windsurfing. Kanaha Beach Park is a very well-known windsurfing spot and may have stand-up paddle boarders or surfers if there are waves and no wind. Windsurfing has evolved on Maui since the early 1980s when it was recognized as an ideal location to test equipment and publicize the sport.
One of the most popular sports in Hawaii. Ho'okipa Beach Park is one of Maui's most famous surfing and windsurfing spots. Other famous or frequently surfed areas include Slaughterhouse Beach, Honolua Bay, Pe'ahi (Jaws), and Fleming Beach. The north side of Maui absorbs the most swell during the winter season and the south and west in the summer time. Due to island blocking, summer south swells tend to be weak and rare.
One of the newest sports on Maui is Kiteboarding/Surfing. Kanaha Beach Park is where beginner, intermediate and advanced Kiters gather. It is known as Kite Beach. Kiters share the water with Windsurfers who have dominated the area since the early 1980s. Since 2008 there has been an explosion in the number of Kiters mostly due to advances in equipment and safety.
The big tourist spots in Maui include the Hāna Highway, Haleakalā National Park, Iao Valley, and Lahaina.
The Hāna Highway runs along the east coast of Maui, curving around mountains and passing by black sand beaches and waterfalls. Haleakalā National Park is home to Haleakalā, a dormant volcano. Lahaina is one of the main attractions on the island with an entire street of shops and restaurants which leads to a wharf where many set out for a sunset cruise or whale watching journey. Snorkeling can be done at almost any beach along the Maui coast. Surfing and windsurfing are also popular on Maui.
The main tourist areas are West Maui (Kāʻanapali, Lahaina, Nāpili-Honokōwai, Kahana, Napili, Kapalua) and South Maui (Kīhei, Wailea-Mākena). The main port of call for cruise ships is located in Kahului. There are also smaller ports located at Lahaina Harbor (located in Lahaina) and Maʻalaea Harbor (located between Lahaina and Kihei).
Maui County welcomed 2,207,826 tourists in 2004 rising to 2,639,929 in 2007 with total tourist expenditures north of US$3.5 billion for the Island of Maui alone. While the island of Oʻahu is most popular with Japanese tourists, the Island of Maui appeals to visitors mostly from the U.S. mainland and Canada: in 2005, there were 2,003,492 domestic arrivals on the island, compared to 260,184 international arrivals.
While winning many travel industry awards as Best Island In The World in recent years concerns have been raised by locals and environmentalists about the overdevelopment of Maui. A number of activist groups, including Save Makena have gone as far as taking the government to court to protect the rights of local citizens.
Throughout 2008 Maui suffered a major loss in tourism compounded by the spring bankruptcies of Aloha Airlines and ATA Airlines. The pullout in May of the second of three Norwegian Cruise Line ships also hurt. Pacific Business News reported a $166 million loss in revenue for Maui tourism businesses.
Three airports provide scheduled air service to Maui:
The Maui Public Bus Transit System is a county-funded program that provides transportation around the island with fares costing $2 per boarding.
There are two hospitals on the island of Maui. The first, Maui Memorial Medical Center, is the only acute care hospital in Maui County. It is centrally located in the town of Wailuku approximately 4 miles from Kahului Airport. The second, Kula Hospital, is a critical access hospital located on the southern half on the island in the rural town of Kula. Kula Hospital, along with Lanai Community Hospital (which is located in Maui County but on the neighboring island of Lanai), are affiliates of Maui Memorial Medical Center. All three hospitals are open 24/7 for emergency access. Although not technically a hospital or emergency room, Hana Health Clinic (or Hana Medical Center), located in the remote town of Hana on the southeastern side of the island, works in cooperation with American Medical Response and Maui Memorial Medical Center to stabilize and transport patients with emergent medical conditions. It too is open 24/7 for urgent care and emergency access.