Wailuku is located at the foot of the scenic West Maui Mountains and home to about 13,000 Maui residents. Wailuku’s many wooden storefronts provide a quaint charm to the area as do the many buildings and homes that exhibit the Art Deco and New England style architecture that is part of the town’s heritage.
A bustling sugar plantation town in the 1800s, Wailuku is now the county seat of Maui’s government and offers a variety of interesting shops and restaurants including many family businesses that have been in operation for generations.
Attractions in Wailuku include the Bailey House Museum in former home of Edward Bailey, an American Protestant missionary. Bailey also designed the nearby Kaahumanu Church. The New England style wooden church was built in 1876 to honor Queen Kaahumanu who had converted to Christianity.
Another Wailuku attraction is the often photographed Iao Theater built in 1927 and used for community gatherings. The historic theater is also the site of productions put on by the Maui Community Theater (Maui OnStage).
Ancient archaeological sites and Hawaiian heiau (temples of worship) can be viewed in Wailuku at the Haleki‘i-Pihana State Monument. Historic structures and enchanting landscapes can be seen in Wailuku’s Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens, a county park with displays featuring Hawaii’s immigrant cultures including traditional dwellings of Hawaii, Portugal, the Philippines, China and New England.
A “Rediscover Wailuku” self-guided walking tour brochure highlights more than two dozen historically and culturally important sites, many of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Wailuku is also considered the gateway to the historic Iao Valley where the rising warrior King Kamehameha won the famous Battle of Kepaniwai on his quest to unite all of the Hawaiian Islands under one ruler. So many people died in the battle it was said the river was blocked with bodies which led to the name Wailuku, or “Waters of destruction.”
The valley is also a sacred burial ground of Hawaiian chiefs, and the site of the famous Iao Needle. Iao means “Cloud supreme,” referring to the ancient rituals that occurred here. The prominent Iao Needle was known as Kukaemoku in ancient times and rises 1,200 ft (366 m) up from the valley floor.
At the Hawaii Nature Center in Iao Valley you can explore interactive exhibits and take a rainforest walk by an ancient village and through a taro patch. The Nature Center has more than 30 hands-on exhibits related to Hawaiian natural history.
The Kahului Airport, where most Maui visitors arrive on the island, is located about ten minutes west of Wailuku.