Two million people now visit Maui each year, and 120,000 people make the island their home. Maui, which is located midway between Oahu and Hawaii, showcases a mix of eclectic styles and cultures; in some villages, ancient Hawaiian is still spoken, as nearby five-star resorts beckon the rich and famous. Asian and Polynesian influences are evident everywhere, from cuisine to clothing to architecture.
Known locally as the Valley Island, Maui reigns as the second largest of the Hawaiian Islands. A spectacular dormant volcano, 10,023-foot Haleakala erupted five million years ago to create the 279-square-mile island, together with the now-extinct Pu'u Kukui. As gentle mists move through the valley between the volcanoes, rainbows spring from nowhere and lush sugar cane wafts in the balmy trade winds. The valley forms the island's verdant agricultural center, where tropical fruits and flowers grow in abundance.
The island was first settled in 750 AD by the Marquesas, who sailed the Pacific in double-hulled sailing canoes. For centuries the Marquesa people survived on the island, building houses and stone temples and enjoying the fruit of the vibrant land. Tahitians followed, bringing their own goddesses and the "kapu" system, a rigid caste order that dictated social standing that dictated Hawaiian culture for centuries. The islanders' lifestyles changed forever when Captain James Cook "discovered" Maui in 1778, and led the influx of traders, whalers and missionaries. The only U.S. state with a royal history, Hawaii was ruled by kings until the monarchy was overturned in 1898 and the island chain was made a territory two years later.
Several of the island's cities are renowned for their special flavor. Located on the island's northwest coast, Lahaina is a little whaling town with a storied past - irreverent whalers clashed with Christian missionaries trying to save the islanders' souls. Many of Lahaina's buildings are now listed as National Historic Landmarks, and its museum documents the harsh whaling life that made it a boomtown of the mid-19th century. Pa'ia, a former hippie hideout of the seventies, has become a favorite of the young windsurfing crowd, and Ho'okipa Beach is the place to watch the world's best sailboarders ply their trade.
Outdoor lovers will be especially happy in Maui, as the stunning terrain offers so many camping and hiking opportunities, and the warm oceans are ideal for year-round swimming, sailing and whale-watching cruises. Adventurous travelers can arrange for a helicopter tour of the more remote regions, or arrange a paraglide tour in the mountains. Each year, more than one million people make their way to eastern Maui to visit the Haleakala volcano, possibly the island's most breathtaking feature. The volcano last erupted about 200 years ago, and the view from its uppermost rim into its 3,000-foot-deep crater is nothing short of magnificent - like the rest of this exotic island.