Shopping, Dining and Exploring the Valley Isle
|Art||Chris J. Evans|
Most visitors to the Valley Isle tend to land at Kahului airport and blow right through the nearby county seat of Wailuku, en route to destinations east, west and south. Today, Wailuku is a sleepy place still tinged with the bygone sugar plantation boom and better known as the place locals go for recreational mall shopping and hardware needs. But Wailuku’s downtown is home to some great examples of local cuisine, cultural activities, architecture and unique retail, all of which make it worth a stop.
Maui Thing is a small clothing and accessory boutique on Wailuku’s Main Street that has a big presence in the community. Owner Ashley Takitani Leahey started the company with some friends out of a graphic design business more than eight years ago.
“We were doing designs for T-shirts. It was kind of an artistic outlet to start,” she says. After garnering early interest in their products, they made the leap to brick-and-mortar, making a decision to remain in Wailuku to stay true to where Leahey and her coworkers were from, and to preserve the operational freedom that comes from being outside of a mall.
Today the store is a rarity in a sea of imported, mass-produced apparel outlets, and features the signature Maui Thing line as well as other Maui-designed-and-made companies. It has branched into carrying goods from artisans from other Hawaiian islands as well. Leahey’s philosophy is simple: “clothing with a conscience.” The T-shirts, hats, bags, dresses, books and stationery are a mix of bold prints, local motifs, Hawaiian culture and pithy sayings.
“We put lots of thought into our brand identity. We wanted to feature the positive things about Maui; what we loved most about our community. Everything we sell has that positive message.” The store’s logo features a he‘e (octopus), which ties into their motto, “stuck on good”—its tentacles embracing the positive. She sees the store’s presence as part of a larger movement to highlight Maui and promote community building.
And Maui Thing is serious about giving back to Wailuku. For years, it has hosted the First Fridays main stage on Main Street, a free street festival featuring local bands, vendors, fashion, arts and Wailuku’s only beer garden. The lively event has proven to be a much-needed engine of cultural and economic revitalization and is a welcome diversion for locals in the quiet town. “It’s a place where our friends and family come together to put it on,” says Leahey. “My brother actually brings the stage; he’s been doing it for years,” she says.
Maui Thing also hosts free art classes for kids on the second Saturday of each month inside the store (and on the surrounding sidewalk). Ashley feels it’s important to encourage youth to express themselves through the arts: “We want to inspire creative thinking.”
Through community word of mouth, and now the store’s presence on Instagram and Twitter, Maui Thing is growing a worldwide audience of shoppers who embrace the best of Maui’s small town culture.
7 N. Market St., Wailuku, HI 96793
Mon.–Fri., 10am–5pm, Sat., 10am–4pm
Café Des Amis
On the north shore, the “shoulder” of Maui, Pā‘ia town—population 2,668—is a place bursting with activity. Formerly a sleepy plantation outpost, the downtown Pā‘ia area—formerly known as “Low(er) Pā‘ia,” in contrast to the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. plantation business district a mile up its main artery, Baldwin Avenue—is, today, Maui’s version of Hale‘iwa town on the north shore of O‘ahu. You’ll find dozens of clothing and beachwear stores, health food, gift shops and an amazingly dense and varied restaurant selection.
Café Des Amis, housed in a converted 1920s home at 42 Baldwin Avenue, has been serving crêpes, curries and sandwiches for more than a decade. The eclectic and healthy menu runs from breakfast through dinner; it focuses on fresh, often organic ingredients and local produce with equal offerings of sweet (dessert) crêpes, savory crêpes, wraps and Mediterranean-inspired appetizers. There’s a small cocktail selection for when cooling off with a fruit infused drink is in order and, important to note, they are half off from 4–6 p.m. daily. Look no further than the popular lilikoi margarita.
Crêpes are the most popular item here. Unlike some creperies, Café Des Amis folds ingredients into a neat, pillow-like square ready to burst. Fillings like bacon, Brie and avocado, lentil and tomato with mozzarella, mixed Mediterranean sautéed vegetables or bananas, toffee sauce and cream, are accompanied by a light salad of field greens sprinkled with balsamic vinaigrette and a healthy dollop of crème fraîche.
If you’re not in the mood for crêpes, try one of the Indian-inspired curries. Our favorite is the fish curry, which features the fresh catch that day, or try the organic kale and tofu curry, with generous amounts of each in a thick, aromatic base.
The atmosphere is cozy and casual; you can either choose to sit in the small area fronting the counter inside, where orders are taken, or outside in the umbrella-covered tables in an open pavilion between the café and
Parking in Pā‘ia town can be very scarce from the late morning on, so it’s best to get an early start or take your lunch a bit late to avoid the hassle.
Café Des Amis
42 Baldwin Ave., Pā‘ia, HI 96779
Open daily, 8:30am–8:30pm
The winding Hāna Highway stretches from Maui’s north coast around the volcano Haleakalā and all the way to the island’s southeastern shore, connecting the airport town of Kahului with the small, remote community that the road was named for. Once out of Ha‘ikū, to the east of Kahului, the highway becomes a series of hairpin turns, weaving in and out of valleys, through dripping rainforest canopies and over 59 different bridges, most of which are one-lane only. It’s a unique environment among Hawai‘i’s myriad of diverse landscapes.
On the approach to Hāna, the road descends out of the forested cliffs. On the makai side of the highway, a vantage point looks down over an expansive, untamed native hala forest, one of the last of its kind. Amid the hala, a lush native plant garden lies in isolation, and a massive heiau—believed to be the largest of the many ancient stone temples in the Hawaiian archipelago—towers over a grassy meadow. An unpaved road leads travelers off the highway, past a lava tube entrance and through the hala to a check-in booth at the entrance to Kahanu Garden.
Take a tour—either self-guided or in a group—circling your way around the meadow, to examine diverse native plant collections gathered from across the Hawaiian archipelago. At Kahanu, the emphasis is on plants of value to Pacific peoples; one learns the cultural relationships between the people and these remarkable plants that were transported around the Pacific on ancient voyaging canoes. Varietals of bamboo, banana, calabash, coconut, kava, kamani (Calophyllum inophyllum), lo‘ulu (Pritchardia arecina), sugarcane, taro, turmeric, vanilla and bitter yam grow beneath the towering façade of the heiau. Among the different ethnobotanical collections that are housed here is also the world’s largest collection of ‘ulu (breadfruit) cultivars, which serves as a germplasm repository for this important South Pacific food crop.
The 294-acre botanical garden also contains a reconstructed hālau wa‘a (canoe hall) and hale ho‘okipa (welcoming house). The 3-acre Pi‘ilanihale Heiau, a National Historic Landmark, was built from basalt blocks; the large central terrace, with two separate platforms, is situated on a broad ridge that adds to the structure’s majesty. The side facing the sea rises steeply in five stepped terraces, and the upper rectangular surface of the main platform contains several smaller walled enclosures and pits. Construction of the main terrace dates back to the 14th century. Wings were later added and rededicated during the 16th century, possibly after high chief Pi‘ilani from western Maui conquered the fertile, well-watered, and formerly heavily populated Hāna region, thereby unifying the whole island.
650 ‘Ula‘ino Rd., Hāna, HI 96713
Mon.–Fri., 9am–4pm, Sat., 9am–2pm