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The island of Maui is loaded with magnificent resorts (Kaanapali, Kapalua) and quaint areas (Lahaina, Hana) where it’s easy to settle in, hang out, and never get abroad to see the rest of the island.
But if you’re inclined to explore and sight-see, you’ll want to drive to Iao Valley in Central Maui.
That’s where you’ll find the Iao Needle, a natural rock pinnacle that rises above Iao stream. All around are the walls of the Pu’u Kukui Crater. It’s a beautiful place. The Needle is a 2,250-foot stone pillar that’s covered in green. Its basaltic core has survived eons of swirling water.
The Valley itself is a peaceful, luxuriant area. It’s easy to hike, surrounded by exotic tropical plants and clear, natural pools. Once you reach the top of the ridge, you encounter a great view of the valley and Kahului Harbor. Other trails in the state park run alongside Iao Stream and through the forest, making it a nice place for a short hike, if you don’t mind the chance of getting wet. (Only Mount Waialeale on Kauai, the wettest spot on earth, gets more rain in Hawaii.)
One of the most famous battles in Hawaii’s history was waged here in 1790 when King Kamehameha I destroyed the Maui army in an effort to unite the Hawaiian Islands. The battle was said to be so bloody that dead bodies blocked Iao Stream, and the battle site was named Kepaniwai (“damming of the waters”).
Legend says that the Valley harbors the spirit of the Hawaiian god Kane, who is the procreator and the provider of life. He is associated with fresh water and clouds, rain, streams and springs. Kanaloa, the Hawaiian god of the underworld, is represented by the phallic stone of the Iao Needle.
During the late 15th century, Iao Valley was designated as an ali’i burial area. The remains of chiefs were buried secretly in hiding places in the valley (but there’s no need to watch your step as you trek).
There is an abundance of escorted tours that will take you into Iao Valley. Some of the tours encompass Haleakala, Upcountry Maui and beyond, as well. And you can view just about everything during a helicopter tour.