Highway 32 has a couple of my favorite Maui destinations on it, the Iao Needle and Kewaniwai Heritage Gardens. Below the ancient Iao Needle, the Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens was established in 1952 as a place to honor the different cultures that have shaped Maui’s history. Included in these are the Hawaiian, Portuguese, Japanese, Caucasian, and Filipino cultures, which are showcased throughout the gardens in cultural art and structures. The gardens fell into disrepair for a time, but in 1994 the park was restored to its former, quiet glory, and is now open to visitors for free. Some people describe the park as being a haphazard mix of art motifs and gardening styles, but a central peace pole ties the mix of styles together and displays the message of the garden. I was fairly young when I visited this place, and from the perspective of a child, the Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens was a wonderful area to explore and learn- well worth the visit.
Despite the beauty and accomplished peace of the Heritage Gardens, the Iao Needle is the crowning jewel of my journeys down Highway 32. Formed in antiquity by the now extinct volcano of the West Maui Mountains, the Iao Needle was said to be a sacred place of Kanaloa the Hawaiian god of the underworld. The volcanic formation was once used as a lookout by the Maui people, and served as a ali’i or a burial place for the chiefs. Iao is also the site of the Battle Kepaniwai in 1790, which was staged by Kamehameha the Great in an attempt to unify Maui with the rest of his kingdom. The name Battle of Kepaniwai means “battle of the dammed waters,” because so many men died during the onslaught that the Iao stream, which runs beneath the needle was dammed by the bodies. The battle was won by Kamehameha and his men, partially due to the fact that they possessed two cannons, and the Maui soldiers did not, but Maui continued to fight, and in fact, didn’t unify with the rest of Hawaii until civil war broke out in 1793.
The 4,000 acre park that surrounds the Iao Needle is one of my favorite places in Maui. It showcases the natural beauty of the island, both with the magnificent volcanic formations that make up the valley, but also the lush rainforest that envelopes the area. As a person new to Hawaii at my first visit to the park, it was everything that I hoped to experience on the islands. The Needle also seems to be a fairly peaceful place, or at least it was at the time that I visited it, and that is always very appealing to me. I had a concierge tell my family and me on our first trip to Maui that the needle wasn’t worth seeing, so maybe the push for tours and action sports takes some of the crowd interest away from places like Iao. In my opinion, that makes it all the more appealing.