If They Only Knew… That They’re Loving Maui To Death
By Philip Scott Waikoloa
“Call someplace paradise, then kiss it goodbye..”
– The Eagles, 1977
Traffic on Maui has reached its maximum. The roads to Lahaina in either direction are backed up and congested everyday.
The stretch of Hana Highway in Paia is regularly backed up at least a quarter to a half mile in either direction and oftentimes is such for as much as a mile.
Dairy Road in Kahului is an everyday nightmare.
With thousands of tourists (7,500 per day and 2.75 million per year, the equivalent of adding a second Pukalani or Makawao every day) arriving daily, both at the airport and both major harbors (with mega cruise ships that appear as city skyscrapers laid on one side), Maui is subjected to the seemingly endless hordes in an ebb and flow that rivals our “King Tides” and threaten to wash our beaches away and tear at our roadways that are overused and under cared for.
Local people are now forced to accept an additional 30-45 minute (sometimes an hour) drive times. This said, tourists themselves are beginning to voice their own concerns, sometimes calmly, but oftentimes relying on the belligerence of their car horns then finally angry expletives that scream “this is my goddamn vacation” and/or simple frustration mostly based on the amount of money they’ve spent to visit “paradise,” only to find themselves stuck in Los Angeles-style traffic. I’ve often barely escaped injury when walking in a crosswalk. The car at fault is most often a rented Ford Mustang, a rented Jeep, or a rented Chevy Suburban.
After being voted “Best Island To Visit” by Conde Nast magazine, Maui has found itself a helpless victim, overrun, both environmentally and spiritually. Maui is far beyond handling the number of people it’s been subjected to. While I personally love Maui, I’m not sure why it would be considered as such by any magazine. This once peaceful, laid-back Outer Island is becoming little more than a stressed suburb of Los Angeles.
Honolulu itself is literally the LA of the Pacific. And not in any good way. The Spirit of Aloha there and all over The Islands has been tragically eroded to the point that its essence is mostly gone, rendering the spirit of The Islands to be not much different than the spirit of any mediocre town in the US.
When I first came to Maui in 1986 a dog could fall asleep on Baldwin Avenue in Paia. Paia was a sleepy little town, made up of local people who worked the sugar fields and mills, small business owners that catered to the local population, or “living on a shoestring” surfers and windsurfers who contributed heartily to the Aloha Spirit, born of their love of the ocean and the beauty of Hawaiian Culture. For the cynics who would like to dispose of me as a “newbie,” my time here has always been focused on contributing to, preserving, and most importantly, having respect for the host culture.
Rent was still reasonable in the 80s, the level of tourism was manageable, and they, the locals, existed, for the most part, side-by-side, with some semblance of harmony. There was only one shop in Paia focused that focused on tourism and “Picnics,” as it was known, did little more than supply travelers with a boxed lunch for their trip to Hana. Lahaina, similar to Paia has lost much of its historical quaintness becoming a row of shops, mostly driven by a desire to extract as many tourist dollars as is possible.
To those who believe tourism has been good to the Hawaiians, the state Department of Business, Economic Development recently released a report which states: “Of the five largest racial groups in Hawaii… Native Hawaiians have the highest poverty rates for individuals and families, with 6,610 families (12.6% of families) and 45,420 individuals (15.5% of the population) living below the poverty level.” Further it says, “Let me reiterate: Native Hawaiians, the first people to live in Hawaii, currently “have the highest poverty rates for individuals and families” in Hawaii. This is a tragedy and a travesty that those of us in Hawaii who aren’t Native Hawaiian ignore at our peril.”
All of this said, BIG changes need to be made to salvage and perhaps restore Maui to its former glory.
(Firstly, it’s not more and wider roads).
1. Tourism quotas (Other island destinations such as Tavarua in Fiji have managed this successfully. One good step was when the number of downhill bike companies were limited on Haleakala
2. Much greater protections for the ocean and the ‘aina
3. Strong efforts to improve the quality of life for local people (many of whom have lived here for generations), who are slowly being priced out of the housing market
4. Illegal vacation rentals need to be rooted out and shutdown. Their numbers should also be held to a quota so as to stop artificially inflating the median rent. The latest study says one in seven houses on Maui are vacation rentals.
5. The return of ancestral lands to Native Hawaiians. My own friend holds title to all of the land from Kaanapali north to Honokahau with no real ability to exercise her ownership rights in any substantial way
The misconception that the Lahaina Bypass will any way alleviate one or two of these problems is just that, a misguided misconception. With the current rate of construction in and around Lahaina, the bypass will serve to do no more than relocate the major choke point from one stretch of the road to another.