Maui is the best Hawaiian island for family vacations, especially with toddlers and younger kids. One of the must-sees on Maui is the magical banyan tree that sparks the imagination. It has been a gathering point for generations. No matter where you stay in Maui, this is a must-see.
Let’s find out how old the Maui banyan tree is, where it’s located, and why it was planted in the first place. And, in light of more recent events, find out how badly the banyan tree was damaged by the wildfires.
What is special about the banyan tree in Maui?
This magnificent tree is over 60 ft high (about 18 m), its crown 225 ft wide (about 70 m), and the canopy spread over an area of 0.66 ac (0.27 ha). It looks as if it’s more than one tree but the aerial roots actually formed 16 new trunks that act as a support for the ever-growing tree. So, the banyan tree in Maui not only grows vertically but just as much horizontally, creating some kind of mini-forest.
An interesting fact about Hawaii‘s remarkable giant: Measuring the size of a city block, is the largest banyan tree in Hawaii, the largest banyan tree in the US, and even one of the largest of its kind worldwide. That’s pretty spectacular for a tree that’s non-endemic to Hawaii.
How incredible is it that, what you see in the pictures, is just a small part of this gracious giant?
Where is the banyan tree in Maui?
The Maui banyan tree is located at Banyan Tree Park (the former Lahaina Courthouse Square) in the heart of historic Lahaina, the historic whaling village in West Maui, close to the Ka’anapali beach resorts. Behind it was the Lahaina Courthouse, adjacent to Lahaina Harbor.
What is the story behind the banyan tree in Maui?
It’s no coincidence that this tree was planted in Lahaina. King Kamehameha declared the town the capital of the Hawaiian islands in 1820. And thanks to its ideal location on the whale migration routes and the calm ocean conditions, colorful Lahaina became a major whaling port in the 1800s.
Soon after, King Kamehameha II also ended the strict kapu rules and began to allow missionaries to settle in the Hawaiian islands. The written form of the Hawaiian language was introduced and soon, the first high school opened.
The Lahaina harbor had hundreds of ships docked. But the decadent behavior of the sailors soon clashed with the attempts of the missionaries to impose their beliefs. The tempers flared in sun-drenched Lahaina and, in 1845, the capital was relocated to Honolulu. Disorderly sailors were sanctioned and the missionaries remained.
Queen Keopuolani, King Kamehameha I’s Sacred Widow, instructed Sheriff William Owen Smith, to plant a special tree in 1873, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first American protestant missionary in Lahaina town. An 8-ft banyan tree sapling was imported from India. This remarkable tree, part of the fig family, symbolizes enlightenment in Buddhism and eternal life in Hinduism.
Throughout its history, the Maui banyan tree has been the epicenter of local celebrations. From Kamehameha’s birthday party in long-gone times to the Christmas festivities in this day and age, the Hawaiian banyan tree is at the heart of every event.
What the banyan tree in Maui stands for now
The large banyan tree on Maui has been part of Lahaina’s history for 150 years. To this day, it’s a gathering place for locals and visitors alike. The many benches and picnic tables invite you to linger in the shadow of the banyan’s sweeping branches. After a busy day of exploring Maui with kids, the little ones will love climbing the major trunks of this magical tree. Our girls sure did!
To this day, the old banyan tree in Lahaina Maui is the town’s preferred festive location. Twice a month, Art in the Park displays works by local artists. And at the beginning of December, there’s the Annual Lighting of the Banyan Tree. Imagine celebrating the holidays in this fairy-tale setting, with 6,500 twinkling lights adorning the dangling vines.
Was the banyan tree in Lahaina destroyed by the wildfires?
Soon after this tragic event, we learned that the Lahaina banyan tree had been scorched but was still standing. The most recent reports indicate that the Lahaina banyan tree is showing signs of recovery (cfr. this news release). There’s hope that this symbol of this tight-knit island community rises from its ashes and can serve as a beacon of hope for the residents of Maui.
Note that the rest of this article was written before the devastating wildfires. As a result, the information in the next paragraphs is irrelevant.
Other things to see and do in Lahaina
As mentioned, Lahaina has a history of entertaining visitors and it still does today. You’ll find plenty of restaurants, cafes, and shops along and near Front Street. There’s a lively art scene as well, with dozens of art galleries dotting the streets. The Lanai ferry as well as many snorkeling and whale-watching trips depart from the ever-bustling Lahaina harbour.
Surprisingly, behind that swinging surface, there’s also plenty of history to be discovered. The self-guided Lahaina Historic Trail leads visitors along dozens of historic sites. The best thing is that it only takes about an hour to complete since Lahaina is very compact. Maps can be found at the Lahaina Visitor Center in the Old Lahaina Courthouse, next to the banyan tree at Lahaina Banyan Court. Or you could download it from the website of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation.
Where to stay in Lahaina
Lahaina is a lovely historic town. Its lively vibe, the proximity to Ka’anapali Beach, and the many excursion options from the harbor make it an excellent place to stay in Maui. However, most travelers choose to stay in one of the Kaanapali beach hotels and resorts.
More amazing banyan trees in Hawaii
If you plan on island hopping in Hawaii, as we did, you might come across some other magnificent banyan trees.
- Maui: There’s actually another gorgeous banyan tree on Maui. It’s located along the Pipiwai trail, one of the most popular Road to Hana stops (while technically, it’s located past Hana).
- Oahu: You’ll find several huge banyan trees in Hawaii’s capital, for example at the Honolulu Zoo, in the gardens of Iolani Palace, and at the historic Moana Surfrider hotel.
- Big Island: There’s the legendary Banyan Tree Drive in Hilo, right in front of the hotel where we were staying. But we preferred the banyan that was tucked away behind Rainbow Falls near Hilo. Make sure to include a visit to this hidden tree when making a list of Big Island things to do.