When the Road to Hana was officially designated the “Hana Millenium Legacy Trail” by President Bill Clinton in 2000, the official trail starting point was named as Paia. There are many reasons to start your day on the Road to Hana in Paia. It’s famous for being the last place to get gas until Hana, and it is also known as a great opportunity to eat a hot meal and grab a box lunch to go since food is scarce until Hana. Of course, it is also home to the Hana Picnic Lunch Company, a one-stop shop for all your Road to Hana essentials. However, spending time in Paia for its own sake is a notable way to begin your day on the Hana Highway. Paia is an interesting town that has reinvented itself several times in its relatively brief history, and with a little background information “Maui’s hippie haven” can be explored to the fullest.
People first began to live together in the area of Paia in the 1880s, when camps to house workers at the Paia Sugar Mill first began to spring up. By 1896, enough immigrants had made this area their permanent home to justify the opening of the Paia store to meet their everyday needs. The Paia Sugar Mill attracted a culturally and ethnically diverse group of workers, and this legacy of an international population has played a big part in shaping Paia into what it is today. The early sugar mill camps housed workers of Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Puerto Rican, Portuguese and Native Hawaiian backgrounds. All of these different cultures left a mark on Paia’s early days.
Paia experienced a lot of growth and two major tragedies during the tumultuous 30s and 40s. In many ways this era was the heyday of Paia, and at one point during these years, when the sugar cane industry was in full swing, Paia boasted three movie theaters, a hospital and a train depot along with schools, churches, shops, and restaurants. Unfortunately, during this time Paia also experienced two catastrophes and two subsequent rebuilding efforts. In July 1930, a terrible fire destroyed most of the town. It left 150 people homeless, and Paia was rebuilt thanks to the solidarity of its citizens and the efforts of various relief groups formed in the wake of the tragedy. Then, in 1946, Paia was visited by destruction again when the largest tsunami in Hawaii’s history hit the islands. 159 people, including one person in Paia, died across Hawaii as a result of the tsunami triggered by an earthquake in the Aleutian Islands. The city went through another period of re-building, and afterwards enjoyed a few more “boom” years before the sugar industry declined significantly in the 1950s. The tsunami re-building period also saw one other significant change in Paia. It was during this time that the camps that were the home of the Paia Sugar Mill workers disappeared for good, and their former occupants left for more permanent homes in the growing Kahului area.
The flower-power 60s marked yet another re-invention of Paia with the arrival of counter-cultural “hippies” from the mainland United States. Looking for a different way of life, many of these new arrivals fell in love with Paia and remain there even today. These hippies were the first to see the potential in Paia’s quaint architecture, left over from plantation days, and began opening art galleries, craft stores, and other tourist attractions. These new residents breathed life into Paia, and helped it grow until the sleepy little town found its next identity in the late seventies and early eighties when a group of guys realized that Ho’okipa Beach was great for windsurfing. In fact, they realized it might have the best windsurfing conditions in the world, and windsurfers from all over descended on Paia throughout the eighties and nineties to try their skills at Ho’okipa and other spots like Spreckelsville. Today you will often hear Paia referred to as “the world-capitol of windsurfing”. Modern Paia is home to the the cultural descendants of the hippies of the 1960s, windsurfers, and any and all who are looking to experience Maui’s pristine North Shore.
Paia’s very first business, and in many ways its reason for existing, was the Paia Sugar Mill. The Paia Sugar Mill closed a decade ago in 2000, yet Paia still thrives because it has changed and adapted over the years. From its days as a sugar boom town, to its near-disappearance in the fifties, to its renaissance as “Maui’s hippie haven” in the sixties, and its modern re-incarnation as a windsurfing mecca, Paia has continued to be one of Maui’s premier destinations. So, as you are planning your day along the Hana Highway don’t overlook Paia. With its rich history it is a valuable stop along your journey to Hana.