Kaanapali Beach: Where it all began


by Wayne Smith


Kaanapali Beach Resort on Maui's beautiful western shore has long been a favorite playground and resting place for Island residents and visitors alike.


In ancient times, Kaanapali, which means "rolling cliffs" in Hawaiian, was a royal retreat for the rulers of Maui who delighted in the perfect three-mile stretch of white sand beach, the gentle waves, warm sunny days and the inspiring backdrop of the majestic West Maui Mountains. Maui's royalty surfed, raced their outrigger canoes, feasted on luaus that lasted for weeks, and where the Kaanapali golf courses now grace the land, they played ulu maika, a form of lawn bowling with heavy lava balls.

Now, in contemporary times, people who love the tropical ocean and beaches gather from all over the world to play golf on the same fields, romp in the surf or bask in the sun along the same sweeping beaches to enjoy the natural beauty that is the foundation of Kaanapali Beach Resort.

Before the opening of Kaanapali Beach Resort in 1962, Maui was merely a quaint "outer" island and few visitors found their way here from the bustling city of Honolulu. Front Street's Pioneer Inn was Lahaina's only hotel and it was an intrepid traveler who made their way here.

Sugar cane flourished all over the island from Kapalua to Hana, and as many as a dozen mills, including Pioneer Mill in Lahaina, processed the raw cane. Matson Line ships sailed the sugar products to ports all over from wharves in Lahaina and Wailuku on the windward side of the island.

But in 1962 everything changed. Kaanapali Beach Resort splashed onto the travel scene as the world's first fully master planned destination resort. Maui was suddenly placed on the map as a world travel destination and all that exists here now has its genesis in the foresight of its original planners and developers.

Its beginnings were at a luau on the beach near Black Rock in 1956. Board members of the Pioneer Mill, a subsidiary of American Factors, Inc. decided to convert 500 acres of unproductive sugar cane land into a world-class resort. In their vision, Kaanapali Beach Resort was to be a carefully planned area that would "beautify the land while bringing profit to the company and jobs to the people of Maui" according to the original plan.

It was a daring choice for the time. Statehood - not a certainty by any means - wouldn't be granted for another three years. The post-World War II economic boom on the mainland hadn't yet led to great increases in leisure travel. The main corporate entity, American Factors, Inc., later to become AMFAC, after a hundred years in the sugar and merchandising business, couldn't claim to know much about resort development.

But radical changes were taking place in the Hawaiian Islands. The sugar market was beginning its long, slow decline, but the promise of the future of travel and tourism was bright, so the Board decided that it was the perfect time for a bold move.

They invested in an infrastructure to support the planned resort, building a water supply system, grading hotel and golf course sites, constructing underground electrical systems, a new concept in the early '60s, and utilities, access roads, a sewage treatment plant and a lagoon. Robert Trent Jones, Sr. was asked to design a championship golf course and resort hotel and condominium operators were sought to add the then-futuristic buildings and tropical grounds for the envisioned development.

The official opening date of Kaanapali Beach Resort was December 1962. Jones' world famous Royal Kaanapali Golf Course was christened then, as was the private Royal Lahaina Beach Club, the first structures to be completed in the new resort.

That was only the beginning. Over the years Kaanapali has become an extraordinary Hawaiian playground for vacationers from around the world. Its draws - tropical sun and weather, great beaches and surf, fabulous hotels and condominiums, challenging golf courses, and lots of traditional Hawaiian aloha - would prove to be irresistible to sun and fun seekers the world over.

This ideal setting, coupled with the resort's countless amenities, has established Kaanapali as one of the most sought-after destinations in the world. Perhaps Kaanapali's strongest lure is its diversity of style, substance and what it offers to see and do. It is a place as rich in spirit as it is in beauty. It is casual and carefree, elegant and sophisticated, steeped in historical and cultural significance.

Kaanapali's unique diversity is showcased by its impressive roster of hotels and condominiums, which offer a variety of experiences, from soaring marble lobbies to private bungalows. The resort is studded with great resort hotels like the Hyatt Regency, Kaanapali Beach, Marriott, Royal Lahaina, Sheraton and Westin; and condominiums like the Kaanapali Alii and Villas, the Whaler and the Outrigger Eldorado Resort. All are situated amidst lush gardens along the beach and around the two Kaanapali Golf Courses, each so private they appear solitary.

AMFAC, still the developer and working to maintain the original vision of the Board, is now in the process of designing and building the newest resort component on Kaanapali's North Beach (or Airport Beach to residents). It will be an exclusive time share resort scheduled for completion early in the new millennium.

Today, with more than 35 years of meticulous preparation and building, Kaanapali has become a model for resorts around the globe. There are more than 4,400 hotel rooms and condominium suites which accommodate more than half a million visitors each year. Yet, with only 600 of the resorts 1,200 acres developed, Kaanapali still maintains a peaceful, lush, garden-like atmosphere and wears its years and place in Maui's history well. Kaanapali: truly, where it all began


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