Hana’s Hamoa Beach – Ancient Sailing Port

by Douglas Bowser

As a professional photographer living on Maui for the last 16 years, I feel so lucky to have seen so many different areas of this amazing island.  Many of these regions like Hamoa Beach, are always making some top 5 list, and are of course beautiful. But Hamoa is so small compared to many Maui beaches, and unlike the larger and more well-known ones located on the south and west sides of the island, Hamoa is small and hard to find.  Hamoa has a small pavilion and a few chairs put out by Hotel Hana and access is a steep path coming down from a narrow road with little parking.  I had little appreciation for it until I went out on a Hana tour and learned the stories of this area from a local tour driver. (Road To Hana Tours LLC toll free: 1-808-460-6055)

Hamoa Beach Hana

Photos by Natalie Brown Photography as well as Hawaii Web Group

It turns out that this little bay and peninsula has many ancient stories and is truly amazing to look at the towering cinder cones and rocky shoreline and imagine thousands of people living here.  A small island (Alau) seemingly floats just offshore and on the other side of this small peninsula at Koki Beach. (below) In my mind, it is a much more spectacular beach than Hamoa, but our guide was quick to point out that Hamoa is a protected bay, thus it was used in ancient times for landing and launching canoes.  As our guide explained, in ancient Hana only the Alii (royalty) were allowed to surf, and the surf at Hamoa at that time was also known as “the waves of Pulehe”.  Many voyages were launched from this bay, and one day a chief and his wife began a voyage here in their outrigger sailing canoes.  The whole village was there to send them off, and as they sailed out of sight the chief’s daughter got in the water and began surfing the waves.  This, apparently, was a sign from the gods that it was now OK for the commoner to also be allowed to surf, and so they did.  “The things teenagers do when their parents are on vacation,” said our guide, which made many of the couples on board laugh knowingly.


Having lived on Maui for over a decade, I have never heard of such stories until I went out on a Hana van tour.  Aside from the spectacular scenery I have witnessed traveling the road to Hana over a dozen times on my own, I realized I knew very little about Hana and the ancient people of Hawaii.  My first Hana tour really opened my eyes to how they evolved and thrived through the centuries.  For instance, I learned that at one time the entire island of Maui was ruled from Hana.  It contained all the resources necessary to survive and thrive in stone age Hawaii.  In the 16th century, there was a great chief of Hana by the name of Kihapi’ilani and he was beloved by his people.  Along with his sons, he united the island by building a road all the way around the entire island.  Later on, it was paved, by hand, with hard ‘ala stones in key places between rugged cliffs and valleys in the Hana districts.  The largest heiau (temple) in the state is located in Hana.  It is called Pi’ilanihale and it was built by this great and wise ruler of Maui.

Hamoa Beach

So, as you travel this wonderful winding road, keep in mind that it was once only a walking path that connected the entire island for hundreds of years.  Also, if you don’t have time to read a half dozen history books along your journey, I suggest you try a Hana tour.  You’ll be glad you did.

Aloha Nui Loa