Hawaiians use the word mana to describe all manner of supernatural or divine power. There are places on Maui where a sense of mana is almost tangible. ‘Iao Valley is one of them. This 10-acre park, four miles west of Wailuku, is crowned by an ancient 2,250-foot rock pinnacle and defined by the events of its brutal and sacrosanct history. Known as an important political center in ancient Hawaii, it was the site of many battles and the bones of hundreds of warriors were scattered here. For hundreds of years, Hawaiian chiefs were laid to rest in secret burial sites along the walls of the valley, and one of the most important battles of Maui’s history was fought here.
Ancient Hawaiians named this valley ‘Iao (Supreme Light) in honor of the god ‘Io, and people came to the site to pay tribute to this important deity. The strange rock pillar that rises out of ‘Iao Stream, and is now called ‘Iao Needle, was once used as a natural altar.
Today, ‘Iao Valley is a popular tourist destination where people come to hike the grounds and gaze at the unusual phallic rock that rises from the stream. Just a short drive from Kahului and Wailuku in central Maui, the park features Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens, which honors the diverse cultures that have immigrated to Maui, and Hawaii Nature Center, an interactive educational center located just above the Heritage Gardens. To reach ‘Iao Valley, take Highway 32 (Ka’ahumanu Road) 4 miles west of Wailuku to the end of ‘Iao Valley Road (Highway 320). West Main Street in Wailuku to the end of the road.