The Maui map above shows some of the island’s most famous landmarks, including Haleakalā Crater, ‘Iao Valley, and the town of Lahaina — but it can’t be used to to plan your next Maui adventure or find directions to the airport. Nearly 135 years old, this map predates Hawai’i’s statehood, the development of Wailea, and even the invention of human flight. It’s also one of the rarest and most historically significant maps of the island in existence, part of a collection of museum-quality vintage maps on display in the Fairmont Kea Lani.
“These are the first printed maps of Hawai’i by the Hawaiian government,” says Bryant Neal, a map historian based in Lahaina, who gives talks on Hawaiian history at the hotel several times a year. Hawai’i had been mapped by outsiders since the earliest days of European contact, but no official map of the islands had been created until the establishment of the Hawaiian government’s survey department in 1870. After years of conducting painstaking field surveys, the first maps of the islands were published, with the Maui map released in 1885.
“They didn’t have Google Maps or overhead views,” Neal reminds. “These guys were out there walking and hiking the land, going into all kinds of dangers to draw accurate maps of those areas.”
Looking closely at the map provides a glimpse into the Maui that these surveyors would have found at that time. “Good Agricultural Land Planted in Corn, Irish Potatoes, etc.,” is the note inscribed across one large swath of Maui’s Upcountry region, while the low, open foothills of the island’s central valley are carefully divided between the holdings of Kihei Plantation, Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company, and the sugar baron Claus Spreckels.
When the U.S. government annexed Hawai’i at the end of the 19th century, it used these maps to record changes in territory, and the Maui map was officially updated in 1903. “They were showing land ownership and land movement,” Neal says. “There’s all kinds of important information on those maps.”
Especially remarkable, Neal notes, is the fact that the maps weren’t intended as historical records, but were printed on cheap, thin paper for practical use in the day-to-day business of running the government. And while some collectors have one or two of the island maps, the hotel has all of them. “The fact that they survived for any length of time is amazing,” he says. “It’s a museum-quality collection, nothing short of that.”
These maps aren’t the only rare prints on display in the hotel. Neal was attending a Christmas Party at the Fairmont Kea Lani in 2018 when a set of drawings caught his eye. “I noticed that behind the concierge desk, there was a collection of images from Captain Cook’s voyages — and they’re all first-edition,” he recalls.