While it might seem odd for a digital outdoor travel guide to hint at you to go to church, Keawala’i Congregational Church is a historical marvel. Upon entering the church, its history will captivate you. For anyone staying in Makena, or headed to spend a day at Maluaka Beach, this is a must-see location.
Amid glamorous, multi-million dollar neighborhoods, condos and posh hotels that loom over Maui’s shoreline, Keawala’i is a steadfast beacon of Maui’s past and a distinct reminder that the bleeding heart of Hawaii’s historical heritage persists beneath it all. You’ll find it at the end of a nondescript paved road, where it has sat on an unassuming plot of land since the days of south Maui’s lush agricultural abundance. Founded in 1832 as the Church of Honua‘ula, it was originally built of pili grass, one of the 80 native grass species on the island. Just over two decades later, it was reconstructed of lava stone with a mortar made of coral. As the story goes, the reconstruction made use of many local hands — those who lived by the ocean toiled away at carving stone out of the bedrock while farmers that were living on the hillsides felled lumber for the support beams. Though much has been restored and repaired since then, the original bones remain intact.
Amid horrible droughts that drove farmers away, the Great Depression, and World War II that prompted heartless pillaging and thievery at the small church, the building persisted. Today, it continues to hold sermons in the Hawaiian language, practice native hula, and chant and draw an island-wide congregation to this little chapel by the sea. You don’t have to be a member to sit in. Truly, it’s an invaluable experience.