Stepping into Maui’s Past: A Journey on the King’s Highway

March 4, 2015, 3:23 PM HST · Updated December 4, 11:17 AM
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By Wendy Osher

Stunning images of Maui’s past are captured in present day photography as resident Daniel Sullivan brings the story of the island’s King’s Highway to light.  The Haʻikū resident and owner of Indigo gallery in Pāʻia, spent the last three years documenting the centuries old road and is now on the verge of releasing a coffee table book entitled, “The Maui Coast – Legacy of the King’s Highway.”

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    It’s a journey that began during the summer of 2013, and was inspired in part by the late Eddie Pu, a National Park ranger who was known for his solo spiritual trek around the island each year.

    “I was always fascinated with the idea of the Kings Highway,” Sullivan told Maui Now.  “Eddie Pu is the only person that I knew of that would walk the old King’s Highway.  When I heard about his death, I researched to see if there were maps or records; and in August of 2013, I decided to walk around the island myself,” he said.

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    Sullivan embarked on a 220 mile hike around the island, speaking to residents, camping along the way, and taking visual notes with his camera.  What he found were traces of the highway tucked away in gorges, along cliffs, and hidden in forested areas.

    The historical footpath dates back to the 16th century during the rule of Piʻilani.  “Historically it connected the island and was a unifying factor,” said Sullivan, who noted that it enabled trade, the levying of taxes, ease of travel and faster communication.

    “The King’s Highway is an amazing feat of craftsmanship and construction,” said Sullivan.  “The highway was once the artery of the island for commerce, trade, and protection from invasion.”

    While much of the old hand-laid rock roadway has been replaced by paved highways and development, traces of the path still exist today.

    “Today Maui is developing at an alarming rate.  Large sections of the highway have disappeared into the jungle or have been destroyed,” said Sullivan.  “My goal is to produce a large format photography book featuring my most powerful and stunning images of Maui’s beautiful coastline–the King’s Highway–to document and share this beautiful legacy,” he said.

    During his search, Sullivan said the most memorable sections were in the East Maui town of Nāhiku, where a Hawaiian family extended an invitation to him; and along the stretch from Kanaio to Kaupō.

    Along the latter section, Sullivan said it was extremely hot.  “It didn’t rain the entire hike.  (Tropical Storm) Flossie had just passed through.  I thought I brought enough water, but a day into the hike, I had to go up to ʻUlupalakua to get water.  It was an incredible struggle,” said Sullivan.

    “My time out in Kanaio was amazing.  The King’s Highway is the most preserved out there.  There are old ruins and heiau.  Just the energy–there’s nothing out there.  You get the feeling of what it must have been like to walk the highway in ancient times,” he said.

    “The reason I’ve been fascinated with this project is because the King’s Highway is a living link to the ancient history of Maui which is quickly disappearing,” said Sullivan.

    In a description of his work, Sullivan said his themes are “born of my fascination for history, architecture and belief systems.” On his photography website he explains, “I travel off the beaten path to those small hamlets of culture where the layers of tribe, belief and ritual still remain strong.”

    In an effort to get his book published, Sullivan started a Kickstarter campaign, his second to date.   His first, “Tribes of the Oma Valley,” brought attention to the five tribes in Ethiopia who were being affected by the building of one of the world’s largest dams.

    By Wednesday afternoon, Sullivan’s Maui Kickstarter project had garnered the support of 282 backers, and had raised $28,628, more than what he had set as an initial goal.  With seven days to go, Sullivan was hoping to raise additional funds to enable the expansion of the project and the printing of additional books.  He said he is still looking for a publisher.

    The King's Highway © Daniel Sullivan Photography.

    The King’s Highway © Daniel Sullivan Photography.

    The King's Highway © Daniel Sullivan Photography.

    The King’s Highway © Daniel Sullivan Photography.

    The King's Highway © Daniel Sullivan Photography.

    The King’s Highway © Daniel Sullivan Photography.

    The King's Highway © Daniel Sullivan Photography.

    The King’s Highway © Daniel Sullivan Photography.

    The King's Highway © Daniel Sullivan Photography.

    The King’s Highway © Daniel Sullivan Photography.

    The King's Highway © Daniel Sullivan Photography.

    The King’s Highway © Daniel Sullivan Photography.

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