Finding Moku‘ula

Archaeological work “to find and define the island” of Moku’ula, the famed home of Maui royalty and King Kamehameha III in Lahaina, resumed this month, the nonprofit Friends of Moku’ula announced last week.

The 1-acre sandbar island of Moku’ula, once surrounded by the freshwater pond Mokuhinia on 14 acres of wetland in Lahaina, was home to the high chiefs of Pi’ilani and was the royal residence of the Kamehamehas, according to the Friends of Moku’ula website. The pond, which had become a stagnant marsh, was filled in in the early 20th century and the area became a ballfield before efforts to restore the famed island and pond began in the 1990s.

A Cultural Surveys Hawai’i team, led by Maui Island Director Tanya Lee-Greig, began its work last spring but had to halt the survey due to other projects, said Karee Carlucci, spokeswoman for the Friends of Moku’ula, on Monday. The team resumed its archaeological inventory survey work this month and will continue until the perimeter of the island is established, which is expected to take six to eight weeks.

The earlier survey established the northern and southern perimeters of Moku’ula and revealed a causeway, the bridge entrance to the island from the King’s Trail, or present-day Front Street. The causeway is along the current driveway to the parking lot from Front Street, said Carlucci. It was guarded by sentries; one had to be invited to the island to visit the king.

The current survey will focus on the west and east boundaries and on identifying the pier site on the Waiola Church side of the area. Another goal is to find the perimeter wall of the holding pond on the Front Street side, according to the news release.

The county, which is funding the survey, has installed a chain-link fence around the perimeter of the restoration site to protect the archaeological work, according to the news release.

The completion of the survey is an important step in the restoration and preservation of the island and pond that began about two decades ago. The survey will allow for archaeological studies of the island and for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work on designs for the restoration of the pond, Carlucci said.

Once the survey report is submitted to the state Historic Preservation Division for review, there will be an opportunity for the public to comment in writing over a 30-day period and at a community meeting to be scheduled in September.

After that, SHPD has 15 days to submit its comments, and a final archaeological report will be available by the end of November, according to the news release.

“We’re excited to see archaeological work take place and urge county officials to support it,” said Maile Shaw, who has ties to the site, in a news release. “We stand behind Friends of Moku’ula as kahu of the sacred site in this ongoing process.”

For updates, call the Friends of Moku’ula office at 661-3659 or go to or

* Lee Imada can be reached at