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Olowalu petroglyphs

September 1, 2013 - Leah Sherman

When my mom and a friend came to visit in July, they kept talking about petroglyphs. They said that the Alaska Airlines in-flight magazine had an article about petroglyphs on Maui and they wanted to see them.

I was totally clueless as to what they were talking about.

They dug through their stuff, found the magazine that they'd brought off the plane with them and showed me the article. Sure enough, it did claim there were petroglyphs somewhere in the Olowalu area.

But the article was vague as to the location, and I was still clueless.

So, I sent them off on their own, saying, “I have no idea where you're going. But you know where Olowalu is, right? Maybe ask someone at the store there.” (Such a great hostess/tour guide I am.)

When they returned home, they said they'd asked around and most people didn't know what they were talking about (at least I wasn't alone), but one person had told them he thought the petroglyphs might be up a dirt road behind Olowalu General Store. Since they didn't really want to get lost and were a bit nervous about taking my car on a dirt road, they had decided to give up.

Fast forward to last week: The petroglyphs popped into my head. I did a quick Internet search and told my husband, “We're going on an adventure.”

After lunch at Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop (see link at right), we headed in the Lahaina direction for a very short distance before circling behind the fruit stand and turning toward the mountains onto a semi-paved road next to a very old water tower that was hidden behind a large tree. (These are awesome directions, aren't they?)

We drove probably a mile before coming to a fork in the road, at which point I said, “I think we're lost. I vote for turning around.” And at the very moment I began turning the car around, I saw the sign that read “Olowalu Cultural Reserve.” From my Internet search, I knew that's where we wanted to be. So, we parked the car in a small gravel lot and set off down the road on foot.

We didn't go more than a few steps before rocks appeared on the side of the road. I stood carefully examining them and, sure enough, there were petroglyphs.

How cool is that? People long ago were in the same spot where I was standing and were using a form of written communication to document events — and still communicating with us today. Are any of the methods we use to communicate still going to be around and interesting to people 1,200 years from now? I doubt it.

If you go: Please be respectful. The petroglyphs are on land maintained by the Olowalu Cultural Reserve, with burials and heiau nearby. The land is culturally, historically and archaeologically important.

According the its website, the Olowalu Cultural Reserve “was founded in 1999 as a community based, non-profit organization with the purpose of supporting and promoting the revitalization of traditional Hawaiian culture by providing cultural and educational experiences for Hawaii residents and visitors alike. The centerpiece of this effort is the Olowalu Ahupua‘a which consists of seventy-four acres of land running from the base of the West Maui mountains to the ocean at Olowalu, Maui. This land once held a thriving, sustainable native Hawaiian Village and as such is rich in historical resources including numerous significant archaeological and cultural sites. It has been set aside and designated as a Cultural Reserve for the purpose of a culturally sensitive 'sanctuary' providing a glimpse into Hawaii’s past making it an ideal environment for programs aimed at restoring and revitalizing Hawaiian customs and practices.”

For more information on the Olowalu Cultural Reserve, see the link at right.


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A sign along the road provides information about the Olowalu petroglyphs.


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