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Maui: Olowalu Sugar Plantation

When I visited the Puunene Sugar Museum, I learned that there used to be a Sugar Plantation and Mill at Olowalu and that there are ruins there that one could visit. Well, I know Olowalu as that tiny hamlet on the road to West Maui — primarily because of the Olowalu General Store — but I had never heard of the ruins. Had to go visit.

It turns out that the Plantation House that was formerly the residence of the plantation manager is now a very popular venue for weddings. In fact, if you Google "Olowalu Plantation House", almost every listing is related to its new role.

And it is, indeed, a magical place for a wedding — Hawai`ian plantation-style architecture, situated on the ocean in a quiet out-of-the-way location — what can beat that?

The day I visited, there were these wooden relaxation chairs with tropical pattern cushions — and I'll bet many a wedding photo was taken here — great spot.

Next door lie the ruins of the Olowalu Sugar Mill. This photo, dated 1870-1890, is from the sign (yes, a photo of a photo) telling visitors of its historical significance and reminding people that damage to the site is punishable under Hawai`i Law.

The mill was built around 1870 and operated until the 1930s when it was dismantled and shipped to the Philippines. The sugar cane that was grown in this area was then transported up to the Pioneer Mill in Lahaina.

This photo shows the pier (left), boat ramp, (middle) and protecting jetty (right) used by boats bringing supplies in and transporting sugar out to larger ports for transshipment, primarily to the mainland.

When the mill was dismantled, the foundations and concrete walls were left behind — which now constitute the ruins we can see on this site. The spot in this photo is identified on the sign as rubble but appears to be foundations of some of the mill buildings that fronted the ocean (check the photo from the sign).

These walls are identified as the sugar rooms and warehouse. Since there are no doorways between the rooms, one has to assume the structure that sat atop this foundation provided the access to what would have been basement storage.

The sign identified this ruin as "mortared boulders". I have no idea what role they would have played in the operation of the mill. Guesses anyone?

This was the boiling house — where I presume the liquid extracted from the cane was boiled to thicken it into a syrup.

Nearby was this metal structure that somehow escaped the trip to the Philippines. Its purpose was not stated — my guess is that it was used to hold sugar cane prior to moving it to the crushers.

The sign identified these as bricks — anyone could have guessed that. However, they were next to the area identified as boilers so I concluded that they were firepits used for further reduction of the syrup.

This decaying structure was identified as clarifiers and mud press. What I find interesting is how the rebar has rusted — water and salt air penetrating the concrete initiating the rust which then deteriorated the concrete until the structure simply decomposed where it stood.

The sign does not mention this well-built table. I am going to guess it was used by fisherman to clean their catch. Remember that this was plantation — and where there is a plantation, there are lots of hungry workers who need to be fed. And one cannot live solely on sugar cane. Because, at the time of the plantation, there were no roads in this area, everything had to come by sea — fish would have been an easy and inexpensive source of protein.

This historic site is quite an interesting place to visit. I hope you find it as fascinating as I did.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com