Even not-so-old old-timers remember when Pukalani was a mere intersection of the two-lane Haleakala Highway, bumpy Makawao Road and narrow Kula Road that winds its way in out of the many gulches that perforate the mountain's western slope.
On one corner was Tanizaki's service station. Next to the station was Tanizaki's Superette-later to become Pukalani Superette-that continues today as your basic Upcountry mom-and-pop store serving as an all-purpose market for the community. And, across the way was the local burger joint hangout.
This was the old heart of the area with the wonderful name of Pukalani, literally meaning in the Hawaiian language "hole in the sky"-"puka" (hole) and "lani" (sky). But to more romantic and spiritual souls, it came to mean "gateway to heaven"-where spirits could travel to and from heaven.
This gateway to heaven is a unique Maui community.
Pukalani gets its name from the almost daily opening in the clouds that forms just above the community. The convergence of convection clouds forming along the volcano's slopes and the trade wind clouds that slip around the mountain's eastern flank nearly meet, creating an open window effect with a clear view to the blue sky above.
This heavenly skylight leaves Pukalani sunny almost all the time, able to retain expansive views across the entire Central Valley to the West Maui Mountains. Most homes have an expansive "bi-coastal view" that thrills the soul with green fields of cane during the day and the twinkling lights in far away Wailuku during the evening. It is this mixture of climate, spectacular views and openness that give Pukalani its special, unique flavor on Maui.
In the old days, there were a few houses scattered along each arm of the intersecting roads, but very little else. Most Pukalani residents worked in the sugar cane and pineapple fields that surrounded the area, or in the pineapple packing facilities in Hali'imaile and canneries in nearby Ha'iku and Kuiaha.
The scattered residents loved their relatively isolated community for its pleasant climate-it receives more sunshine and less rain than the rest of its neighbors scattered on either side along the slopes of Haleakala.
Added to this was a unique collaboration of sunlight and clouds that usually blessed the little community: bright and sunny most of the day, except during the dependable afternoon sprinkles, and a special brand of warming sunlight that illuminated the region as the sun began to slide beneath the distant clouds and sink toward the far-off horizon beyond the Kealakahiki Channel to the west. On its journey, the sun cast a slanting, golden radiance onto the fields and forests surrounding the village.
Today, Pukalani is a thriving residential community five miles "up the mountain" from the base of Haleakala Highway. At an elevation of about 1,600 feet, it's somewhat cooler weather (average daytime temperature ranges from 70 to 75 degrees) has proven to be a magnet for both new and old residents to Maui.
The once sleepy village is now a bustling country-style community. No area of Maui has experienced as much change in the last 10 to 15 years as has the Upcountry region around Pukalani. Pineapple and sugar fields on both sides of the old Haleakala Highway are fast yielding to the demand for housing. Realtors and builders are turning its rural pastures and country gulches into suburban developments. Now, nearly 7,600 people call Pukalani home.
There is a modern shopping center-Pukalani Town Terrace-with the usual array of suburban stores and eateries. There is an elementary school and the new King Kekaulike High School, the campus Kamehameha Schools Maui campus, the University of Hawai'i's Institute for Astronomy, the Pukalani Country Club for golfers and great local food, a world-class aquatic center, the Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center and of course, and some great restaurants.
There is considerable effort to preserve the atmosphere of a bygone era, and new buildings are built in the style of old architecture. The new Pukalani Square development on the Kula Highway is designed to preserve much of the old feel that is still a part of the collective consciousness about the area.
Pukalani is a good example of a Maui community fast becoming a thoroughly modern incarnation, but trying to retain its old-time, country atmosphere. For Maui's sake, we can only hope they are successful.
Reviewed by Sam Ako, Ka'anapali Beach Hotel cultural advisor.
November 8, 2007