Learn more about the fascinating island history at Makena Beach & Golf Resort
Named in Hawaii for the “Land of Abundance and Plenty.” It is where the akule come to spawn and the whales come to bear their young in the calm waters offshore. It’s no wonder the ancient Hawaiians found reason to build their fish ponds and sacred heiau here. Makena. It’s a magical place upon which the ancient gods have always smiled. Makena boasts an average of 330 sunshine-filled days and only 7-13 inches of rain each year. It’s a place of beauty in a land of plenty.
Over a hundred Hawaiian families called Makena home from the earliest days of record until the mid-1920s. Remnants of their culture—ancient fish ponds and ruins of old temples—can still be found and explored nearby. They farmed akule and other types of fish from the sea and built fish ponds near La Perouse Bay.
After Captain James Cook happened upon the Sandwich Isles (so named for the Earl of Sandwich), opening the door to Western colonialism, Makena became a thriving seaport, second only to Lahaina, the bustling whaler’s village across the bay on the west end of the island. Sweet potatoes and other produce, grown in Maui’s fertile valleys, were loaded onto cargo ships headed for the golden shores of California.
By the late 1850s, a sugar Plantation on the slopes of Mt. Haleakala (the world’s largest dormant volcano) was sold to a retired sea captain, James Makee. By 1866, under his stewardship, the Makee Sugar Mill ranked third in tonnage among the ten mills then operating in Hawaii. Makee died, and a subsequent severe drought forced the closing of the mill and plantation. Makee’s beloved Rose Ranch, known throughout the region for its beauty and hospitality, was sold to the Dowsett family in 1886 and renamed Ulupalakua Ranch. The Dowsetts switched to cattle ranching. Makena Landing’s prominence grew with the shipping of cattle. Upcountry ranchers brought their animals and swam them out, tied to long boats, to awaiting ships where they were lifted by “donkey cranes” onto the ship.
In 1832, missionaries founded a ministry at Makena and, in 1855, built Keawala’i Church out of lava rocks and cement or puna made from crushed coral cut from nearby reefs. Keawala’i means, “the calm bay.” To this day, church leaders still minister to an active congregation, and the historic church remains one of the more prominent historic landmarks in Makena.
During World War II, the U.S. Army occupied Makena for its obvious strategic location. They built barracks, bunkers and the shoreline road, using Makena as a training and military exercise site. During this time, the historic pier was torn down at Makena Landing, ending its days as an active trading port. After the war, few of the original residents returned to live in the area and it remained undeveloped and secluded, its natural beauty and abundant reefs known only to a few fisherman. By the time statehood was approved, in 1959, Hawaii’s burgeoning new major industry had become tourism.
By the late 1970s, resort development on Maui was blossoming. The island’s natural beauty, spectacular beaches, and balmy weather beckoned travelers from near and far. Japan-based developers Seibu Hawaii, Inc. acquired an 1800-acre, prime beachfront parcel of land at Makena. Situated between the spectacular crescent-shaped Malauka Beach and the verdant slopes of Mount Haleakala, Seibu Hawaii, Inc. built a Robert Trent Jones-designed, 18-hole golf course with restaurant which opened for play in August, 1981.
In fall of 1983, Seibu broke ground on a six-story, A-shaped resort with 310 rooms and suites, uniquely designed by Anbe, Aruga, and Ishizu Architects, Inc. of Honolulu so that all offered stunning full or partial ocean views with private lanais. The full-service resort also featured five restaurants and bars, swimming and wading pools, retail space, fitness center, 5,200-square feet of meeting space, a spa, and 7 scenic outdoor locations for receptions and weddings. The central courtyard boasted a masterfully-created traditional Japanese garden, a full acre in size, with elaborate waterfall and stream features and a giant koi pond.
The resort opened under the name Maui Prince on August 1, 1986, and was highly acclaimed. Concurrently, the hotel opened a Tennis Club near the North golf course and plans were made to open another Robert Trent Jones golf course (the South Course) in the spring of 1993. About 1,300 acres of land surrounding the hotel and golf courses remained in its natural state, a playground to the axis deer, wild pigs, and native birds that live among the large kiawe and native wili wili trees and other native scrub brush.
For nearly two decades, the Maui Prince operated quite successfully until economic developments in Japan strained the Japanese-owner’s investment capabilities. In 2007, the resort was acquired by a hui of US investors for $575 million, the largest price ever paid for a Maui hotel. Then, as the American economy began its own unfortunate downturn, the hotel was nearly forced into closure by September 2009. Rescued at the 11th hour by a court-appointed receiver, lien holders stepped in to cover expenses. The hotel was renamed the Makena Beach & Golf Resort.
The 1800-acre resort was subsequently sold at a foreclosure auction for $95 million in July 2010 to a group of US investors led by AREA Property Partners, Trinity Investments, LLC, and Stanford Carr Development, LLC. Landmark Hotels Group, Inc. was appointed the new operator and management company. Landmark’s Senior Vice President of Operations Shawn Sweeney was appointed General Manager and oversees the management of the Makena Beach & Golf Resort. He’s assembled a new team of hotel professionals, all with extensive experience in their respective fields, they work to together to make the Makena Beach & Golf Resort a premier Hawaiian resort destination.