Hawaii’s railroads have almost entirely disappeared, but the Sugar Cane Train—it’s official name is The Lahaina, Kaanapali & Pacific Railroad—is still chugging along, treating visitors to a nostalgic journey to the Maui of yesteryear. The locomotive moves along a six-mile stretch of track at a leisurely pace, surrendering speed in favor of panoramic views of the West Maui Mountains and neighboring islands of Lanai and Molokai.
Video of the sugar cane train adventure
The ride includes Hawaiian-style entertainment by a singing conductor, who also provides narration and points out significant sites of interest along the way. During whale-watching season (December through April), it’s common to spot humpback whales frolicking in the distant waters.
Hawaii’s railroad history dates back more than a hundred years, as trains hauled sugar cane to the mills and transported plantation workers between their homes and the cane fields. At one time, steam locomotives became a familiar fixture on Maui’s landscape, blasting their whistles as they rounded a mountain curve or chugging along a narrow-gauge track between cane fields and plantation villages.
The first locomotive used in West Maui for sugarcane production debuted in 1890 and continued until around 1950. The train retired when motorized trucks and mechanical claws became more efficient and cost-effective.
In 1969, A.W. “Mac” McKelvy and the Makai Corporation joined forces to create the Lahaina, Kaanapali & Pacific Railroad, a.k.a. “The Sugar Cane Train.” Since 1970, this train has provided passenger service from Lahaina to Puukolii (just north of Kaanapali), hosting some five million visitors.
According to the company’s general manager, a sugar cane museum is in the works. Future plans for the Sugar Cane Train include hosting weddings and special theme parties and receptions.