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The tropical island of Maui in Hawaii is a popular vacation destination that attracts over 2.5 million visitors every year.

With its stunning beaches, scenic landscapes, and rich Hawaiian culture, it’s no wonder why people from all over the world flock to this island paradise.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: the Hawaiian government owns the majority of land on Maui, while some land is privately owned.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll dive deep into the history and current state of land ownership in Maui.

We’ll look at how the land was acquired and divided up over the island’s history, the major landowners today, and the issues around foreign ownership and development.

A Brief History of Land Ownership in Maui

Maui, the second largest island in Hawaii, has a rich history of land ownership that has shaped its development over the years.

From the traditional Ahupua’a system to the significant land ownership changes after statehood, understanding the history of land ownership in Maui provides valuable insights into the island’s past and present.

Pre-Contact Hawaii and the Ahupua’a System

Before the arrival of Europeans, Maui, like the rest of Hawaii, was governed by the Ahupua’a system. This system divided the land into pie-shaped sections that extended from the mountains to the sea.

Each Ahupua’a had its own resources, including water, forests, and agricultural land, which were managed by a local chief or ali’i.

The Ahupua’a system promoted self-sufficiency and sustainability, as people relied on the resources within their own Ahupua’a to meet their needs.

This system fostered a deep connection between the people and the land, as they understood the importance of preserving and maintaining the resources for future generations.

The Great Mahele of 1848

The Great Mahele, which took place in 1848, marked a significant shift in land ownership in Hawaii, including Maui. This event was a result of Western influence and pressure to establish private land ownership.

The Mahele divided the land into three categories: government lands, konohiki lands (lands managed by chiefs), and tenant lands.

Under the Mahele, the majority of the land was claimed by the Hawaiian monarchy and the government. However, a portion was also set aside for the konohiki, who often had close ties to the chiefs.

The remaining land was designated as tenant lands, which were available for lease or sale to foreigners and Hawaiian citizens.

Further Land Ownership Changes After Statehood

With Hawaii becoming a state in 1959, land ownership in Maui continued to evolve. The state government became the primary owner of public lands, which include beaches, forests, and other natural resources.

Private ownership of land also increased, as individuals and corporations purchased land for various purposes, including residential, commercial, and agricultural use.

Today, land ownership in Maui is a complex mix of public and private ownership. The state and county governments play a crucial role in managing public lands and ensuring their preservation for future generations.

Private landowners contribute to the island’s economy and development, while also facing the responsibility of balancing their interests with environmental and community concerns.

Understanding the history of land ownership in Maui provides valuable context for the current state of the island. It highlights the importance of sustainable land management and the need to balance economic development with environmental preservation.

By appreciating the history of land ownership, we can work towards a more sustainable and equitable future for Maui and its people.

Current Major Landowners on Maui

Maui map

The State of Hawaii

The largest landowner in Maui is the State of Hawaii.

The state owns vast areas of land for conservation, public use, and government facilities. These lands include state parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and military bases.

The state’s ownership ensures the preservation and accessibility of these natural resources for future generations.

Alexander & Baldwin

Alexander & Baldwin (A&B) is another major landowner in Maui. A&B is a diversified company with businesses in agriculture, real estate, and infrastructure.

They have a long history on Maui, dating back to the 19th century when they started as a sugar plantation. Today, A&B owns and operates various properties, including residential communities, commercial centers, and agricultural lands.

They play a significant role in the development and economic growth of the island.

Maui Land & Pineapple Company

The Maui Land & Pineapple Company (ML&P) is renowned for its pineapple and agricultural operations. While their pineapple business has significantly declined over the years, ML&P still owns a considerable amount of land on Maui.

They have transitioned their focus to real estate development and land management. ML&P is involved in projects such as resort communities, golf courses, and environmental stewardship initiatives.

Individuals and Families

In addition to large corporations, there are also individuals and families who own significant portions of land on Maui. These private landowners may have inherited their properties or purchased them for personal use or investment purposes.

Some of these individuals have made substantial contributions to the local community and economy through their land developments and business ventures.

It’s important to note that the ownership of land in Maui is constantly evolving. Transactions, acquisitions, and developments can change the landscape of land ownership on the island.

To stay updated on the current major landowners, you can refer to the official records and publications of the State of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Foreign Ownership and Development Controversies

Maui, with its pristine beaches and breathtaking landscapes, has long been a desirable destination for both tourists and real estate developers.

However, the increasing presence of foreign ownership in the island’s real estate market has sparked controversies and raised concerns among locals and experts alike.

Offshore Investors and Luxury Developments

Offshore investors, particularly from countries like China, Japan, and the United States, have been investing heavily in luxury developments on Maui. These developments often cater to high-end clientele, offering exclusive amenities and luxurious living spaces.

While these projects contribute to the island’s economy and create job opportunities, they have also led to skyrocketing housing prices and reduced affordability for local residents.

The influx of foreign investment has resulted in the construction of opulent vacation homes and resorts, which can sometimes dominate the island’s landscape and alter its character.

Critics argue that this shift towards luxury developments caters primarily to wealthy tourists and investors, rather than addressing the housing needs of the local population.

According to a report by the Realtors Association of Maui, foreign investors accounted for a significant portion of real estate sales in recent years, with luxury properties being the primary focus. This trend has raised concerns about the potential negative impact on the island’s cultural and social fabric.

The Impacts on Local Communities

The rise in foreign ownership and luxury developments has had profound impacts on local communities.

As housing prices increase, many long-time residents find it increasingly difficult to afford homes, leading to forced displacement and a loss of community cohesion.

Additionally, the influx of luxury developments has also contributed to increased traffic congestion, strain on infrastructure, and environmental concerns.

Local businesses, too, have felt the effects of foreign ownership. With the rise of large-scale luxury resorts, small businesses struggle to compete and often face challenges in accessing prime locations and attracting customers.

This has led to a loss of diversity and a transformation of the island’s commercial landscape.

Attempts to Limit Foreign Ownership

Recognizing the potential drawbacks of excessive foreign ownership, there have been attempts to limit or regulate the sale of real estate to offshore investors.

For example, some jurisdictions have imposed restrictions on property purchases by non-residents, while others have implemented taxes or fees targeting foreign buyers.

A similar debate has been ongoing in Hawaii, including Maui, with discussions around implementing stricter regulations to protect local interests.

However, finding a balance between attracting foreign investment and preserving the island’s cultural and economic integrity remains a complex challenge.

It is worth noting that not all foreign ownership is detrimental. Responsible and sustainable foreign investment can contribute positively to the local economy, creating jobs and supporting community development.

Striking the right balance between attracting foreign investment and protecting local interests is crucial for the long-term well-being of Maui and its communities.

Read moreCan Non-Hawaiians Own Land In Hawaii?

Ongoing Issues Around Land Use and Conservation

Maui land

Maui, known for its pristine beaches and stunning landscapes, is facing ongoing challenges when it comes to land use and conservation.

As the island continues to attract tourists and investors, the delicate balance between development and environmental protection becomes increasingly crucial. In this article, we will explore the key issues surrounding land use and conservation in Maui.

Development vs. Environmental Protection

The rapid development of Maui has sparked debates about the preservation of its natural resources.

On one hand, development brings economic growth, job opportunities, and increased revenue to the island. On the other hand, it poses threats to fragile ecosystems, wildlife habitats, and cultural sites.

Striking a balance between development and environmental protection is a complex task that requires careful planning and collaboration among stakeholders.

One of the key challenges is managing the increasing demand for housing and infrastructure while minimizing the impact on the environment.

Efforts are being made to implement sustainable development practices, such as green building initiatives and renewable energy projects. These initiatives aim to reduce the carbon footprint, conserve water resources, and preserve the island’s unique biodiversity.

Moreover, community engagement plays a vital role in shaping land use policies and ensuring that development aligns with the needs and values of the local population.

Public input and participation allow the community to voice their concerns and contribute to the decision-making process. This inclusive approach can lead to better outcomes that balance economic growth with environmental sustainability.

Native Hawaiian Land Rights

Another significant aspect of the ongoing land use issues on Maui revolves around Native Hawaiian land rights.

Native Hawaiians have a deep connection to the land, which is rooted in their cultural heritage and spiritual beliefs. Recognizing and protecting these land rights is crucial for preserving their cultural identity and sustaining their way of life.

Over the years, there have been efforts to address the historical injustices and restore Native Hawaiian land rights. The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920, for example, aimed to provide homesteads to Native Hawaiians for residential, agricultural, and pastoral purposes. However, there are still challenges in fully implementing and expanding these initiatives.

It is important to acknowledge the significance of Native Hawaiian voices and involve them in decision-making processes regarding land use and conservation.

By honoring their cultural traditions and practices, we can create a more inclusive and sustainable approach to land management in Maui.

For more information on land use and conservation on Maui, you can visit the official website of the Maui County Planning Department or the Hawaiian Council, which advocates for Native Hawaiian rights and cultural preservation.

Also read: Buying Property In Hawaii As A Foreigner: A Comprehensive Guide


The complex history of land ownership in Maui has ultimately resulted in a mixture of public and private lands, with tensions around foreign investment and development. While the state owns a significant portion of Maui, major agricultural companies and offshore investors also hold large stakes.

With its limited land area, Maui continues to grapple with balancing economic growth, environmental conservation, and Hawaiian cultural heritage. Although beautiful and enticing, the island paradise of Maui faces critical decisions around sustainable land use and equitable access to its bountiful resources.

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