Updated: Mar 31, 2021
The Allure of Upcountry Maui
Ahhh...Maui! Almost everybody’s favorite island! It always lands at the top of travel polls in magazines like Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast. The beaches are amazing, the restaurants world-class and some of the most luxurious resorts in the world are located there. While I will be the first person to take you up on an invitation to lounge poolside at the Four Seasons or dine at Mama’s Fish house, my favorite way to spend the day on Maui has nothing to do with sand, surf or fancy poolside cocktails. I always recommend that my clients and friends spend a day exploring Upcountry Maui... Its charm might just surprise the daylights out of you!
Upcountry Maui is located on the high elevations around the dormant volcano, Mt. Haleakala, and the fertile slopes are home to ranches, botanical gardens, organic farms and liquor distilleries with soaring views of the sea. It is an easy drive in your rental car from either the Ka’anapali or Kihei/Wailea resort areas. The coastal town of Pa’ia, with its surfer-dude population and “anything goes” mentality marks the start of the drive uphill. If you get an early start, stop in Pa’ia for a cup of coffee and delicious bakery treat, but you will definitely want to stop back through on your return trip in the afternoon when everyone wakes up! Here are some of the most popular things to see and do in Upcountry Maui:
1. Makawao Town: Makawao is one of Hawaii’s last paniolo (cowboy) towns. There is a very popular rodeo held here each 4th of July. Makawao retains much of that paniolo flavor in the facades of its buildings, but on the inside you’ll find art galleries, craft stores, boutiques and great cafes sitting right next to more traditional stores where the locals shop and hang out. Stop in the Casanova deli or Komoda store for some fresh just-baked pastries and a cup of coffee before you head further upcountry.
2. Surfing Goat Dairy: One of only two goat dairies in Hawaii, it is located on 42 acres and owned by a German couple, Thomas & Eva Kafsack. You can take a tour, watch them milk the goats, participate in a “tasting” of a variety of their fresh cheeses and even let the kids help feed the goats at lunchtime! If you wonder about the name “Surfing Goat”, your question will be answered when you see the surfboards in the pens ...and the goats standing on them waiting to catch the next big wave!
3. Tedeschi Vineyards-Maui’s Winery: Makes and sells an assortment of wines made from grapes, as well as pineapple, passion fruit and even raspberries! A favorite is “Maui Splash”, a light and fruity wine made from pineapple and passion fruit served chilled. There is a tasting room and normally two free guided tours offered daily at 10:30am and 1:30pm(currently by appointment only). The vineyards and grounds are gorgeous and offer some breathtaking views.
4. Ocean Vodka Distillery & Organic Farm: A new addition to the Upcountry scene teaches that you can act responsibly with the environment and still produce a superior product at a competitive price. The Farm & Distillery is open Wednesday through Sunday and offers tours on the hour, including a sampling and souvenir shot glass (for those over 21). It is also possible to reserve a lunch meal 24 hours in advance to sample not only the vodka, but also some of the produce from the lovely organic farm.
5. Alii Kula Lavender: come and see 31 different varieties of lavender growing on the upcountry farm, blooming from June-August, and enjoy a cup of lavender tea or coffee along with a freshly baked lavender scone. This is a popular venue for small weddings in the summer and the views are absolutely breathtaking, as is the smell of the lavender. There is a gift shop selling all kinds of lavender soaps, lotions, honey & kitchen spice mixes. Come on Friday through Sunday for a self guided tour.
If the wine, vodka, organic produce, bakery pastries, lavender scones and goat cheese weren’t enough to keep your family full, there are several wonderful restaurants in the area as well. I love the Hali’imaile General Store, located near Makawao Town. It has taken me years to learn how to pronounce the name, but it is certainly worth the effort. Chef Beverly Gannon has several restaurants on Maui (and one on Lanai) but this remains my favorite. Reservations are recommended, especially at dinner! Back down the hill in Pa’ia Town, you can wander around and shop in the art galleries, surf shops and kitschy souvenir stores, but don’t forget a visit to either the Pa’ia Flatbread Company for the best flatbread pizzas ever (try the Kalua Pig flatbread!) or the Pa’ia Fish Market where you can order your fish tacos (or whatever you choose) at the counter and sit at family-style tables with a great assortment of tourists, locals and kite surfers.
So, definitely enjoy the beaches, swimming pools and golf courses of the Maui resort areas, but don’t forget to save a day to explore Upcountry! Grab a light jacket (it gets cool up on the mountain) and your loved ones and point that rental car “up” the hill! You will be very glad you did and will come away with an even better understanding of why Maui “No Ka Oi”! ( Maui “Is the Best”)