I'm always surprised that so few of Maui's visitors take the time to explore one of the island's most beautiful and activity filled areas, Upcountry Maui. Granted, most visitors make the trip to the summit of Haleakala, but all too many just turn around and return to their resort area. A visit to Upcountry Maui can take a full day, or more, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Here are a few of our favorite Upcountry Maui attractions.
Where protea once grew, Alii Chang began to grow lavender very much on a whim when a gift of a lavender plant was given to him. Amazed by how well it grew on the slopes of Haleakala, Alii soon bought up all of the lavender plants locally available and ordered more. Today 31 different varieties of lavender grow on the farm and bloom abundantly in the months of June, July and August.
The 8-acre Enchanting Floral Gardens lives up to its name by blanketing eight acres in more than 1,500 exotic tropical and semi-tropical species, including orchids, hibiscus, jade vines and proteas. The gardens are open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The upkeep of the gardens is not the best and the mosquitoes are pretty bad, so bring plenty of bug spray. The admission fee of $5.00 per person is a bargain, however.
Haleakala, "The House of the Sun", is a dormant volcano and the tallest peak on Maui, reaching 10,023 feet above sea level. The crater, or more correctly called the depression, is large enough to hold the entire island of Manhattan. It is 7.5 miles long, 2.5 miles wide and 3000 feet deep. The crater includes its own mini-mountain range of nine cinder cones - the largest of which is over 1000 feet high. Many believe that Haleakala Crater resembles the surface of the moon or, more likely, Mars with its red hue.
Kula Botanical Gardens covers six acres in a multi level, hillside terrain. Easy paths let people experience 2,000 types of indigenous plants as well as an excellent display of proteas, one of the leading plants in Maui's floriculture industry. The diverse landscape includes a stream and a large koi pond. The gardens are open daily. Admission is $10.00 for adults and $3 for children 6-12.
Built in the 1940's as a private residence, Kula Lodge and Restaurant sits at 3200 feet on the Western Slopes of Haleakala amidst a garden of flowers. The property offers great views of the ocean and West Maui Mountains. It's a great place to stop for lunch or dinner on the way back from Haleakala, Maui's Winery or for those who have made the journey from Hana around the southern part of East Maui. It has the only full-service bar in Kula. The Kula Lodge Garden Terrace features a wood-burning pizza oven and an open view of the entire west side of Maui. Five rustic chalets are available for overnight stays and are a great starting point to begin your journey to the sunrise at Haleakala National Park.
The Kula Marketplace, located next to the Kula Lodge & Restaurant, showcases the art and culinary talents of Maui and Hawaii's renowned artists and craftsmen - from museum quality sculptures to award winning photography; from homemade jams and jellies to the finest pastries and chocolates and from island designer wear to hand thrown pottery. You'll also find heirloom quilts, luxurious bath and body and international gourmet fare. Kula Marketplace is one of my favorite places to shop before I head home to the mainland.
Makawao is one of Hawaii's last paniolo (cowboy) towns. One of Hawaii's most popular rodeos is held here each July 4. Parking can be tough in Makawao. Makawao retains much of that paniolo flavor in the facades of its buildings, but on the inside you'll find lots of art galleries, boutiques, craft stores and eateries sitting right next to stores where the locals shop. You'll want to stop by the Casanova Deli or Komoda Store for some fresh pastry and a cup of coffee before you head further upcountry.
Located at between the 5,300 and 6,200 feet above sea level in the Kula Forest Reserve, the Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area is a wonderful place to hike and explore in a forest of trees much like you would see in the Pacific Northwest including pine, cypress, eucalyptus, ash, and sequoia/Redwood trees. The 10 acre recreation area is part of the larger 21,000-acre Kahikinui Forest Reserve. In addition to hiking trails, the park does allow hunting for boar, wild goats and birds. Hikers should be aware that hunters can be present. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is necessary.
Sun Yat-Sen Park in Keokea remains one of Maui's hidden treasures, although the county has let much of the park fall into poor condition. The park is located between mile markers 18 & 19 on the Kula Highway (Hwy 37). Being at the 2400 ft. level, the park offers excellent views of Kaho'olawe and Molokini Atoll. It's a popular spot from which to view sunset. The park honors Dr. Sun Yat-Sen who served as the first provisional president when the Republic of China was founded in 1912 and who is known as the "father of modern China." Sun Yat-Sen's brother lived nearby in what was once a small Chinese community and Sun visited here many times. The park has a bronze statue of Yat-Sen along with a few other memorial statues and art.
Owned and operated by German expatriates Thomas and Eva Kafsack, Surfing Goat Dairy is one of only two goat dairies in Hawaii. It is located on 42 acres with almost two-thirds dedicated as pasture, giving the Dairy's three bucks and more than 80 does plenty of space to roam and forage and a lot of land for Thomas and Eva to irrigate. You won't find two more interesting people on Maui and you'll be amazed how they address each of their goats by name and talk knowingly of each goat's habits and preferences. Why "Surfing Goat Dairy"? The answer becomes obvious when you not only see the surfboards in the goat pens, but also see goats standing on them as if waiting for the next wave.
The winery sells an assortment of wines made from grapes as well as several other specialty wines made from pineapple, passion fruit and even raspberries. My favorite is their top selling Maui Splash, a light and fruity wine made from pineapple and passion fruit. Your first stop when you arrive at the winery should be the tasting room, where you can sample the various varieties of wines. The winery also offers two free, guided tours per day at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. The guides are well versed in the history of the area and the ranch, and you'll enjoy walking through the grounds where Hawaiian royalty once relaxed.
First opened in 1849 during the Polk administration, the 'Ulupalakua Ranch Store is my favorite place to eat lunch in Upcountry. Inside the store is a small deli where you can order prepared deli or fresh grilled sandwiches using meat from the ranch, including fresh beef or even elk. While your lunch is being prepared be sure to wander through the store and look at some of the interesting signs on the wall. When your lunch is ready you can eat right there on the veranda or take it over to the winery grounds across the street where you can enjoy it with a bottle of cold wine.