A cowboy ropes a steer during the Makawao Rodeo in Upcountry Maui.// (C) 2010 Ron Dahlquist/Maui Visitors Bureau
During the 23 years that Bonnie Friedman has lived in Upcountry Maui, on the slopes of Haleakala volcano, she has watched it steadily evolve into a hip destination for visitors while, at the same time, maintaining its steadfast charms.
“Upcountry Maui appeals to two types of travelers,” said Friedman, owner of Tour Da Food Maui. “It draws repeat visitors who have spent most or all of their time at the oceanfront resorts on previous trips. It also calls to adventurous travelers who want to explore the whole island on their first trip.”
For each type of client, Upcountry Maui delivers, said Friedman.
“I think when people actually do make the drive to Upcountry Maui, they’re amazed at how absolutely beautiful it is and how different it is from the rest of the island,” she said.
Located several thousand feet above sea level, Upcountry Maui is defined by rolling pasture lands with cattle and horses, farms teeming with flowers and vegetables and quaint country towns. The destination’s higher elevations translate into cooler weather and a more pronounced change of seasons than in the downcountry.
“Most people don’t realize that they could find such things in Hawaii,” said Friedman.
From Agritourism to Activities
Upcountry Maui has a rich agricultural history that continues to thrive at the hands of creative residents. Botanical gardens grow everything from calla lilies to Christmas trees. A lavender farm welcomes guests for tours, craft lessons, tea and scones. A winery produces red, white, sparkling and specialty varietals, while a goat farm crafts award-winning cheeses in a bucolic setting with unparalleled views down to the sea.
Small, picturesque burgs dot the winding roads of Upcountry Maui, presenting opportunities for shopping, dining, adventuring and touring. In Kula, for instance, clients can pick their own produce at an organic farm and watch it get transformed into their lunchtime feast; or, they can dare themselves to try a tandem paragliding adventure above the slopes of the volcano. In Makawao, home of a thriving arts community and Maui’s paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) culture, clients can take a yoga class and watch a rodeo in the same day. In Haiku, they can rent two-wheelers and explore the beauty of the area under their own power; and in Pukalani, they can zipline across the slopes of Haleakala.
As an island food aficionado, Friedman knows the best local spots for Upcountry meals. Some of her favorites include Colleen’s in Haiku, notable for its fresh island fish and Maui beef burgers; Cafe 808, an unassuming Kula haunt known for burgers and local specialties; and T. Komoda Store and Bakery, a Makawao institution since 1916 and famous for its cream puffs.
A Constant Through the Changes
Over the years, Upcountry Maui attractions, restaurants, shops, galleries and bed-and-breakfasts continue to open or go through changes with visitors in mind. A case in point is the new Market Fresh Bistro in Makawao, where 90 percent of the ingredients on the menu are grown in Hawaii. Rodeo General Store — a Makawao institution — has been updated and now includes gourmet foods and wines in its inventory. A new farm stand called Kula Country Farms, located on Highway 37, sells a variety of Upcountry produce as well as jams and other Maui products.
But it’s the tried-and-true Upcountry pastimes that Friedman especially cherishes and shares with friends and family who come to call.
“In spring, the blooming jacaranda trees continue to amaze me. It’s fun to drive around looking for the most purple ones,” she said. “I like walking with friends through Makawao town and shopping or window shopping. I enjoy sharing a meal at Grandma’s Coffee House in Keokea, then strolling along the old Thompson Road. The annual May feast at Holy Ghost Church (a historic, white, octagonal landmark) is fun for visitors. And, they have the best Portuguese sweet bread on Maui. Also, I always take friends up through the eucalyptus forests of Olinda, where the fragrance is unreal — especially after a good rain.”
Contact: Maui Visitors Bureau (800-525-6284; www.visitmaui.com)