If you are visiting Maui, Hawaii, it's worth the time to explore one of the island's most beautiful and rural areas known as Upcountry Maui. The region is not precisely defined, but for the most part it includea the Haleakalā National Park side of the island, away from the shoreline. The biggest Upcountry towns are Pukalani, Makawao, Kula, and Haiku. This residential and agricultural area may not be tourist-laden, but it still offers many gems for visitors and locals alike to explore, from tropical floral gardens and a goat dairy to hiking near a dormant volcano that's over 3,000 feet deep at Haleakalā National Park.
After receiving a lavender plant as a gift, horticultural master Ali’i Chang began to grow lavender totally on a whim in Kula. Amazed by how well it grew on the slopes of Haleakala, Chang bought all of the lavender plants locally available and ordered more.
The farm he started grows about 25 different varieties of lavender, which bloom abundantly in the months of July and August. For a lovely day, choose from a guided walking or cart tour of the farm, or you may prefer the gourmet picnic lunch they offer.
Haleakalā Crater, known as "The House of the Sun," is a dormant volcano and the tallest peak on Maui, reaching 10,023 feet (3,055 meters) above sea level. Some people believe that the crater at Haleakalā National Park looks like the moon's surface, or even Mars because of its red hue. The 3,000-foot (914-meter) deep crater is large enough to hold the entire island of Manhattan.
Since the park has both coastal and mountainous areas, bring clothing for all types of weather, along with sun protection, and be prepared for your visit; gasoline, food, and beverages are not available in the park. People with respiratory or other medical conditions should take precautions due to the high elevation. Stop at one of the three visitor centers for more information.
Kula Botanical Garden covers eight acres in a multi-level, hillside terrain with easy paths displaying hundreds of plant varieties as well as an excellent display of proteas, one of the leading plants in Maui's floriculture industry. The diverse landscape includes a stream, rock formations, and a large koi pond.
The gardens are open daily. Check out the gift shop with Hawaiian-made items and plant-related goods. Visitors can buy snacks onsite and enjoy the deck with a nice view as well.
Built in the 1940s as a private residence, Kula Lodge & Restaurant sits at 3,200 feet (975 meters) on the Western slopes of Haleakalā amid a garden of flowers. The property offers great views of the ocean and the West Maui Mountains. It's a nice place to stop for lunch or dinner on the way back from Haleakalā National Park, Maui Wine in Ulupalakua, or for those who have made the journey from Hana around the southern part of East Maui.
The lodge's garden terrace has a wood-burning pizza oven and is a lovely place to catch a sunset and view of the entire west side of the island. For those staying overnight, five rustic chalets are available, and the Kulala Day Spa is onsite for visitors who'd like to relax with massages or acupuncture.
Kula Marketplace, located next to the Kula Lodge & Restaurant, showcases Maui and Hawaii's renowned artists and craftspeople. Enjoy everything from museum-quality sculptures to designer island clothing to award-winning photography and heirloom quilts. Try some culinary artistry such as international gourmet fare, fine pastries, chocolates, locally made coconut peanut butter, and homemade jellies.
Kula Marketplace is open every day and is one of the best places to shop for souvenirs and gifts before heading home to the mainland U.S.
Makawao is one of Hawaii's last paniolo (cowboy) towns that retains much of that paniolo flavor in the facades of its buildings and when the town hosts one of the state's most popular rodeos each July 4. But you'll also find lots of art galleries, boutiques, craft stores, and eateries right next to stores where the locals shop. Check out the Casanova Italian Restaurant & Deli or the beloved T. Komoda Store & Bakery—which opened back in 1916—for some fresh pastries and a cup of coffee before you head further upcountry.
Located at about 6,200 feet (1,890 meters) 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 much like you would see in the Pacific Northwest. You will find pine, cypress, eucalyptus, and sequoia/Redwood trees here.
The 10-acre recreation area, which offers camping and one cabin for lodging, is part of the larger 21,000-acre Kahikinui Forest Reserve. In addition to four hiking trails, the park allows hunting of pigs and seasonal birds, so hikers should be aware that hunters may be present. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is necessary.
Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Park in Keokea remains one of Maui's hidden treasures, located between mile markers 18 and 19 on the Kula Highway (Hwy 37). Being at the 2,400-foot (731-meter) level, the one-acre park offers excellent views of the island of Kaho'olawe and the Molokini crater, making it a popular spot from which to view sunsets and have a picnic.
The park honors Dr. Sun Yat-Sen—the first provisional president when the Republic of China was founded in 1912, which led to his nickname of the "father of modern China." Yat-Sen's brother lived nearby in what was once a small Chinese community in Maui. The park has bronze statues of Yat-Sen and his brother, Chinese dragons, and some other memorial statues and art.
Owned and operated by German expatriates Thomas and Eva Kafsack, Surfing Goat Dairy in lower Kula is an award-winning goat farm. Located on 42 acres, the farm allows the numerous goats plenty of space to forage. For an interesting day, take an educational farm tour: Three different tours are offered to the public, lasting from 30 minutes to 2.5 hours.
If you are wondering how the name "Surfing Goat Dairy" came about, the answer becomes obvious when you not only see the surfboards in the goat pens, but also creatures standing on them as if waiting for the next wave.
MauiWine, located in the heart of Ulupalakua, sells an assortment of wines made from grapes as well as several other specialty drinks such as their popular 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 King’s Cottage tasting room, which was built in the 1870s and where you can sample the various types of wines daily. The winery also offers two free, guided 30-minute tours per day. The guides are well-versed in the history of the area and the ranch, and it's enjoyable walking through the grounds where Hawaiian royalty once relaxed.
Have Lunch at the Ulupalakua Ranch Store & Grill
The Ulupalakua Ranch Store & Grill, which first opened in 1849, is one of the best places for meat lovers to eat lunch in Upcountry. At the small deli inside, order prepared deli or grilled sandwiches using meat from the ranch or the island, including fresh beef, lamb, or elk. The place typically serves locally grown produce as well, such as grilled island pineapple.
The business is open every day. Dine on the veranda or take your food to the MauiWine grounds across the street, where you can enjoy your lunch with a refreshing bottle of wine.