Over the last couple weeks I have taken you around the south coast of Maui and up to the northwest. Other Hana and the north shore, the only thing left is to go “up”. When I refer to “up” I am talking about upcountry Maui. Perhaps you have heard about it? Maui isn’t always about beachcombing and golf. Upcountry Maui provides visitors and locals alike with a cool breeze, canopy of willowy pine trees and the scent of fresh lavender as you travel your way up to Haleakala.
Towering over the island of Maui and visible from just about any point, Haleakala Crater is a force of nature in every sense. At 10,023 feet above sea level, this dormant volcano is the stage for a breathtaking range of landscapes – and skyscapes. Haleakala means “house of the sun” in Hawaiian, and legend goes that the demigod Maui lassoed the sun from its journey across the sky as he stood on the volcano’s summit, slowing its descent to make the day last longer.
Sunrises and sunsets are only tow of the many reasons to visit Haleakala National Park. Spanning more than 30,000 acres of public land, the stunning landscapes range from Mars – like red deserts and rock gardens near the summit to lush waterfalls and streams in the parks coastal Kipahulu section, near Hana and the beautiful Pools of Oheo.
There are numerous hiking trails that offer solitude and scenic views, while guided hikes and horseback rides provide an expert’s insight in addition to the natural beauty. There are more endangered species here than any other National Park Service, like blooming ahinahina (silversword) and nene (Hawaiian goose), our state bird.
However, taking the journey along the way to the top of the crater is an amazing experience in itself. So many tourists opt to get up extremely early and start their trek to the top for sunrise. It is important to note they now require advance reservations for admittance to the observatory at these early hours. I personally would rather sleep in, avoid the traffic and leave when there is daylight. So, go jump in your rental car and set your GPS to Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm. This is going to get you started on your journey to the top of Haleakala. Grab your Starbuck’s on the way out of town and fill up your gas tank as there aren’t many options on your way.
As you begin your climb towards Kula you will pass a sign for Historic Makawao Town. Don’t forget about this stoplight. You will want to visit this quaint little town on your way back. But for now keep going “up” and follow the directions to AKL. This beautiful hidden gem is one of my favorite places on Maui. I promise you will love it. The views are breathtaking and so are their lavender scones and lavender tea (breakfast snack). BTW, a must have is the Lavender Body Butter. If you are concerned about not having enough room in your suitcase, you can now purchase a small assortment of AKL products at the “From Hawaii with Love” store at the OGG airport after you pass security (you can carry it on).
Make sure you bring a sweater and a light rain jacket it might be cool and misty. I always pack and travel with my Arc’teryx light down hoody – even when I go to warm destinations. If you don’t have one of these super light jackets you are so missing out. It is my pillow on the plane, my jacket for windy evening walks on the beach and my inner layer when I go into higher cooler altitudes (Haleakala).
You might have noticed I always plan my travels around food favorites. So, you have a choice. If you don’t have breakfast snacks at AKL Lavender Farm you can always visit Kula Bistro or swing by Grandma’s Coffee House. They are both super cute and have tons of charm. Make certain you save room for lunch later down the road.
The next destination on your list is Ulupalakua Vineyards and country store. That’s right, Maui has a winery and you are about to experience their tasting room. Make certain you pick up a bottle of the Hula O Maui Pineapple sparkling wine. It is a total score and they ship too. After you wrap up your brief visit to the winery, walk across the street to the Ulupalakua Ranch Store. This little western style general store is where you are going to have lunch on the back porch. I promise you that you will experience one of the most amazing burgers stacked with all freshly grown upcountry veggies made outside on their massive grill. This might be the best burger I have ever eaten. It is so good that I request to go here for my Birthday every year.
At this point, you should backtrack just a little bit and keep on going to the top of Haleakala. Would I go to the top? Yes, it is worth it but if it’s raining at the winery, I am not sure that I would. If you opt not to go to the top, visit the small shops throughout Kula. There are beautiful glass galleries, artist studios and a really great gift emporium at the Kula Lodge known as the Kula Marketplace.
Regardless if you chose to explore Kula or go to the top of Haleakala you still have to come down off the crater. Hopefully, you will remember that intersection for Makawao town from your way up. As you descend, take a right at the sign and follow the little country road into the Paniolo town (Hawaiian Cowboy). Makawao is a soulful eclectic little town. It has tons of character and unique little shops. Unfortunately, the T. Komoda Store & Bakery will be closed (they usually sell out by 10 am) but you can always come back up if you decide to make a second trip to upcountry to visit Olinda. I won’t elaborate much on Olinda but just know it is home to one of the most peaceful forests you might ever see. It is located about 7 miles from Makawao and has a 1.1 mile trail.
As you wrap up your visit to Makawao you are going to be ready for dinner. If you are anything like me, you are exhausted I highly suggest visiting Polli’s. Polli’s has really good Mexican food in a super laidback atmosphere. It is probably one of the best on Maui (the other is Frida’s in Lahaina). If you aren’t up for Mexican and are looking for a little more upscale eatery, you should definitely jump back in your car and visit Haliimaile General Store for dinner (Opentable.com). You can’t go wrong with either choice.
The day will have been long but hopefully you have enjoyed your upcountry adventure. There are as many things to do in upcountry Maui. You could spend days up there zipping, hiking, camping, exploring, etc. Who knows you might even run into Oprah at Grandma’s. If you are into outdoor adventures and the beach is not a priority really dig deep and spend as much time as possible up there.
Here is a brief recap of my faves for upcountry:
Places to Visit and Shop:
- Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm
- Ulupalakua Vineyards
- Ulupalakua Ranch Store
- Kula Marketplace
- Proteas of Hawaii
- Maui Hands
- Haleakala National Park
Places to Snack and Eat:
- Grandma’s Coffee Shop
- Ulupalakua Ranch Store
- Kula Lodge (only order the salads or outdoor brick oven pizza)
- Makawao Steakhouse
- Haliimaile General Store
Places to Stay:
- Lumeria Maui
Mulberry Seed Design