Now’s the Time for a Maui Vacation: Tips for Visiting the Upcountry Region
In case you haven’t heard the most recent news from Maui, Hawaiʻi’s governor has officially declared the Valley Isle open to tourism – including the west side, where the most extensive of the August 8th wildfires occurred. We know that many vacationers hesitated to come here during August and September, out of concern that it might negatively affect those who are trying to rebuild in Lāhainā.
As I mentioned in my last blog post, though, the reality is that Maui’s local businesses only thrive when tourism is thriving. So I thought I’d create a blog post series that focuses on some of the other incredible parts of Maui that you can explore while Lāhainā heals. I’ve already covered places to go and things to do on a visit to south Maui, so next, let’s head upcountry!
What’s Meant by “Upcountry”
The term “upcountry” applies to the areas along slopes of the Haleakalā volcano (on Maui’s east side), starting at an elevation of around 1,500 feet above sea level. This picturesque region consists of ranch lands, farm lands, and several slow-paced communities with an old-Hawaiʻi feel, characterized by rolling hills, groves of eucalyptus and jacaranda trees, stunning views, and an ideal climate.
Hawaii’s first cowboys arrived on the Big Island in the 1830s, and by the mid-to-late 1800s, cattle wrangling had spread all the way to Makawao, situated at an elevation of around 1,500 to 1,600 feet on Haleakalā. Because the transplanted cowboys were of Mexican descent (and therefore spoke Espanol), they became known in the Hawaiian Islands as “paniolos.”
Symbols of the paniolo culture continue to be found all over charming present-day Makawao, from hitching posts on the town’s main street to the Rodeo General Store (where visitors and residents alike go for local produce, meat, coffee, sandwiches, and hot meals). Komoda Bakery, established in 1916, also began as a saimin and sandwich shop – and later became a general store – catering to the paniolos. In its current form, Komoda’s is known far and wide for its malasadas (essentially, Portuguese donuts) and cream puffs in particular.
Although Makawao has retained much of its rustic historical character over time, in recent years it has also evolved into a flourishing artist community. So along with restaurants and boutiques, its downtown features galleries and shops (like Maui Hands) full of local paintings, photography, ceramics, woodwork, glasswork, and jewelry. And as another option, the Hui Noʻeau Visual Arts Center offers guided classes in making your own art!
For those seeking a nature-focused upcountry activity, the Makawao Forest Reserve provides beautiful hiking and mountain biking trails that wind their way through fern groves and towering Cook pine, eucalyptus, and tropical ash trees. At an elevation of around 3,000 feet, the forest has a Pacific Northwest feel, with cool temperatures year-round. The nearly 6-mile Kahakapao Loop Trail is a popular choice for hikers.
And if you do find yourself in the vicinity of Makawao, don’t miss the opportunity to eat lunch or dinner at Hāliʻimaile General Store! It’s been open for business for over 30 years, but it still managed to land on Hawaiʻi Magazine’s readers’ choice list for best farm-to-table restaurants in 2023.
The Kula Area
Maui’s other must-see upcountry community, Kula, boasts a surprising number of attractions for such a sparsely populated region…
If you’re interested in a scenic stroll that’s good for all ages, head up to Thompson Road. On this paved 3-mile out-and-back walk, you’ll have the volcano on one side (with horses and wildflowers dotting the landscape) and Maui’s central valley, the Pacific Ocean, the Molokini crater, and the islands of Kahoʻolawe and Lānaʻi on the other. After the walk, stop in at Grandma’s Coffee House (open every day, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.) for organic coffee grown on the slopes of Haleakalā, homemade breakfast, baked goods, a sandwich, or plate lunch.
If you’re looking for another perfect place to experience those stunning Kula views, try the Ocean Vodka Farm & Distillery! Along with organic spirits, fresh local food, and an exceptionally friendly staff, they have live music every evening, just in time for you to pull up a chair and watch the sun set between our neighboring islands and the West Maui Mountains. By the way, they also offer guided farm tours (with tastings) every half hour between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., every day of the week.
Speaking of adult beverages, the tasting room at MauiWine is open Tuesday through Saturday, offering reds, whites, rosés, sparkling wines, and even pineapple wines. And Tuesday through Sunday, just across the street at the Ulupalakua Ranch Store & Grill, you can shop for clothing, gifts, and other unique finds after trying one of the many dishes made with grass-fed beef, lamb, elk, and venison raised on their own ranch.
Perched at about 4,000 feet above sea level, the Aliʻi Kula Lavender Farm features around 55,000 lavender plants, in 20 different varieties. Although most of the lavender blooms during the summer, some of the varieties bloom year-round, as do the farm’s hydrangeas, proteas, and endless other flowers. Friday through Monday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., enjoy walking through the gardens on your own (there are no guided tours) and exploring the small gift shop, which has every lavender product imaginable (along with some you haven’t imagined)!
Bonus suggestion for great food and beverages in the Kula area: Restaurant Marlow and its neighbor, Mahalo Aleworks. The sourdough artisan pizzas at Marlow are to die for! And next door at Mahalo Aleworks, you’ll find an open-air brewery with everything from IPAs and lagers to sours and porters.
Haleakalā National Park
There’s so much to do and see within Haleakalā National Park that I should probably cover it in its own separate post! But for now, Iʻll just mention that a visit to this 10,000-foot wonder is a must-do on your Maui vacation. Make a reservation to see the sunrise at the summit – and be sure to wear layers, because it’s actually quite chilly up there year-round. The park also provides more than 30 miles of hiking trails, but the standouts include Keoneheʻeheʻe Trail (Sliding Sands) and Halemauʻu Trail (Switchbacks).
Stay tuned: there’s more to come in this blog post series about Maui’s many visit-worthy areas! In the meantime, if you need more information about any aspect of life on Maui, please feel free to reach out to me.
Pamela Reader, Realtor Broker