Driving through Maui Upcountry
Maui is world-renowned for its dramatic coastline and stunning beaches, but much of the island’s magic is located inland on the misty slopes of Mt. Haleakala. Locals refer to the region as Upcountry, a place of rolling green hills, cool mountain air and the scent of fresh eucalyptus. Laid-back and unpretentious—yet overflowing with unique hidden gems—Upcountry is a memorable day trip for anyone who wants to discover a new side of Maui. For the best up-and-coming artists, farm-to-table cuisine and spectacular vistas, don’t miss these stops on a road trip through Maui Upcountry.
No trip to Maui is complete without watching the sunrise (or sunset) over the clouds of Haleakala Volcano, and this is the perfect way to begin your road trip into Upcountry. Allow plenty of time for the winding drive to the Haleakala Visitor Center, nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. From this vantage point, you’ll be rewarded with an epic display as the sun rises above the clouds and brilliant shades of orange and red dance across the sky. But don’t rush off as soon as the show is over. The National Park is at its most beautiful in the early hours of the morning after the sun has risen.
For mouth-watering French pastries, stop by the family-owned restaurant and bakery: La Provence. The intimate outdoor restaurant is tucked away in Kula, making this a fantastic stop after watching the sunrise at Haleakala.
Makawao boasts a rich history of paniolos or Hawaiian cowboys; the town’s annual Makawao Rodeo (held each 4th of July) is a testament to its traditional cattle-roping past. However, today Makawao is becoming increasingly known for its thriving community of artists. Independent boutiques, artisanal cafes and local art galleries line the two main roads: Baldwin Avenue and Makawao Avenue. As you meander in and out of the quaint shops, keep an eye out for the following gems. T. Komoda Store is a Japanese bakery that dates back to 1916. Stop in for a legendary cream puff when you need to refuel. Hot Island Glass is a stunning glass gallery where one of the artists typically gives glass blowing demonstrations while you shop. And you’ll find a few Maui Hands galleries around the island, but Maui Hands in Makawao is one of our favourites. Browse their large selection of Maui-made works representing over 300 artists.
Before you dive into your lunch, learn about the farming practices that have gone into the organic produce. At O’o Farms, guests participate in an informational and interactive group tour of the farm before gathering around a breath-taking outdoor kitchen. The chef then prepares a mouth-watering meal sourced almost entirely from the farm. Food has never tasted—or looked—so good.
When you think of Maui, wine may not be the first thing to come to mind. Yet Maui’s wines always manage to surprise and delight. Established in 1974, MauiWine is located in the King’s Cottage, where the last reigning king of Hawaii was known to relax and rejuvenate. A visit today will have you feeling like royalty in no time as you sip on MauiWine’s signature pineapple sparkling wine. According to MauiWine, their specialty wines are handmade by the community that has worked on nearby Ulupalakua Ranch for generations. Contact the winery in advance for a private tour and tasting, or arrive at your leisure for a complimentary tasting of any three wines at the bar. Alternatively, guided group tours of the estate, production area, and wine cellar depart at 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m
Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center
Located just outside Makawao is the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center. This old sugar mill dating back to the 1800s is now home to many of the island’s top emerging artists. Explore the free art exhibitions or browse the gallery for unique, local gifts. Then, meander around the sweeping Hui grounds for stunning views of the tranquil oasis.
This charming surf town is at the very start of Upcountry, and a popular destination for those tackling the breath-taking road to Hana. Here you’ll find a smattering of independent boutiques, quaint restaurants, and Hookipa Beach, the windsurfing capital of the world. While you’re here, don’t miss a meal at Mama’s Fish House. We suggest the signature Pua Me Hua Hana or fish cooked in coconut milk and lime.
Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm
Home to around 55,000 lavender plants, the Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm is a mystical place built on pillars of love, friendship and responsibility—or, essentially, the meaning of Aloha. Take a lavender tour to experience the beauty of the fields. Or simply relax in the cafe with lavender tea and scones. Either way, you’re bound to have a soothing and relaxing experience.
With so much to see and do in Upcountry Maui, it’s likely that you won’t want to rush through it all in one day. If that’s the case, then you can’t go wrong with a glamping extravaganza. Glamping (glamorous camping) is all the rage right now, and it’s no wonder why. Unique accommodation allows you to be one with nature without forgoing the usual five-star requirements. For the ultimate glamping in Upcountry, we recommend staying in a yurt-inspired bamboo villa just outside of Paia. It comes complete with two bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, and a private hot tub (the latter of which is ideal during an afternoon rain shower.)
While Upcountry might not get as much press as Maui’s main beaches or resorts, there are plenty of activities that warrant a stop on any savvy traveller’s bucket list. Enjoy the up-and-coming art galleries, eat your heart out at fantastic restaurants and cafes, or simply while away the day at the local farms and winery. No matter what you choose, you can’t go wrong with an off-the-beaten-track road trip into Maui’s lush Upcountry.
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Photo: Dan Moore
Photo: Dan Moore