The Best Sights in Upcountry Maui
Ahhh…Maui: Almost everybody’s favorite island! It always lands at the top of travel polls in magazines like Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast. The beaches are pristine, the restaurants world-class, and some of the most luxurious resorts in the world are located there. While I will be the first person to take you up on an invitation to lounge poolside at the Four Seasons, or dine at Mama’s Fish House, my favorite way to spend the day on Maui has nothing to do with sand, surf or incredible dining. I always recommend that my clients and friends spend a day exploring Upcountry Maui. Its charms are sure to surprise and beguile.
Upcountry Maui is located on the high elevations around the dormant volcano, Mt. Haleakala. The fertile slopes are home to ranches, botanical gardens, organic farms and liquor distilleries that boast soaring views of the sea. It is an easy drive in your rental car from either the Ka’anapali or Kihei/Wailea resort areas. The coastal town of Pa’ia, with its surfer-dude population and “anything goes” mentality marks the start of the drive uphill. If you get an early start, pause in Pa’ia for a cup of coffee and delicious bakery treat, but you will definitely want to stop back through on your return trip in the afternoon when everyone wakes up! Here are some of the best sights in Upcountry Maui:
1. Makawao Town
Makawao is one of Hawaii’s last paniolo (cowboy) towns. There is a very popular rodeo held here each 4th of July. Makawao retains much of that paniolo flavor in the facades of its buildings, but on the inside you’ll find art galleries, craft stores, boutiques and great cafes sitting right next to more traditional stores where the locals shop and hang out. Stop in the Casanova deli or Komoda store for some freshly-baked pastries and a cup of coffee before you head farther upcountry.
One of only two goat dairies in Hawaii, Surfing Goat Dairy is located on 42 acres and owned by a German couple, Thomas & Eva Kafsack. You can take a tour, watch them milk the goats, participate in a “tasting” of a variety of their fresh cheeses and even let the kids help feed the goats at lunchtime! If you wonder about the name “Surfing Goat,” your question will be answered when you see the surfboards in the pens…and the goats standing on them waiting to catch the next big wave!
3. Maui Wine (formerly Tedeschi Vineyards)
This picturesque winery makes and sells an assortment of wines made from grapes, as well as pineapple, passion fruit and even raspberries! A favorite is “Maui Splash,” a light and fruity wine made from pineapple and passion fruit, and typically served chilled. There is a tasting room and two free guided tours offered daily at 10:30am, 1:30pm and 3:00pm. The vineyards and grounds are stunning and offer breathtaking views.
A new addition to the Upcountry scene teaches that you can act responsibly with the environment and still produce a superior product at a competitive price. The organic farm and distillery are open seven days a week and offer tours every half hour, including a sampling and souvenir shot glass (for those over 21). It is also possible to reserve a lunch meal 24 hours in advance to sample not only the vodka, but also some of the produce from the lovely organic farm.
Come see 31 different varieties of lavender growing on the upcountry farm, blooming from June through August. You can also enjoy a cup of lavender tea or coffee along with a warm-from-the-oven lavender scone. This is a popular venue for small weddings in the summer, and the views are spectacular, as is the smell of the lavender. There is a gift shop selling all kinds of lavender soaps, lotions, honey and kitchen spice mixes. There is a one-hour Lavender Garden Tea Tour twice daily that is very popular (have your travel agent call ahead for reservations), or you can just wander on your own to enjoy the views and aromas.
Delectable Upcountry Maui Dining
If the wine, vodka, organic produce, bakery pastries, lavender scones and goat cheese aren’t enough to keep your family full, there are several wonderful restaurants in the area as well. I love the Hali’imaile General Store, located near Makawao Town. It has taken me years to learn how to pronounce the name, but it is certainly worth the effort. Chef Beverly Gannon has several restaurants on Maui (and one on Lanai) but this remains my favorite. Reservations are recommended, especially at dinner!
Back down the hill in Pa’ia Town, you can wander around and shop in the art galleries, surf shops and kitschy souvenir stores, but don’t forget a visit to either the Pa’ia Flatbread Company for the best flatbread pizzas ever (try the Kalua pig flatbread!) or the Pa’ia Fish Market where you can order your fish tacos (or whatever you fancy) at the counter and sit at family-style tables with a lively assortment of tourists, locals and kite surfers.