Why You Need to Visit Maui's Remote Upcountry

Most visitors tend to park themselves along Maui’s western coast, home to big-name resorts along prime stretches of beach. But drive up into the mountains to experience a holdover cowboy culture (known as paniolos), a working dairy goat farm, art galleries and the only winery on the Valley Isle.

Photo By: Surfing Goat Dairy

Photo By: Hawaii Sea Spirits and Ocean Vodka

Photo By: Meredith Rosenberg

Photo By: MauiWine

Photo By: Aloha Missions

Photo By: Meredith Rosenberg

Photo By: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Photo By: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Photo By: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Max Wanger

Photo By: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Surfing Goat Dairy

As you navigate windy roads heading toward Haleakala National Park, a popular tourist destination climbing 10,000 feet above sea level, you’ll encounter the scenic farming region of Kula. Surfing Goat Dairy, founded by a German family in 1999, is worth a stop to try its award-winning goat cheeses and to tour the working farm. Choose from a variety of tours, from a short introduction that involves feeding some of the goats, to a longer one that allows visitors to milk them as well. The ultimate two-hour tour adds watching the cheese-making process. However, no tours are required for those simply wishing to order a cheese flight (award-winning flavors include Rolling Green with garlic chives and Ivory Coast with black pepper) while watching baby goats frolic. Alas, these goats don’t surf — the name stems from the family’s surfboard collection that’s scattered around the property.

Hawaii Sea Spirits

Just up the road from Surfing Goat Dairy is craft distillery Hawaii Sea Spirits. The lush, 80-acre farm grows about 30 different types of Polynesian sugarcane that are used in its organic vodka and rum. In addition to the sugarcane, deep ocean mineral water from Japan rounds out the spirits’ distinguished flavor. Frequent tours are held throughout the day, with guests visiting the sugarcane fields and distillery before proceeding to an outdoor tasting area. Leave time to roam the expansive grounds, featuring sweeping views of the West Maui Mountains, Haleakala Crater and the shoreline. (The property also hosts weddings.) Hawaii Sea Spirits doesn't ship its product, but you can stock up at the gift shop.

Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm

Continue climbing higher in elevation until reaching Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm. The farm is a bit of an anomaly since lavender isn’t native to Maui, but the 45 various types have adapted to the climate and bloom year round. While beautiful, just temper expectations as the grounds are covered with lavender shrubbery instead of traditional lavender fields. Walking and cart tours are available to explore the 13 acres, also home to protea, succulents, olive trees and more. Or simply embark on a self-guided tour, taking time to smell the lavender before hitting the gift shop for local lavender beauty products, make-your-own kombucha kits, lavender-colored clothes and more. Just beyond, nab a seat on the café balcony and take turns warming up lavender scones in a toaster oven, then topping them with butter, lavender honey or lavender lilikoi (passionfruit) jelly. Accompany them with either lavender tea or lemonade while admiring the Kihei coastline and valley views from your perch 4,000 feet above it all.

MauiWine

As you journey south you’ll reach MauiWine, one of the last major attractions in Upcountry on the backroad to Hana. It’s the only winery on Maui, and known, in fact, for its pineapple wine. Like many success stories, the pineapple wine started as a fluke, and first made for family and friends. It now encompasses 80 percent of production, with sparkling, dry and sweet options made entirely from Maui Gold pineapples. But the family-owned winery also owns a vineyard about a mile away, from which it produces Syrah, Viognier, Malbec, Chenin Blanc and more. The vineyard is actually more than 40 years old, so the Estate Wines are made from 100 percent Maui grapes. Sample the various types in the large, airy tasting room, or reserve a spot in the Old Jail (pictured), where exclusive tastings — unreleased wines, special bottlings — are held once a day. (As a side note, the "jail" is more like a storybook cottage than a jail cell. The former owner used the building as a home office, and a trapdoor behind the bar is believed to have concealed a holding cell.) Regardless of where the wine is tasted, fans can have some of the wines shipped; when shopping for it beyond the winery, know that the brand is sold under the Ulupalakua Vineyards label. Also be aware that online sites might still sell it under its previous name of Tedeschi Winery.

Aloha Missions

For a truly local experience, co-owners Tamika and Lesley of Aloha Missions work to create customized experiences, or missions, that go far beyond canned hotel options. One example involves creating a flower crown, or lei po’o in Hawaiian. The outing might involve visiting a local farm, like Maui Native Nursery in Upcountry, where you clip your own flowers before learning the traditional art of lei making while seated on cushions outside. Yes, you get to keep your glorious creation. Since Aloha Missions is focused on providing tailored excursions, no two adventures will be exactly the same. However, other sample customizations involve visiting a lo'i (taro) patch before learning how to make poi. Regardless of the mission, this is a surefire way to experience the real Maui while making some new friends in the process. Contact Aloha Missions to discuss possible activities.

Lumeria

Whether you want to call it an educational center, wellness retreat or mental health sanctuary, Lumeria provides a quiet oasis just 20 minutes from the main Kahului airport. Resident cats and a rooster family roam the lush grounds, which also include an expansive lawn for yoga classes, a saltwater hot tub, small pool and meditation labyrinth. A large Buddha statue and strategically placed crystals reinforce the spiritual vibe. Sizable rooms are housed in former plantation lodging framing the lawn, with some offering ocean views; all open onto a porch. Wellness classes are held throughout the day, starting with an early morning meditation and continuing with a mix of yoga and non-yoga classes, ranging from dance to kirtan (chanting). Build in time to explore the spa menu, since it goes far beyond conventional massage treatments. There’s the deep feet bar massage, which, like it sounds, allows a therapist to use their feet to remove stubborn knots. Other massages incorporate crystals, Hawaiian techniques and even cannabis oil. Guests don’t have to leave for meals either, thanks to the Wooden Crate, an on-site restaurant offering three healthy meals a day. But it’s worth venturing off property to explore Makawao and Paia — small town gems filled with independent shops, art galleries and tasty food.

Makawao

The Old West-style storefronts are the first thing that stands out about Makawao’s short strip of low-lying buildings. That’s because the town became a cowboy stronghold in the late 19th century due to the cattle trade. Cowboys are known locally as paniolo, and you can learn more about them at the small Makawao History Museum, or attend the annual Makawao Rodeo. The long-standing tradition happens around the July 4th holiday, where you can catch a parade, bronco riding and barrel racing. But tiny Makawao is a year-round destination, where you’ll find the occasional rooster wandering around, grocers selling kombucha on tap and flyers for yoga teacher trainings. Set an early alarm in order to nab cream puffs, long johns and guava malasadas before they sell out from T. Komoda Store and Bakery, a mainstay since 1916. Oh, and they’re closed on Wednesday and Sunday, so expect competition. Savor casual Middle Eastern at Habibi, where you can enjoy shawarmas and mezze plates in a peaceful courtyard. Hali'imaile General Store from famed Chef Bev Gannon is a destination spot, while you can channel paniolo vibes at Makawao Steak House. Chic boutiques also abound, from Designing Wahine, which feels like a Hawaiian Anthropology, to the fashion-forward Pink by Nature and locally inspired Holoholo Surf. Art galleries, like Hot Island Glass, where you can watch glassblowing in action, round out Makawao’s charm.

Paia

Roughly considered to be the beginning of the famed Road to Hana, this walkable North Shore town has undergone several iterations through the ages. In the 19th and 20th centuries it served as the center of a plantation community that worked in the sugarcane trade. Its numbers gradually shrank with the decline of the industry, until being reborn as a major windsurfing destination in the '70s. While Paia’s surf community, and accompanying surf town feel, are still very much intact, a creative scene has since added art galleries, high-end boutiques and trendy coffee shops. Standouts include long-time favorite Paia Fish Market for fish tacos, which are worth the long lines and packed communal tables. Cafe Des Amis serves a happy hodgepodge of crepes, Indian curry dishes and Mediterranean plates, along with lilikoi margaritas. Paia Bay Coffee and Bar is an outdoor oasis tucked behind Honolulu Surf Shop. As for stores, Pearl Butik sells local and global home goods, while Pakaloha Bikinis features a large selection of swimwear. Then there’s Nuage Bleu and Mahina, popular for fashion trends, and Studio 22k, notable for its jewelry designs that are influenced by ancient Mesopotamia. As for nightlife, check out Charley’s Restaurant and Saloon. Not only has it existed since ’69, but it’s also one of Willie Nelson’s hangouts.

Food

Just outside of Paia, Mama’s Fish House is considered one of Maui’s finest special occasion restaurants. Make reservations well in advance to experience freshly caught mahi mahi and local produce. Save room for the Tahitian pearl dessert with chocolate lilikoi mousse. At the other end of the dining spectrum, Thai Mee Up is a popular food truck tucked away in the Kulamalu Town Center parking lot. Load up on large, affordable dishes from grilled chicken satay to crispy garlic shrimp. Wend your way further Upcountry to Ulupalakua Ranch Store in Kula, which is part of Maui's second largest cattle ranch and across the way from MauiWine. Part Old West outpost, part casual grub spot, peruse cowboy hats and local souvenirs before grabbing an elk burger, cooked on an outdoor grill, to enjoy at a picnic table. (The motion-sick prone should pick up a small bottle of ginger tonic for coping with zigzaggy stretches of Haleakala Highway.) Further north you’ll find the Insta-ready Kula Country Farms stand among purple jacaranda trees. Besides fresh produce, the well-curated operation sells everything from cinnamon rolls to strawberry lemonade; you can also pick your own strawberries. Just a couple minutes away is O’o Farm for an authentic farm-to-table experience. Pick your own salad fixings during the farm tour, then sit down to a locally sourced, multi-course lunch at a long wood table. A coffee tour followed by breakfast is also available.

Haleakala National Park

According to Hawaiian lore, the demigod Maui, for whom the island is named, lassoed the sun from atop the summit of Haleakala Crater in order to extend daylight. Today, the now-dormant volcano in Haleakala National Park seems to be on every visitor’s checklist to Upcountry, since scads make the pilgrimage to watch the sunrise from Haleakala’s 10,000-foot summit. In fact, the journey has become so popular that the National Park Service now requires reservations. Although last-minute bookings are sometimes available, it’s advisable to nab a spot up to 60 days in advance. Choose from one of four sunrise viewing spots, including the Haleakala Visitor Center at 9,740 feet, or the summit at 10,023 feet. While not quite the same, no reservations are required to watch the equally spectacular sunsets.

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