Ascending the verdant mountain slopes of Haleakala, you begin to notice a dramatic change in landscape and climate. As the elevation climbs into the thousands, the temperatures drop several degrees, and the prevailing vegetation and trees seem more appropriate to the Pacific Northwest. This is Upcountry Maui.
In late spring, roadways to Kula are lined with splashes of purple in the brilliant blooms of Jacaranda trees. Year-round, the undulating waves of green pasture are punctuated by towering Eucalyptus groves. In the higher elevations, small farms can be seen producing some of the best-tasting onions, coffee, lettuces and strawberries to be found anywhere, as well as exotic protea and fragrant lavender flowers. Vineyards from the islands’ only winery are tucked into the southwestern side of the mountain. And, at the center of it all rises the majestic volcanic crater known as Haleakala, or house of the sun.
One of only two national parks in Hawai‘i, Haleakala is home to endangered species of forest birds, nene geese and unusual plant life as well as exotic landscapes, including the moon-like surface of the crater. With a variety of eco-systems and climatic changes, it is best known for a multitude of activities that are available across the upper and lower slopes.
Spending a day Upcountry is a rewarding excursion and there are several ways to do it. Begin with a drive from Central Maui to the lower grassland slopes along Omaopio Road. Desertscapes stretch for miles in all directions until you reach the sugar cane fields of Ocean Vodka Organic Farm. The new visitor center and craft distillery were established in 2013 but the organic vodka has been on the market since 2005. Walking tours take you through the multi-colored Hawaiian sugar cane, bottling plant and Martini Garden. Next door are the green pastures of Surfing Goat Dairy. This farm not only produces some of the most delectable goat cheese in North America, but it also offers a variety of tours. No reservations are required for the casual dairy tour offer each day. Try the evening chores tour for an up-close and personal visit with the goat herd. The popular Grand Dairy tour features an interactive goat herding and gourmet cheese tasting experience, and is available every Saturday morning.
Take the scenic curves of Hwy. 37 heading southwest and around the mountain until you reach an oasis of majestic trees at ‘Ulupalakua Ranch, home of Maui’s Winery. Walk through manicured gardens to the Tasting Room, where you’ll sample a variety of sparkling, red and white wines, including the famous pineapple wine, and learn about the ranch’s history and its famous guests. Guided winery tours are offered twice a day. Across the street at the quaint Ranch Store, step back in time to the heyday of Maui’s paniolo (cowboys) and pick up a hat or order a burger from the outdoor grill.
Heading to cool upper Kula, stop for a stroll through one of the botanical gardens or lavender farms. For an authentic farm-to-table experience, book a tour with O‘o Farm. Become a hunter-gatherer and pick fresh produce for your meal, then watch your personal chef prepare a gourmet lunch with these vegetables and fruits. Dine alfresco under a rustic arbor at the farm. On the way back, visit the Curtis Wilson Cost Gallery at Kula Lodge to complete a soul-soothing day.
Try a day in Makawao, the picturesque cowboy town at the edge of the forest, filled with shopping boutiques like Designing Wahine Emporium, art galleries, jewelry and glass studios. You may want to explore Haleakala Ranch lands by booking an eco-tour. Just outside of town, turn on Pi‘iholo Road and follow the signs to one of the more unique horseback trail rides on the island. Pi‘iholo Ranch features a working cattle ranch where guest riders can help move the herd on certain days of the week. Piiholo Ranch Adventures offer extreme thrills on ziplines and tree canopy tours. You can experience nine ziplines at different heights, including the fifth zipline that is 1,000 feet long. Climb a tower and walk on swinging bridges while taking in the amazing view from the top of Pi‘iholo Hill to the legendary Pools of Kalena.
The beauty and bounty of Upcountry Maui is an experience that can be enjoyed by all and appreciated by aloha ‘aina - love of the land.