Upcountry Maui

Genie Davis December 12, 2010 1 Comment


“Upcountry” as Maui residents refer to the least tourist-traveled section of the island of Maui, is a different world from the tourist beaches at Kaanapali or Wailea, and different, too, from the rain-rich greenery on the Highway to Hana. Here you’ll find cowboys and farmers, crafts stores, galleries, and fresh produce you’ll wish you could fly home with you. 

Let’s start with that produce. The vegetable farms here were once given the nickname of Nu Kaleponi, a Hawaiianized version of  “New California.” Immigrants who’d left work at sugar cane factories moved on to start their own farms which source onions, tomatoes, carrots, and cabbage. Flower farms abound here too with the protea crop providing the flowers for most of the leis in Hawaii. We stopped at several fresh produce stands and bought fixings for our own, hotel- lanai created salads, and our kids munched on super sweet fresh tomatoes while we drove. 

Upcountry Maui Flora and Fauna

We loved discovering the flora, fauna, and fruits and veggies of up-country Maui.


On Kula Road we explored the octagonal Holy Ghost Catholic Church, dating from the mid- 1800′s. This unusually shaped eight sided church has a shiny silver roof and some wonderful artwork inside and Portugese inscriptions, another tribute to Hawaii’s diverse ethnic mix. Our kids were fascinated by the shape of the building. 

But they were most fascinated by Alii Kula Lavender farm. The heavenly smelling blossoms grown year round and the lovely grassy Hawaiian setting makes this a must-stop if you are in or near Kula. We took the  Lavender Garden Tea Tour a morning tour that provides a unique breakfast of lavender scones and tea. And you get a tour of the beautiful gardens and the art studio on the property. Maybe it’s just that intoxicating scent, but we enjoyed the tour almost as much as our wonderful beach going. We spent a long time lingering over the souvenirs in the shop, and bought some lavender honey that made even plain old crackers into a delicious snack while touring the island. 

Makawao is known as the cowboy town on Maui. Perched on the slopes of  Haleakala volcano, the town has lots of interesting shops and restaurants. For those families who like meat, you can’t beat the fresh from the range fare at the Makawao Steak House. We found a small, sushi and smoothie shop called Makawao Sushi and Deli with delicious vegan sushi cut up at lightening speed and sold at bargain prices. You can find it near the Braun Gallery on Makawao Avenue. Local artists exhibit here and at other galleries along the main street; you’ll find Hawaiian landscapes and modern sculptures in galleries where kids are welcomed and even offered candy sticks while you browse. Shops sell cowboy shirts, horse feed, and fine art – often in the same store. Nearby you can watch artisans at work at the Hot Island Glass company. We also enjoyed the shop at the Anuhea Flower Farm, with a witty owner who favored our family with some insights into the lovely, artistic protea arrangements she shaped. 

Inland Upcountry Maui Hawaii

We loved the scenery of inland, upcountry Maui.


If you’re looking for more art, try Hui Noeau Visual Arts Center, just outside of town. This lovingly curated  arts center offers work shops, including a great looking pottery making class for kids. Called The Hui by locals, the center also has shows that feature the work of artists in residence, and the gift shop here offers one of a kind gifts that are truly one of a kind. The grassy area around the center is a good place for the kids to run around, and the main building is an historic missionary home, worth seeing in its own right. 

Plan ahead, and you might be able to take in an authentic Hawaiian rodeo or cowboy parade in Makawao. We’d just missed the 4th of July extravaganza, but from the photos the small, exciting locals rodeo event seemed like just the kind of activity kids of all ages would enjoy. 

Moving on from the art and cowboys in Makawao, we found Puunene Maui  a once booming sugar-plantation town approaching ghost town status with only the sugar mill and museum to mark its passing. But the museum is well worth a stop. The Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum has good displays that depict the history and structure of Maui’s sugar industry, and offers insight into Maui’s ethnic diversity as well. We liked seeing the inner workings of a sugar mill. And we found the exhibits in The Geography Room explaining Maui’s weather patterns and how they impacted sugar growing to be fascinating. From the kids’ perspective however, the best part was the interactive displays including a scale model of cane-crushing machinery. Do it yourself industrial geniuses, our kids didn’t want to leave this room. 

Nearby, on the Honoapiilani Highway, we discovered the small one street town called  Waikapu Maui, where you can get a look at the history of this plantation-rich region. We took a kid-friendly forty minute tram ride that led us through pineapple, sugar cane, macadamia nut, and papaya fields at Maui Tropical Plantation. It’s still a real, working plantation today. Halfway through the tram ride, we were given a coconut husking demonstration and offered a few bites of fresh coconut. The tour guide was amusing, there were fresh fruit samples available in the shop, and this sixty acre plantation gave us a good look at both what’s grown and how it’s grown in Hawaii. 

Another attraction that allows little feet to ride instead of walk is the Sugar Cane Train, which we loved. A steam engine powers open air cars on a twelve mile round trip through sugar cane fields. The folksy conductor sang songs and pointed out scenery and historical landmarks as the train made its way to the coast. We had great views of Lanai and Molokai from the cars. 

Your kids will love the change of scenery – exploring a side of Maui that’s not experienced from beneath a beach umbrella or bobbing in those delicious, warm waves.

avatarAbout the Author:

Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

Tags: , Reviews, Travel Excursions
One Comments to “Upcountry Maui”
  1. avatar Maui's Paia Inn Hotel - A Hawaiian Vacation Family Haven says:

    [...] Here on quiet northern Maui, it serves as the entry point for traversing the Highway to Hana and Maui’s upcountry communities and Haleakala volcano. It’s a small town that hearkens back to early, sleepy Maui [...]