There’s more to Maui than meets the eye. The Hawaiian island known for its expansive beaches and swaying palm trees has another, quieter side. Upcountry Maui is about as different from its tourist-laden coastline as you can imagine. Almost mystical in its simplicity, it’s well worth setting aside your pina coladas and dragging your sun-drenched bodies off the beach and into the hills.
A hop, skip and a jump from the urban center of Honolulu on Oahu, Maui is a getaway haven almost as popular among Hawaii’s resident population as it is with visitors from the continental United States and beyond. While first-timers may be lulled into complacency and hypnotized by the beach, another world awaits couples who venture inland.
Known today as a whale-watch (Trilogy Excursions, tel 808 661 4743, http://www.sailtrilogy.com) capital — the islands of Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe form a shallow ocean basin that serves as one of the premier breeding grounds for North Pacific humpback whales — Maui was a key player in the 19th-century whaling industry. In fact, the west coast town of Lahaina was once known as the “whaling capital of the Pacific.”
Maui’s Winery at Ulupalakua Ranch (Haleakala Highway, tel 877 878 6058, http://www.mauiwine.com) has ties to the island’s whaling history. In the mid-19th century, whaling Captain James Makee landed on Maui suffering, according to legend, egregious injuries inflicted upon him by an irate crew member. Regardless of the circumstances of his arrival, Makee decided to stay. He purchased a 2,000- acre sugar cane farm, named it “Rose Ranch” in recognition of his wife’s favorite flower, and quickly earned a reputation as a hospitable host and agricultural connoisseur. The gardens from Makee’s heyday remain a major draw while the property, under the direction of Tedeschi Vineyards, now focuses on the production of wine — most notably pineapple-based Maui Blanc, a semi-sweet novelty wine perfect for sipping on ice as the sun dips beyond the Pacific horizon.
Lavender may be one of the most romantic scents on Earth. And Alii Kula Lavender (100 Waipoli Road, tel 808 878 3004, http://www.aliikulalavender.com) boasts one of the most romantic gardens on Maui. Draped across 10 acres on the lower slope of Haleakala, the terraced gardens are home to 45 varieties of lavender. The view from the lavender farm — from Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano, across the valley to Puu Kukui, the summit of West Maui Mountain — is inspirational. When you’ve had your fill of the view, meander along the gravel path that leads to a winding wooden staircase and into a studio chock-full of lavender-based products ranging from candles and bath salts to cookies and fudge sauce.
From Alii Kula, head north along the Haleakala Highway and watch for the entrance to Haleakala National Park (http://www.nps.gov/hale). Early risers (more than 1 million each year) swear the sunrise at the crater is a not-to-be-missed experience. The rest of us enjoy the park’s hiking trails, fresh-water pools and waterfalls. Visitor centers, open year-round, are staffed by knowledgeable individuals eager to share their insight.
Back on Haleakala Highway, watch for Kula Sandalwoods (15427 Haleakala Highway, tel 808 878 3523). The family-owned eatery is country casual in both style and cuisine. A popular breakfast stop for the Haleakala sunrise crowd, it’s also a great place for lunch. The barbecue pork sandwich with homemade cole slaw is a good bet.
The Upcountry town of Makawao is a slice of the “Old West” in the center of a tropical island. (Think Jackson Hole, Wyo. with palm trees and bougainvillea.) The center of the island’s paniolo(Hawaiian for “cowboy”) culture, Makawao traces its roots to the early 19th century when vaqueros from Spanish California arrived on the island to teac h Hawaiians the horseback skills necessary for herding cattle. These days, the wooden storefronts are more likely to house artists’ studios and bakeries (Komoda’s Bakery is noted for its cream puffs and doughnuts on a stick) than feed stores and saloons, but paniolo culture remains an integral part of the community. Each year on the Fourth of July, the town hosts an all-out rodeo that draws wranglers from around the world.
The foliage-draped landscape of the Iao Valley State Park (Kaahumanu Road) offers a cool respite from the heat of Maui’s tropical sun. Exhibits on display in the modest visitors center describe the flora and fauna, and easy hiking trails reveal awe-inspiring vistas — including a much-photographed view of the Iao Needle, a 2,250-foot tall natural rock formation that presides over the valley.
The drive to Hana on the eastern tip of Maui is an all-day affair. The 52-mile journey along Hana Highway begins in Kahului. Highlights en route include Hookipa Beach Park, internationally renowned among surfers and windsurfers; Pauwela Point; Keanae Peninsula; and Keanae Aboretum. Be sure to stop at Piilani Heiau, an ancient place of worship centered on a 340-foot by 415-foot stone platform dates to the 14th century. Wainapanapa State Park, near the 32-mile marker on Hana High- way, features a black sand beach, caves, sea arches and blowholes. The park also marks the start of a footpath that meanders seaside all the way to Hana Town where the Hana Cultural Center and Museum (hookele.com/hccm) documents the history of Hana and its residents.
GRAND WAILEA RESORT HOTEL & SPA
The elegant Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa is like two hotels in one. Set on 40 acres fronting Wailea Beach, the 780- room (including 52 suites) property is so expansive that couples lounging at the adults-only swimming pool are immune to the raucous goings on at the Wailea Canyon Activity Pool (nine pools and a “baby beach,” interspersed with seven waterslides, waterfalls, caves, “rapids,” and grottos). Guestroom amenities include complimentary coffee service and high-speed Internet service. There’s a spa and fitness center. Dining venues include beachfront Humuhumunukunukuapuaa and The Grand Dining Room (breakfast is served here, but the al fresco Bistro Molokini, open all day, is a better bet for lighter fare). 3850 Wailea Alanui, tel 808 875 1234, http://www.grandwailea.com $$$$
WESTIN MAUI RESORT & SPA
The spectacular sunset is an event at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa. Each evening, as the sun creeps toward the horizon, guests spill onto their balconies to witness the show of light as day fades into evening. The hotel’s 700-plus guestrooms and suites (wired for high-speed Internet service) are comfortable, if not elegant. Tropica (Bon Vivant, Global Traveler, June 2007), the hotel’s beachfront dining venue, is one of the best restaurants on Kaanapali Beach. The hotel features an adults-only pool in addition to a family “aquatic playground.” There’s a small, but adequate, spa. The hotel’s well-equipped fitness center boasts expansive ocean views. 2365 Kaanapali Parkway, tel 808 667 2525, http://www.westinmaui.com $$$$
MAUI PRINCE HOTEL
Weather permitting reserve a seat on the outdoor patio at this beachfront eatery in Lahaina where Executive Chef James MacDonald sets the tone with “new Pacific” cuisine. Start with Thai curry asparagus soup topped with Maine lobster. For your main course, you can’t go wrong with any of the featured presentations for the “catch of the day.” Devout carnivores will revel in the mouth-watering grilled filet mignon with Maui onions and Asian mushrooms topped with a petit lobster tail. After dinner, sidle up to the friendly bar for coffee and dessert. 505 Front St., La haina, tel 808 661 8422, http://www.iomaui.com $$$-$$$$
PIONEER INN BAR AND GRILL
Located in a historic inn on the Lahaina harborfront, the Pioneer Inn Bar and Grill is a casual pub-style eatery. The inn, built in 1901 and registered by the Historic American Building Survey, is Hawaii’s second oldest hotel. Salads, sandwiches and burgers are the order of the day at the restaurant, popular among day-trippers waiting to catch the ferry to the nearby island of Lanai. 658 Wharf St., Lahaina, tel 808 661 3636, http://www.pioneerinnmaui.com $$
Tiki torches line the walkway to Humuhumunukunukuapuaa (aka Humu Humu), the “floating” seafood restaurant at the Grand Wailea Resort & Spa. Guests dine al fresco in the waterfront venue — a cluster of thatch-roof, Polynesian-style huts. Seafood (pick your own lobster) is the specialty here where the food is good, but the setting is fabulous. Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa, 3850 Wailea Alanui, tel 808 875 1234, http://www.grandwailea.com $$$$
INFO TO GO
A number of airlines offer direct flights from the continental United States to Kahului Airport (OGG). The hop from Honolulu (HNL) is about a 30-minute flight. The easy-to-navigate airport is located mid-island near the town of Kahului. Most major car rental agencies have outlets at the airport. Maui Airport Taxi offers setrate service ($87 to Kaanapali; $57 to Wailea; $74 to Lahaina) to destinations throughout Maui.
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