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Originally published Saturday, April 17, 2010 at 7:02 PM

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Maui's high life

Maui is nicknamed the "Valley Isle," but let's face it — most tourists' topography is limited to beaches, beaches and more beaches...

The Orange County Register

If You Go

Upcountry Maui

Kula Botanical Garden: 808-878-1715 or

Alii Kula Lavender: 808-878-3004 or

Grandma's Coffee House: 808-878-2140,

Surfing Goat Dairy: 808-878-2870 or Haliimaile General Store: 808-572-2666 or

Tedeschi Vineyards: 877-878-6058,

Skyline Eco Adventures: 808-878-8400 or

More information

Maui Visitors Bureau: 800-525-6284,


Maui is nicknamed the "Valley Isle," but let's face it — most tourists' topography is limited to beaches, beaches and more beaches.

Most give little more than an awed glance over their shoulders toward the cloud-wrapped immensity of Haleakala, the "house of the sun," a dormant volcano rising 10,023 feet above the beaches and the island's central valley.

I'm not going to be so preposterous to suggest you ditch the beach for a cowboy hat and a sweater and spend your entire Maui vacation on the flanks of Haleakala. But take a day or two to visit upcountry Maui, especially when the heat and tourist crowds get to you.

There's nobody hawking time shares in what passes for downtown Kula at about 3,000 feet on the slopes of Haleakala.

Up here, you get pines instead of palms. The scent of lavender instead of the smell of the sea. And cool mountain air.

John Davis, a teacher, moved from the beach side resort of Kihei to the Kula area. "Living by the ocean, you forget what it is like to be cold. Up here, you can wear long pants and pajamas and sleep under blankets at night."

Grab a map and go where the four-lane highway gives way to two-lane, then twisting side roads with blind corners and hairpin turns. It's a unique world of tropical cowboys, otherworldly gardens, plantation-style B&Bs, quirky animal farms, spirits (religious and drinkable) and the best restaurant outside of a resort gate.

Cowboy heritage

Start your drive in the hippie-turned-yuppie enclave of Paia, where the mountain roads hit the seaside. Continue up through Makawao, an old cowboy town that's now full of yoga studios and trinket shops but is 10 degrees cooler than on the beach.

Heading inland, Baldwin Road steepens as it climbs through cabbage and pineapple fields before pulling into the town of Makawao. The 19th-century village battles to hold onto its heritage of the "paniolos" — Hawaiian cowboys who still compete at the Makawao Rodeo Grounds.

The mix of clapboard buildings, trendy restaurants, barber shops and coffee bars is a big draw, and the traffic can slow to a crawl during the summer and on weekends when Maui residents head for the hills.

Makawao is a good spot to get out and stretch your legs and fill your tummy.

There's Polli's, a Mexican restaurant. At the Haliimaile General Store, chef Bev Gannon's "new Hawaiian" cuisine has been drawing diners up the hill to the old clapboard store in Makawao for more than 20 years.

Or if you're just passing through, pause at Komoda's Store on Baldwin Avenue, where the pastries are among the best on the island. The cream puffs are the most popular, along with malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts).

Driving higher

Heading south through Pukalani, stay on Highway 37 and make a short stop at the Church of the Holy Ghost. This 1897 octagonal structure is an island landmark, one of the most important churches from the plantation era when exporting sugar and other commodities was more important than importing tourists.

The road winds higher, where cypress dot the slopes and cows meander in green fields. There is a 1930s gas station with a sign warning "No smoking bruddah."

The protea belt around Kula produces fields of brilliantly colored hefty bulbous flowers that look like something out of a psychedelic science-fiction movie. Kula Botanical Garden showcases the flowers, along with sandalwood and other island flora.

If you are looking to buy, head up Upper Kimo Road to Cloud's Rest Protea Farm, where four dozen or more varieties are grown and sold.

Kula is also home to Alii Kula Lavender Farm, where walking tours will take you through the purple herb garden. Or owner Alii Chang can take you on a golf-cart tour of the 45 types of lavender on his farm. Or just dawdle over a cup of tea and lavender scone.

Somewhere up in the trees is Skyline Eco Adventures' zip-line tour for those who need the adrenaline rush of speeding through the air while dangling from a cable.

The farthest point out on an upcountry day trip is usually Ulupalakua Ranch, on the south end of Highway 37 before it makes the big (and mostly off-limits to rental cars) turn on the backcountry route to Hana.

Tedeschi Vineyards is Hawaii's best-known winery. Grapes that go into sparkling white wines and dry reds are grown on the southern flank of Haleakala. There's also fermented pineapple juice, all sold from a 19th-century tasting room that used to be a local jail.

If you time it right, you can have lunch across the street at Ulupalakua Ranch General Store, where burgers, beef or buffalo, are barbecued on a big outdoor grill from midmorning to midafternoon.

Vegetarians beware — the burgers are so fresh you can hear the future patties mooing out back.

It's all served in a village so laid back that during my last visit a cat lolled undisturbed in the sun — smack in the middle of a crosswalk on the empty highway.

On the way back, fuel up for the drive to the beach with a blast of 100 percent organically grown caffeine at Grandma's Coffee House in Keokea. Beware the awesome sugar high from the huge cinnamon rolls behind the counter.

A favorite kid's stop is Surfing Goat Dairy, where German expatriates Thomas and Eva Kafsack churn out award-winning goat-cheese spread drawn from the milk of more than 80 goats who call 42 acres of Haleakala home. Visitors get to tour the European-style operation, with its milk room, ripening room and cheese room.

After a long day on the mountain, go work off the food with a nighttime stroll back down on the beach. Just be sure to look once in a while to see if the moon is peeking over the slopes of Haleakala.

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