I took a three-night trip to Maui for a magazine assignment last week. While I’ve been to the island before, I hadn’t strayed too far from the resort towns of Lahaina and Wailea (other than a day spent with my family driving on the twisty road to Hana) so both the rural area known as the Upcountry and the North Shore were new to me.
I found myself enjoying the breezy tranquility of the Upcountry. It seemed more laid back and authentic, with locally owned stores and restaurants – a throwback to the way that the island used to be (although it’s not completely undiscovered – Oprah owns a large ranch in the area).
The following are a few discoveries that I made as I drove around (thanks to Maui tourism for arranging my flight and car).
1. Lumeria Maui
I wasn’t sure what to think when I pulled up to Maui’s newest luxury retreat, opened in January. Owned by architectural designer Xorin Balbes, the property – which dates back to 1909 – started as part of a sugar cane plantation, and later did time as a military hospital and as a dorm for women. Balbes has transformed it into an Asian-influenced sanctuary, with a focus on healthful living. I dug the 18-foot ceilings, the river-rock floors in the bathroom and the herbal water available around the clock. The location, halfway between Makawao and Paia, was also a draw.
On the other hand, Lumeria isn’t for everyone. I knew that there was no TV or bar but while the Upcountry winds kept my room cool, a pool would have been nice (staff say that one will be built next year). The rate includes daily yoga and meditation classes, and an organic breakfast; I also splurged for an on-site lomi lomi massage and a healthy three-course dinner (only available certain nights of the week).
I talked to a few of the couples who were staying here, and they all seemed satisfied. One pair celebrating their 30th anniversary chose Lumeria because they wanted luxury at an independent hotel, rather than a chain. They had brought their own wine in with them, and spent their evenings sipping on their deck, overlooking the North Shore. A younger couple from Phoenix found Lumeria through a coupon travel site. Avid yoga fans, they raved about the classes and the healthy food options. If you’re a wellness-oriented or just want some peace and quiet, Lumeria is a good choice.
2. Surfing Goat Dairy
The Upcountry’s emphasis on clean living is apparent as you drive past farmers markets, homeopathic shops and numerous yoga/massage studios. My destination as I navigated the winding roads was the Surfing Goat Dairy, one of only a handful of goat farms that have earned designation for humanely raised products. Their main product is artisan cheese, which is free of hormones, antibiotics or preservatives; it’s served in upscale Hawaiian restaurants including Alan Wong and Mama’s Fish House.
The dairy itself is a laid back farm decorated with surfboards. Many families were stopping in, paying $1 for hay so their kids could feed the farm’s kids.
There’s no restaurant on site, but you can purchase the dairy’s handmade spreads and goat cheese truffles, and also take a tour. I did a quick sample of the cheeses that they were featuring; standouts included Men’s Challenge, which had horseradish in it. They were so good that I almost splurged on an $89 take-home 6 pack, which included an insulated cooler to put in your checked luggage. Maybe next time.
3. Alii Kula Lavender Farm
The Haleakala crater, the remnant of a once-active volcano, dominates Upcountry Maui and the soil on the leeward side supports many farms, including this one that looks straight out of Provence. The sustainable farm sits at 4,000 feet elevation, which offers perfect cool weather for the 55,000 plants. It’s a popular place for a picnic (the farm charges $3 just to get in), and there are daily tours ($12) as well as frequent classes. I walked around the purple fields on my own, enjoying the gardens and the divine smell – like a spa come to life. If you go, stop in the cafe and pick up a lavender scone.
4. Kirsten Bunney Gallery
This was my favorite of the dozen or so art galleries that have sprung up in Makawao. Known as a paniolo (cowboy) town, Makawao has reinvented itself as an arts destination, with trendy boutiques, galleries and restaurants popping up in its plantation-style buildings. While it might seem off the beaten track, the town is one of the few places on the island where artists can still make a living, as high rents have pushed locals out of Lahaina, Kirsten’s husband Scott told me.
I really enjoyed Bunney’s island-influenced art and I bought a gelee to bring home. That’s her dog Jazzy in the gallery above.
Makawao has a 3rd Friday celebration from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., as well as an organic farmers market on Wednesdays. There’s also a sushi restaurant in town that whipped up some tasty ahi poke for my lunch. All in all, a worthwhile stop.
5. Aloha Cowboy
Another storefront in Makawao, this shop highlights the town’s cowboy past, with a dash of Hawaiian flair. Owner Renee gave me a quick synopsis of Maui’s ranching history: In the 1830s, a few decades after cattle had been introduced to the island, Kamehameha III invited Spanish-Mexican vaqueros to capture and slaughter the beasts, which had been running free. These vaqueros, along with the Hawaiians they introduced into the business, became the paniolo, the Hawaiian cowboy.
Ranches still dot Upcountry Maui. Other than the former Silver Cloud, now owned by Oprah, the best known is probably the Haleakala – the island’s oldest and largest ranch – and Ulupalakua, which serves an incredible burger.