By: Cynthia Cunniff
When the average person thinks of Maui, the idealistic swaying palm trees on pristine sand beaches and fruity drinks with tiny umbrellas perched to the side of a coconut cup come to mind. I love the state of Hawaii, each island has a different flavor, but they all have the commonality of the understated, chilled out Hawaiian way of life. Maui is no exception, and if you’re one to want a real taste of the culture you’re visiting and a break from the touristy coastal scene – head Up Country, which lies at the foot of Haleakala Volcano and is the home to poniolos (Hawaiian cowboys).
The area on the slopes of the famous Haleakala has lush rolling hills with lava rock fences striating the landscape. The views are panoramic and from certain hilltops you can see both sides of the island at the same time. From the Kihei side of the island head to Surfing Goat Dairy (Directions: Take Hawaii State Highway 31 to the 311 North/Mokulele Highway, take a right onto Hansen Road and another right onto Pulehu Road which are both straddled by sugar cane. Pulehu joins up to Omaopio Road where you’ll narrowly wind your way with the temptation to stop for photos at every turn. Be careful and choose your stops wisely – the shoulders are tight and there are ranch and farm work trucks that come up and down throughout the day, so wait for a proper turnout to pull over and take a good look when getting back onto the road.)
The Surfing Goat Dairy is a whimsical place where you can feed baby goats who actually play on old surf boards, take a tour of the farm and buy some of the best goat cheese products I’ve had on my travels. If cheese isn’t your thing – they also have huge variety of chocolate truffles infused with local flavors. From Surfing Goat Dairy head to the Tedeschi Vineyards (Directions: Continue south on Omaopio Road, take a right onto Hawaii 37/Kula Highway and then a right onto Ka’amana Street following it just past the town of Keokea to the winery.)
If you start your drive in the morning with a stop to visit the goats and have a snack, you’ll arrive at Tedeschi Winery just in time to sip some local wines and then sober up with lunch across the street at Ulupalakua Community Store. I had a chance to eat at several upmarket places in the touristy areas near Kihei, but my lunch at the store (homemade steakhouse chili with sticky rice) was one of the best meals I had during the week I toured Maui.
Up Country Maui is known for its poniolos and you get a sense of their lifestyle at the winery which sits on what was once Rose Ranch and is now Ulupalakua Ranch – a working cattle ranch established in the late 1800s’. The ranch is currently run by the Erdman family and has been a working farm for over 100 years. You can get a rundown on the history in the room adjacent to the wine tasting room – which has old family photos and local artifacts from the days when the land was used to process sugar cane.
The trip back down from Up Country gives a whole new set of views of the island and is just as captivating as the journey up. This is definitely a family friendly drive and is fairly short with plenty of stop-stretch-see opportunities, so the kids don’t feel like they’ve been trapped in the car all day. The best thing is the experience won’t make you regret putting down that mai tai, stepping away from the buffet and heading Up Country for something different!