If you’re planning a trip to Maui, you’re probably thinking about swaying palm trees, golden sandy beaches, and exotic marine life and while the land of the hula certainly has all of that, it has much, much more. The vast majority of space on Maui isn’t the shoreline where so many visitors flock each year, but rather the “upcountry.”
Stretching to include the cowboy country of Makawao, the farmland of Kula, the eucalyptus forests of Ulupalakua, and the slopes of Haleakala, exploring upcountry Maui (including the lavender farm Maui) will give you a different perspective of life on the honeymooner’s isle. This is where the people live and if you spend a day or two here you’ll understand why.
I was lucky enough to call the Maui upcountry home for a little over a year, and to me it’s the real Maui. In many places upcountry, if you couldn’t look out and see the ocean, you’d swear you were in the high meadows of Colorado or the Texas hill country.
Ranching and farming are a way of life and everything moves just a little bit slower. Communities are small and tight knit so everybody knows everybody but the aloha spirit runs deep so everyone feels welcomed. The sweeping ocean vistas, rugged green hills, purple jacaranda trees, and mom and pop shops and restaurants are the real magic of Maui. The fact that all of this is just a 30-minute drive from some of the world’s best beaches? Just a bonus.
Most visitors see a brief glimpse of upcountry as they’re racing down the mountain after sunrise at Haleakala to get back to the beach but this just isn’t enough! Here are some of my favorite things to do in upcountry Maui:
Enjoy the Drive Upcountry: If you’re coming from the resort areas of Wailea and Ka’anapali, you’ll have to pass through Kahului on your way Upcountry. For a bit of adventure and a look at a more rugged Maui, skip the Haleakala Highway and take the back roads instead. Drive past the sugar mill, along bumpy dirt roads lined with monkeypod trees, and wind up the mountain past small farms and sprawling estates which offer some of the best views of the giant cacti that inhabit much of the upcountry before connecting with the Haleakala Highway in Kula. For a reference point: start at the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum on Hansen Road. Take a right on Pulehu Road which will turn into Holopuni Road. You’ll eventually come to Haleakala Highway (37) and you can take a right onto the highway to continue upcountry to Kula.
Ali’i Lavender Farm: This place is not to be missed! It’s a pretty drive up to the lavender farm and on your way you’ll pass O’o Farms, which offers a farm to table tour and meal (reservations required). The lavender farm does cost a small admission ($3/person) but it’s well worth it. The current hours are also limited from Friday-Monday, 10AM-4PM. You can easily spend a couple of hours strolling through all of the different gardens. The grounds are exquisite and offer some of the very best views of Maui. They also have a cute gift shop and café that sells a lot of lavender themed items. Keep in mind that there are two lavender farms upcountry but the Ali’i wins hands down. The other does get quite a bit of traffic because it’s free and on the road up to Haleakala.
Haleakala National Park: Most people pass through Maui’s upcountry on their way to Haleakala. The most popular times to visit Haleakala National Park are for sunrise or sunset, but it’s beautiful all day long! Here is everything you need to know about visiting Haleakala National Park. And if you’re up for the adventure of a downhill bike ride through Haleakala and the upcountry, read this post.
Drive Up Thompson Road in Keokea: For a nice little drive (or walk if you’re up to it), go up Thompson Road for a few miles. It’s rumored that this is where Oprah lives (confirmed when secret service patrols Keokea when Michelle Obama is visiting) but this drive will make you feel like you’re more likely in Ireland than Maui. Right across the road from Grandma’s in Keokea, take the right fork in the road. You can drive to the end and turn around, but a lot of people park their cars and walk.
Tour a Pineapple Plantation: Hawaii’s only remaining pineapple plantation can be found in Haliimaile between the upcountry and north shore. This is where Maui Gold pineapples are grown. While the tour through the fields and facilities is kind of pricey, it’s WAY more authentic and extensive than the Dole Plantation on Oahu. I enjoyed this farm tour so much that it’s now on my Maui “must do list.” Combine with lunch at the Haliimaile General Store across the street. Read my full review of the tour here.
Maui Wine: Not to be missed! A trip Upcountry isn’t complete without going out to Ulupalakua (down the road from Grandma’s towards Hana). The drive from Keokea to Ulupalakua has great views of Wailea and Makena down below and is a real highlight of the upcountry area. This place is a real example of Hawaiian hospitality. Located on a beautiful tree filled estate, the winery’s property is filled with historic buildings and beautifully landscaped grounds. They usually offer a couple of complimentary tours each day (no need for reservations, just show up) but the highlight here is the tasting room. Maui’s Winery is famous for their pineapple wines but they have a growing collection of estate wines (look for the vineyard on the right side of the road on the way to the winery) that are gaining popularity.
Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.
Surfing Goat Dairy Farm: Goats? On Maui?? Stop by and see the goats and sample their cheese and chocolates. But if you’re going to visit, I would at least spring for the 30 minute tour ($12.50/person) where you’ll be able to learn more and help feed the goats. The real gem is the evening chore and milking tour. If you’re in the area and you’re a chocolate lover, consider stopping by and picking up some of these unique treats but don’t plan to spend a ton of time unless you’re doing a tour.
Shopping in Makawao: Makawao is paniolo (cowboy) country and the town looks straight out of the Wild West. You can easily spend an entire afternoon here. Park the car and explore the shops, boutiques, and art galleries that have revived Makawao from its days as a cattle town. While there’s quite a bit of parking on the street, there’s also a free lot behind the buildings at the northeast intersection of Baldwin & Makawao Avenue. Continue east on Makawao avenue and take the first left (Brewer road) and then turn left into the lot. It’s a bit hidden if you don’t know it’s there but once you park, there’s a staircase that takes you right up towards town (plus that’s where the public restrooms are).
Some of my favorite boutiques are Driftwood, Pink by Nature, Homme by Nature, and the Mercantile, but you HAVE to check out Haku Maui. You’ll see her sign on the mainstreet, but it’s hidden back a bit and it is the CUTEST lei shop. There’s a few things to purchase, but if your trip coincides with one of her lei po’o workshops, then booking a spot is a must!
Ocean Vodka Distillery: Next door to the Surfing Goat Dairy Farm is the Ocean Vodka Distillery, which offers hourly tours (for a small fee) of the distillery. They also have a gift shop that sells chocolates from the Surfing Goat that are made with Ocean Vodka. If you’re into touring breweries or distilleries this is an interesting stop, but if you’re not there’s plenty of other sites to keep you busy upcountry. There’s also a distillery tour at Haliimaile that you can add on the pineapple tour.
On Another Note: Trying to figure out where to stay on Maui? I’ve written a ton of posts that will help. I’d start with my 15 favorite resorts and hotels on Maui. Also, you’re going to want to decide between staying on the south side or the west side so this post about Wailea vs Ka’anapali is golden. Read about my favorite luxury resorts, boutique hotels, honeymoon resorts, family friendly resorts, and condos (many under $100/night!). If you’ve narrowed down the area of the island you want to stay, but need help picking a specific hotel, read these posts about where to stay in Wailea, Kihei, Ka’anapali, Lahaina and Kapalua, and Hana. And if you just want more details (more! More! more!), read my reviews of staying at the Four Seasons and the Fairmont Kea Lani.
Kula Country Farms: In upper Kula, you’ll find Kula Country Farms. The big draw here is a pumpkin patch in the fall and a u-pick strawberry patch in the spring. This place gets super crowded in the fall on weekends as locals make the pilgrimage from all over the island to pick a pumpkin and go through the corn maze. There’s also a little play area for kids and a farm stand that sells fresh produce and local goods. This place has great views of the ocean and West Maui Mountains.
Maui Goat Yoga: Goat yoga (exactly what is sounds like…doing yoga with baby goats) is an increasingly popular trend and Maui is just the place to try it out! Morning classes with baby goats are offered several mornings a week, but the most popular classes are the sunset classes with baby goats AND live music. I kid you not. Hahahaha. Did you catch that pun? Goat yoga is very popular so reservations are required in advance.
Go for a Drive: Depending on where you’re coming from, try the drive over Kekaulike from the Haleakala Highway and down Olinda road into Makawao. This drive has it all, from rolling hills to eucalyptus forests to deep gorges.
P.S. Want to read more? Don’t miss some of my most popular (and favorite) posts about Maui: my Maui favorites, the best Maui itinerary, how many days to spend on Maui, Maui vs Kauai, where to see turtles on Maui, my favorite road to Hana itinerary, guide for sunrise at Haleakala National Park, how to bike down Maui’s volcano, my review of the Maui Pineapple Tour, 20 of the best adventure activities on Maui, 5 Maui day trips, and the best things to do on a Maui honeymoon.