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Sunday, 29 June 2014

Onward and Upcountry, Maui

Written by Lisa Richardson
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On the slopes of Haleakala, looming above sandy beaches, trendy restaurants and resorts is Upcountry.  With each visit, this part of Maui draws me in further.


Ocean snorkeling, sandcastles and stone massage in a hale on the beach wholly satisfy.  Yet, Upcountry soothes the soul with its nature-in-the raw, laid back, porch-graced homes seemingly kissing the sky.  Lush jacarandas dot curvy hillsides. The island country charm is pleasing.  Over time, the region has attracted spirited characters and dreamers.  This gem now boasts unique, mindful, sustainable growth and development worthy of exploration.


Our first “Road to Hana” adventure about a decade ago included a stop at Grandma’s Coffee House in Keokea.  Tasting Paradise, a recipe book chock-full of greats from restaurants on five Hawaiian Islands, brought this fixture to our attention.  Gratefully, we munched breakfast and left with sandwiches for a picnic along the route.  Those Maui onions fragranced the ride as the sun grew high.

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This year, Grandma’s was our first stop on a loosely planned journey to Upcountry.  Again, the aromatic sandwiches were our choice.  We inhaled these inside, adjacent to the bakery side of the kitchen.  Sharing a huge macadamia nut cookie, we soaked up the friendly, casual atmosphere.  Regulars drift in. Macadamia nut pesto pasta and Lilikoi cheesecake beckon from the refrigerated food case.  Grandma seems to oversee her shop in spirit.  “Her traditions continue,” declared the cashier, a distant relative.  Grandma’s Maui Coffees, roasted since 1918, bear the essence of old Hawaii. A passion for the Hawaiian Coconut Coffee developed during our island stay, with just enough beans remaining for one teaser cup on the mainland. 

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Traveling hilly Omaopio Road in Kula to Surfing Goat Dairy, we spotted some of the namesakes and soon, their surfboards. As we headed to the familiar shack for a tasting, we recalled some of our previous favorites (“Udderly Delicious” gourmet Chevre and “Lilikoi Quark”) and sampled new.  We purchased the “Diabolic,” ripened and aged 3 months with jalapeños, Thai dragon chilies, Bhudda Hand citron, Malabar peppercorns, in olive oil with garlic.  Populations have escalated over the past 20 months to 185 goats and 25 human employees.  Children and families can check out the goats on this working dairy.  Surfing Goat claims “Da Feta Mo’ Betta!”  We knowingly gravitated to ono salads enhanced with Surfing Goat cheeses (and sensational Kula greens!) on Maui restaurant menus.  

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When an ad in the Maui’s Menu Winter 2014 touting “organic ocean vodka” caught our eye, we booked a tour online.  Ocean Vodka is a success for so many reasons, beginning with son Shay’s clever plan for creating organic vodka from ten acres of Upcountry sugar cane and mineral-rich water derived from 3000’ ocean depths. The intimate family business thrives on solar power and is a model of sustainability.   Guests enjoy a tasting at the end of the tour, complimentary logo shotglasses, and drink recipes.  You are encouraged to snip herbs from the garden to create a favorite drink back at your island destination.

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At home in southern California, following Ocean Vodka’s recipe for Pineapple Rose, we muddled basil and rosemary, added pineapple juice, lemon juice, agave nectar and vodka to a shaker, and shook vigorously with ice.  Strained into a glass garnished with a rosemary sprig, we imbibed and pronounced the concoction “mellow yellow” with its subtle herb compliment and tropical flavors.

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We didn’t make it to the Ali’I Kula Lavender Farm this time.  Here, you feel on top of the world. Breathe in, explore on your own or take a tour, enjoy a sensuous taste (lavender-infused dessert!) or body treat.  Weeks or months later, just a dot of the lavender oil transports me.  Pleasure, too, is finding these Made in Maui products as part of a spa treatment locally.

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Kula Botanical Garden and Tedeschi Vineyards, the Pineapple Winery in Ulupalakua Ranch, appear worthy of another visit.   Thompson Ranch Riding Stables offer hikes and rides here.  The 49th Annual Paniolo Parade is slated for July 5! 


Not really certain why, I paused at a real estate office in Kapalua and inquired about information the agent may possibly have about Upcountry.  Baldev Singh poked through nearby bookshelves and presented a worn paperback, Four Wheels Five Corners, by Paul Wood.  Written in 1996, the “facts of life in Upcountry Maui” is an entertaining read. You get the sense of the place, the quirky nature and characters from a series of revised essays written originally for a column in the Haleakala Times.  His stories impart the author’s soul satisfaction and reverence for the land he calls God’s “piko-” the belly button or “center of the universe.”   I was moved.


Thank you, Baldev, for your humanity to a stranger, for this book, your passion for your own home in Upcountry, and especially, for sharing your own written words.  I am moved.


Eight days following our return, the Sunday Travel Section in the LA Times featured sacred Upcountry.  In Maliko Gulch, a former garbage dump, ancient pictographs were identified on the cliffs. The current owners and a relative of Hawaiian royalty vow to revitalize, preserve and share the hidden beauty beneath the banyan. 


The old and the new have emerged in Upcountry, bound by a gratitude for unique history, people and environment.  I will return for more aloha. 

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©Lisa Richardson


For more about Upcountry:

Grandma’s Coffee House: 18 Wahelani Street, Kula, HI 96790.

Surfing Goat Dairy: 3651 Omaopio Road, Kula, HI 96790.

Ocean Vodka: 4051 Omaopio Road, Kula, HI 96790. The recipe for Ocean Pineapple Rose:

Bacon, Karen. Tasting Paradise. Kula, HI: Coastal Impressions Press. second edition. 2000.

Bigley, Michele. “Sacred Hawaiian site is reborn in Maui’s Maliko Gulch” Los Angeles Times. 4/18/14.

Wood, Paul. Four Wheels Five Corners. Makawao, HI: Dead Reckoning Books, 1996.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 01 July 2014