Visiting Maui Part 1: Upcountry Kula and Hana


Today's post is Part 1 of my 3-Part series about Maui. Maui is a magical island steeped in culture, history, folklore, and indescribably stunning sights and topography, and our 10-day vacation there was nothing short of postcard perfect with common and not-so-common sights. 

I confess that I actually assumed Maui was going to be cliche or cheesy. Like Myrtle Beach but with clearer waters. But man, am I so glad that I was dead wrong. I think I got the idea from 1) Carrie Bradshaw nixing the idea when Aidan pitched getting Maui'd and 2) a wedding photographer that told me about the mass weddings taking place up and down the shoreline whereby every couple turns to face the sunset at the same time, which made me think Maui was Las Vegas with a beach. Happy to report that I saw no such domino wedding ceremonies on our trip. 

And please forgive me for waxing romantic, but a visit to Maui will change your world. It will. You'll think it won't happen to you. But it will. The Aloha spirit will stick with you like your shadow. You'll find yourself framing pics of Maui scenes to hang in your house, planting hibiscus in your yard, getting a thrill every time you see pineapple anything, and insinuating yourself into conversations about Maui. You'll talk about Maui the way New Yorkers talk about how great New York is. Life on the mainland will never be the same because you've seen the beauty of Hawaii and have felt the love of the culture.  

Travel Tip? ...Go ahead and load up on extras of the pineapple scented toiletries in your hotel when you visit because you'll be sniffing those bottles to mentally travel back to Maui every time your kids meltdown or work begins to make you weary. I speak from experience. My coral reef shampoo bottle from Makena is an instant vacation whenever I need a Maui Moment. ;)       

So here goes-- each week I'll add another installment for you to read. Check out each post to read all about the unique flavor and feel of all three legs of our 10-day Maui journey.   I've broken out the itinerary below for you so you'll know what's to come. Consider it your virtual vacation.  

The posts can get a little long because there's SO much good stuff to cover, so scroll and skim where you need to, come back and re-read as you have time to and ask me anything.  I'll answer any questions about costs, packing, planning, etc. Because like I said above, once you go to Maui you want to talk about Maui any chance you get! Just drop me a comment below and I will be glad to talk Maui to ya.  

The Itinerary:
Part 1 today is dedicated to our stint in Maui's Upcountry, known as Kula, which is rustic and unassuming. While in the Upcountry, we did the famed Hana Highway trek plus we checked out the sunrise at the top of Haleakala, visited a lavender farm, and stopped at the local winery and ranch for libations and good eats, all of which I'm sharing.  

Part 2 of the series covers our time in the posh and upscale resort area of Wailea-Makena where we luau'd, explored local beaches (including a nudie one!), ate at some really good restaurants, and did all things resort-y.  Find it  HERE

Part 3 is all about Lahaina where we stayed at the coolest beach digs, just steps off the sand. We also took a sunset sail, kayaked in the ocean, and explored some crazy cool off the grid terrain including secluded pools, blowholes, and the Heart of Maui. Read it HERE

Sound good to you? Then come along with me to Maui's Upcountry!  

Meet Kula. Well, the view from Kula. 

Pause to oooh and ahhhhh. Stunning, isn't it? God made so many gorgeous places, and Maui is certainly one of His most breathtaking creations.

Kula Chameleon
For geographical reference, you'll notice that Maui has the shape of a woman, tilted at a southwestern-facing 45 degree angle. The Kula Upcountry area is situated around the westward facing center of the woman's trunk. We began our journey right at the heart of the island.  

The Upcountry is rugged and free with a distinct vibe all its own. In Kula, the roads climb higher and higher, providing breathtaking views of the coastline below. On the way up the mountains, you won't see any place that looks too posh or polished. Instead there are quaint Mom & Pop stops and wild-growing grasses and flowers. Kula is actually a place that lots of locals reside to escape the more touristy areas like Lahaina and Makena. With its unassuming vibe, you might not even feel like you're in a tropical paradise until you turn to look out at the coastline below, making the Upcountry the perfect escape for those who want to be near beaches but not live on the beach. 

Cozy KUL Digs
We stayed at the Upcountry Bed & Breakfast, located 13 miles away from Haleakala National Park. The inn is a private residence situated on a tall hill and has 4 high-ceilinged rooms, each decorated with Hawaiian art quilts. The rooms have semi-private lanais that face the west, providing views of the mountains and beautiful sunsets over the Pacific. On top of it, the price was great and was the most affordable of our Maui accommodations. 

The innkeeper John and his house dog Gabby took excellent care of us, providing daily continental breakfast and lots of personal recommendations for restaurants including the charming  Kula Bistro, a bring your own booze place with unique culinary flavor and pretty presentation to boot. We ate there our first night in Maui and liked it so much that we ate there again the next night. As for the BYOB, there's a general store right across the street to shop for libations. 


Most impressively, our B&B innkeeper set us up for a success by packing our rental car for our incredibly early trek up to Haleakala National Park to view the sunrise. He appointed us with beach chairs to sit on, blankets to keep warm, some bug repellent, a flashlight, a thermos of hot coffee, and yummy blueberry scones from Kula Bistro. 

House of the Rising Sun  
Speaking of that early sunrise... Seeing the sun come up atop a volcano is a must when in Maui. Haleakala or the East Maui Volcano, forms roughly 75% of the island, and its last known eruption was back around the 1600s.  Check out more info here: Sunrise at Haleakula

Haleakala means "House of the Sun" and it's aptly named given the daily spectacle that is the sunrise. While plenty of people enjoy biking the winding, curving switchbacks to the park, we stuck with our rental car (affectionately dubbed the rollerskate) that sometimes struggled to make it up the steep inclines. 


So many people head up the volcano to see the sunrise each day that you absolutely have to be early in order to gain a parking space at the summit. I'm talking be there an hour before the sun is due to rise. Don't be discouraged if you see clouds as you approach the summit. This is actually even better than a clear day because the sunrise plays nicely on and against the smoky rings that hover over the crater.  My pictures can't do the scene justice. They basically suck. My apologies. Seeing the sunrise at Haleakala is best done with your eyes and not a camera lens. It's what I imagine seeing the sunrise from Heaven might look like. 

Seasons Change (by the hour)
The weather extremes are pretty unbelievable on the Haleakala Crater, which is an alpine desert, meaning the altitude is roughly 10,000+ feet with blinding glare, high evaporation, and wide ranging temperature extremes. Day time temps soar high with unforgiving heat indices, but by stark contrast, the sunrise temps are often in the 40s with windchills that can dip into the upper 20s. Not what you expected in Hawaii? Me either. 

Thankfully Josh is the Chief Vacation Researcher and warned me that I would need to pack a fleece jacket in addition to my swimsuits and sundresses. And again, our innkeeper at Upcountry Bed & Breakfast hooked us up. Hats, gloves, blankets. As the  Maui Revealed guidebook suggests (and I suggest you get that book!!), wear ALL the clothes you packed, as you will need them. Then plan to shed them in your car before you hike down into the crater. 

Seriously. I'll say it again. Without the blankets and hot coffee provided by our innkeeper, the sunrise experience would have been a very miserable one as the cold winds are brutal and the hour wait feels like forever. Stay at Upcountry B&B for just that reason! You won't find that service at a big resort.  

Sun turning the clouds pink... 

Sun cresting over the clouds. Trust me, this is more majestic in person. Put down your phone and just savor it. 

Rise and shine! (Total eclipse of the Tourist)

Once the sun was up we could see the view better and WOW, was it beautiful. 

We made a stop at the Ranger's Station where we were told that it takes twice as long to come back up as it does to go down the crater. Without any trace of irony or jest, the ranger said, "You have your bottles of water and each other. Good luck." 

The vastness of the desert crater feels very Grand Canyon-y. It's also peaceful/eerily quiet along the crater hike with just the crunching of reddish rocks underfoot. Acoustics are interesting because you can hear conversations carried across the open air pretty easily, but most folks aren't very chatty on this hike.  

The hike felt a lot like running on the beach in that, because of the visibility, you can see what's ahead of you for such a long way that it feels like forever before you actually reach the amazing landmarks you can see. The good news is you have plenty of time to savor the views. 

This plant is called silver sword and is indigenous to Maui. They grow on cinder cones which are the simplest type of volcano. created when volcanic ash falls to the ground. 

Since Josh and I are distance runners (or have been in our pre-kid lives; lately not so much), I wanted to try to take a running pic to submit to Runner's World mag. With the altitude and the rising temps, it took no time at all before I felt taxed. Since this will likely never make it into Runner's World, I give you me, running along the volcanic crater. May the pic remind you of those trite office posters about goals, motivation, and perseverance.

"Always go the extra mile. It's never crowded."

Once the sun got high in the sky, we decided to call it quits and seek cooler skies.  Even our own conversation waned as we got tired on the ascent back to the ranger station and needed to save our breath. 

We left the desert behind us in favor of Kula's rainy parts. 

Purple Rain 
On the way back to the B&B after Haleakala, we stopped at Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm or AKL for short. This is a super quaint stop, sure to leave you with a peaceful, easy feeling and quite possibly inspire you to take a great big nap if lavender does that for you.

Perched on an often misty hilltop, thanks to Kula's 23 inches of rainfall per year, AKL is a nice cloud-like retreat where you can tour charming gardens and farm, take a wreath or bouquet-making class, enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch, nosh on a lavender snack in their cafe, and take home unique-to-Maui products made with lavender. Tours and classes require advanced notice. They offer wedding space too!


When I was in Sonoma, Cali, we hit up a cool place called The Girl & The Fig where I enjoyed lavender mojitos and creme brulee with wildflower honey (check out that place! Heart eyes!!), so I was pretty excited about sampling the lavender-infused treats at AKL. Josh was a little apprehensive, as I might be too if the tables were turned and he was encouraging me to eat a scone laced with Old Spice, which in his mind is the dude equivalent to lavender. ;)

We ate lavender brownies and scones, and drank lavender tea, all of which I enjoyed. I felt like a sachet of potpourri and I am sure that if you squeezed me, I'd emit a delightfully calming fragrance. Josh, on the other hand, was actually overtaken by a fit a sneezing shortly after he ate his lavender scone, so he migggght be allergic. He thinks he is anyway, but I have secretly used lavender in our house plenty of times since our day at AKL and he's not reacted to it at all.


AKL's gift shop is a great spot for lavender cooking spices, bath products, and even lavender laced chocolate to bring back to the mainland. The chocolate I bought didn't make it home because I couldn't resist eating it before we even left Kula for Makena! If you won't be making a trip to Maui soon, you can shop AKL's products online HERE. Shipping is pricey to the mainland at $16 flat-rate, so order a lot of stuff or have friends order together and split the shipping. 

Road to Hana
One of the most iconic and popular attractions in Maui is the Hana Highway, a long and winding road peppered with the most beautiful waterfalls, pools, black sand beaches, caves, lava tubes, bamboo forests, and more on the way to the isolated community of Hana, population under 1,300. The scenery is amazing and because of it, the Road to Hana is another absolute must-see when in Maui.

The trip takes a whole day and comes with some warnings like a commercial for a biologic.

The narrow road to Hana includes 59 bridges, 46 of which are just one lane. The hairpin turns (over 500 switchbacks) pretty much snuggle up to steep drop-offs that are dangerous for locals and visitors alike. Don't let me scare you away with this news, but when Josh and I toured Hana Highway, a local young man had died just the day before when his vehicle veered off the road and got lodged inside a treetop below. His fellow passenger miraculously survived the crash after also being safely plucked from a tree.

Hana Highway is definitely a treacherous road if you don't watch where you are going, yield to oncoming traffic, and traverse it sober. This leads me to my most fervent Maui trip tip: book a tour guide for Hana. 

I don't know about your significant other's driving skills, but Josh is an aggressive driver and often takes risks that leave me white-knuckling the handle above the car door. For this reason I was overjoyed that Josh elected to hire a private guide for the Road to Hana tour. This is the best thing you can ever do to preserve your marriage! 

There's so much amazing scenery to see along the drive to Hana that you both deserve to be able to take your eyes off the road to take it all in without one of you having to shout, "Watch the road!" Plus the road conditions are tough for the inexperienced. It's absolutely worth the expense and the insight of a local guide (we paid around $350 for our guided tour).

Our tour guide was Bryan, a former firefighter from Ohio who fell in love with Maui and never looked back. Josh found Bryan via Trip Advisor reviews. He was a terrific guide, provided us with tons of local history that he proudly took classes at the community college to learn inside and out. Bryan stopped at some lesser-known spots that he thought we would like. Knowing what stops were to come, he customized our itinerary and was able to suggest where to spend more time and where to make a cursory stop for photos so we could see all that wanted to of the sights.

Best of all, Bryan happily took all the pictures of us that we wanted. No selfies needed. No shots of just one of us.

Even some pictures of us that we didn't even ask for...

Note that most people drive Hana Highway as an out and back, retracing their steps after a certain point, but because of staying in Kula, Bryan gave us the option to go around the Highway in reverse and in total, and we took him up on it, seeing some little-traveled places along a somewhat desolate stretch of the highway. Most people don't do this because the desolate spots include rough roads and if you plan to drive Hana yourself, your rental car company will warn you not to take the full loop or damages to the car won't be covered. Bryan and his minivan didn't care. We bounced and jostled through some barren parts that made for really cool pictures and revealed some isolated stony sights you don't normally see.

Aside from gorgeous natural views, there are plenty of cute farmstands selling fruit and banana bread on the Road to Hana, so bring cash as some places don't accept cards. Cell service is hit or miss on the road too, FYI.


Save room for some ice cream at Coconut Glen's where you can enjoy organic, vegan ice cream served in a coconut bowl and drink coconut water straight from the coconut. Photo from Vegan Runner Eats and Coconut Glen's Facebook page.... Because we covered Hana Highway in reverse, we were zonked by the time we got to Glen's and didn't take any pics.


One of the literally coolest stops was at the Wai'anapanapa Cave where we got to make a big jump into bone-chilling waters inside the caves of Hawaiian legend. If you have scuba equipment you can swim through a tunnel found in the cave and find yourself in a large lava tube. We didn't have scuba gear so we enjoyed splashing around the nippy waters and looking at the low overhangs of rock formation above our heads.  

My pictures are all dark and blurry so I borrowed this one from the internet to show you how cool the cave is. Read more here: Cave swim

PS, Bryan also took us to a cool watering hole where we got to jump off a bridge. Technically, we only jumped from a ten foot high rock into the chilly water but while we were there, someone dove off this bridge, which was more like 20 feet high. 


At Wai'anapanapa State Park you'll find beautiful black sand beaches, which are made when lava meets water and rapidly cools. The small rocks are tiny enough to be called sand and resemble smooth pebbles like aquarium rocks. 


We also toured a lava tube on our journey to Hana. A lava tube forms when the outer crust of lava cools off but the interior lava is still piping hot and flowing onward, leaving a hollow shell of the lava that already cooled off and essentially forming a tunnel or cave of hardened lava. It's really a neat sight to see. The place we stopped also offered a Ti plant maze. Ti plants are said to ward off evil spirits so you'll find them all over the place in Maui, especially as a border plant in private yards.  Find the lava tube and ti maze here: Lava tube

Hana itself is a beautiful stop to explore. There are beaches and botanical gardens to visit, plus the Hasegawa General Store for souvies. Or just stop in for lunch and soak in the views. Hana is more about the journey than the destination. Insert life metaphor here.  

We opted to come, see, and eat in Hana so we checked out an American-style restaurant with outdoor seating so we could enjoy the blue skies and even bluer water. And we invited Bryan to eat with us because that's what you do. 

He filled us in on how Oprah had wanted to build a home in Hana but some of her dream home building materials like specific countertops required infrastructure of new roads to be constructed in order to get the building materials to the site of her would-be home. Locals strongly objected and Ms. Winfrey listened without speaking at their town hall meeting before she decided not to pursue building her home there in favor of another spot on Maui, one where she could pave her private road. Read about it  here

By the way, if you dream of a job with Banker's Hours, you may want to dream more specifically of a job with Hana's Banker's Hours, which are far superior to any stateside bank's operations.

Another fun sight along the Hana Highway is the Rainbow Eucalyptus trees. These trees look like they have been painted but are natural. The bark sheds at various times, exposing bright green bark and then later turns colors like blue, purple, and maroon. 

Aside: I didn't put together a "Going to Hana in a Handbasket" guide, but if I had to offer a quick list, I'd recommend having the following: swimsuit, cover up, clothing change (optional), sunscreen and bug spray, ID and a little cash and cards, ziploc to keep your phone dry, flip flops and hiking boots if you plan to hike, a hat, towels, plenty of snacks and water, Ginger Rescue tablets if you're prone to carsickness, and a purse-size first-aid kit in case you cut your foot on lava rocks or something like that.

After Bryan dropped us off, we were pooped out and slept through dinner. So the next morning, our last day in Kula, we ate breakfast with John, Gabby, and some visitors from Florida then headed over to the local winery and ranch. 


Cattle ranching is big industry in Maui dating back for centuries. One of Maui's treasures is the Ulupalakua Ranch Store & Grill. Aside from enjoying a beautiful drive through rolling hills to reach the ranch, you'll love eating at the open-air grill where the food is fantastic, fresh, organic, and as local as possible, much of it coming from the chef's microfarm in Kula. 




The Ranch also has a dedication to serving only Maui meat and produce. Think beef, elk, and lamb burgers plus vegan taro burgers, steak chili over rice. Sides include lemon, olive oil and parsley smashed potatoes, coffee gravy, Kula greens, and grilled pineapple. 

You can sit a spell at the picnic tables under 150-year old trees as you enjoy your lunch. Admittedly, it was weird for me to eat a lamb burger while hearing and seeing adorable livestock in the field but such is ranch life. As delicious as it was, I didn't finish my lamb burger and instead moseyed into the store to scout souvenirs and fun finds. 

Across the street is Maui's only vineyard, located on the slopes of a dormant volcano. The Ranch and Winery are sister properties and access to both is easy. The winery/vineyard, found here: The Vineyards, offers fancy packages for true wine connoisseurs, but for casual wine drinkers like us, there's a simple and informative tour and tasting, set in beautiful historic buildings dating back to the 1800s, including an old jail. The tour guides are friendly and allow for plenty of questions as they share the vineyard's interesting history that includes royals, booze, and politics. 

Now if you thought that wine tasting on Maui was the pinnacle of earthly existence, then I have two words to help inch that status just a little bit closer to heaven:
Pineapple Wine. 
For realYou can even buy some and ship it home. 

But wait, there's more! I've got two more words for you...
Pineapple Snow. 
Not drugs, I promise.  It's handmade Hawaiian candy with white chocolate and macadamia nuts infused with Maui Blanc Pineapple Wine. You can order it  HERE. Get a box or six for me, wouldya? 

So that wraps up our tour of the Maui Upcountry. What did you think of the first part of our Maui vacation? Was it what you expected from Hawaii? 

From here we're heading to posh, manicured Wailea-Makena for some sleek resorting, a grande luau, and even some accidental sightseeing on a nudie beach. 

Stay tuned and follow along on Instagram for some bonus tips and content. 

Stylishly yours,

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