Direct flights to Hawaii from Brisbane make upcountry tours of Maui easily accessible.
Mornings in Maui generally demand nothing more strenuous than pulling on a pair of shorts and sandals and heading for the beach. So what am I doing in long pants, hiking shoes and a jacket?
No swimming or snorkelling today. Instead, a dozen of us have signed up for a tour at the O’o Farm in upcountry Maui, a thousand metres above the ocean on the slopes of Haleakala volcano.
We compose a pick-your-own salad with snippets of wild anise, garlic chives and mustard greens; sample espresso made from farm-grown coffee beans; and sit down to a farm-to-table feast prepared by a gourmet chef. Spread out on platters near an outdoor kitchen are chunks of yellow pineapple, bright red strawberries and cherimoya, a melt-in-your-mouth fruit as smooth as pudding. And those are just the appetisers.
Upcountry Maui is a region of lush vegetation and winding, two-lane mountain roads. Most visitors know the area as the slice of old Hawaii they drive through on the way up to the summit of 3000-metre Haleakala. A half-dozen micro-climates and rich, volcanic soil make growing conditions ideal on the volcano’s lower slopes.
Now young farmers, many connected to local chefs, are reclaiming patches of land that native Hawaiians once planted with sweet potatoes and taro. Their aim: to “re-localise” food production and showcase native ingredients.
For visitors to Maui with time to explore the back roads, culinary discoveries await at out-of-the-way restaurants and boutique farms cultivating everything from wine grapes to exotic herbs.
A decade ago, owners of the Pacific’O and I’O restaurants in beachfront Lahaina bought upcountry land that had been claimed by a commune of hippie squatters. They began experimenting with new and traditional crops, with a goal of supplying their restaurants with locally grown produce.
Following a farm tour we stop for lunch at Pacific’O Lahaina restaurant and enjoy a menu of grilled fish cooked with Maui sweet onions and a marinated tofu dish composed with fresh-picked kale, daikon radishes, two kinds of beets and yellow squash. Sitting at a long wooden table shaded by trees, we linger until 2.30pm, finishing the afternoon with chocolates infused with house-made espresso and lively conversation among new friends.
Most of what there is to see in upcountry Maui could be covered in a day trip from the beach resorts, but spending a night or two makes sense if you’re combining farm visits with a trip to Haleakala or the drive to Hana, the isolated little town on the eastern end of the island.
Kula Lodge is located in the agricultural town of Kula on the western slopes of Haleakala Crater, elevation close to 1000 metres. Nearby, in Keokea, the owners at Grandma’s Coffee House roast coffee in the kitchen the way their grandmother did in 1918. Too tempting to pass up are the pineapple-coconut squares and cinnamon coffee cake baked with her recipes.
The Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm is described as one of the most peaceful places on Maui, where samples of lavender tea and scones are offered on the porch overlooking the sugarcane fields, and the farm’s history is learned on a 45-minute guided tour. With 45 varieties of lavender and native gardens filled with tropical flowers, macadamia and olive trees, something is blooming year-round.
A stop at the Tedeschi Vineyards off Highway 37 in Keokea is a treat, especially for drivers returning from the long drive to Hana on the rough road skirting the back side of Haleakala.
Get elk burgers at the old-time general store, or take a tour and sample wines at the Tedeschi winery on the grounds of the Ulupalakua Ranch, a favourite cool-climate getaway for Hawaiian King Kalakaua in 1874.
The ranch has been in paniolo or “cowboy” country for more than 160 years. The current owners raise elk, grow grapes and cultivate strawberries, onions and potatoes for local chefs. Pineapple wine comes from fruit grown in lower elevations, then is crushed at the winery in an Italian grape press. Cattle eat the leftovers.
The free tours include samples of a chilled pineapple sparkler served inside the king’s former guest cottage.
Island-grown ingredients end up in many of the 30 goat cheeses made by Eva and Thomas Kafsack, the German owners of the solar-powered Surfing Goat Dairy in the lower Kula area. A flavour called Purple Rain contains a mix of local lavenders. Rolling Green is flecked with fresh garlic chives.
The Kafsacks run one of only two goat dairies in Hawaii and they invite the public in for cheese-making classes and tours. Popular with families is the Evening Chores and Milking tour, a 45-minute walk through the pastures at feeding time, capped with a hands-on lesson in how to milk goats.
Hawaiian Airlines operates flights direct from Brisbane to Honolulu three times a week.