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Beaming Up to Haleakala and Upcountry Maui

The drive to the summit of Haleakala, the enormous dormant volcano that dominates the island of Maui, can be compared to driving from the sub-tropical beaches of Mexico to the forests of Alaska in two hours -- and then arriving on the moon. As the road winds upward, the changes in climate, mood and vegetation are dramatic. Swaying tropical palms give way to pines, eucalyptus and even giant redwoods. The scents are invigorating, the panoramas breathtaking.

The name Haleakala means House of the Sun. More than 1 million people a year make the pilgrimage to the top of the mountain to watch the sun as it seemingly rises from within the volcanic crater and ignites the eerie landscape in hues of umber, amber, rose and jade. The beauty of the dawn sears the soul.

It was here in this place that Maui, superman of Hawaiian myth, lassoed the sun and made it travel more slowly across the sky, giving Mauians more sunshine to enjoy the day.

Haleakala's summit crater, 3,000 feet deep and 21 miles around, is large enough to hold the island of Manhattan, skyscrapers and all. It harbors plants, such as the magnificent silversword, and wildlife found no place else on the planet. The strange vastness is so much like the face of the moon that the American astronauts trained here for their lunar landing. They placed a prism on the moon, and laser light beams are bounced to it from Science City, a research facility atop the volcano. The roundtrip takes two seconds.

Horseback tours, 32 miles of hiking trails, and a few cabins and campsites make the crater accessible. The entire summit is part of Haleakala National Park.

The drive to the 10,023-foot summit, through the area known as Upcountry Maui, is as much a part of the experience as the crater itself. The slopes of the mountain are quilted in colorful, fragrant flower farms. Because of the cool elevation, carnations, roses and the glorious protea thrive. Many farmers welcome visitors and will ship flowers to their homes. The University of Hawaii offers free self-guided walking tours of its 34-acre experimental garden. Upcountry botanical gardens grow everything from orchids to Christmas trees.

Surrounding the fields of flowers are rolling green meadows where paniolo, Hawaiian cowboys, ride the range. The biggest event of the year in Upcountry is the Makawao Parade and Rodeo on the Fourth of July. Smaller rodeos are held regularly year round.

Historic Ulupalakua Ranch uncorked a new era when they planted grapes. Their Tedeschi Winery now produces a fine brut champagne, Maui Blanc de Noirs, which has been served at Presidential Inaugural Balls in Washington D.C. Tours are conducted of the winery and vineyards, ending in the tasting room, where a discouraging word is seldom heard.

From earliest times, the Hawaiians farmed the fertile Upcountry fields, growing taro and sweet potato. When the whaling fleets arrived in the early nineteenth century, they switched to Irish potatoes to supply the ships. Upcountry farmers fed the 49ers during the California Gold Rush. When the American Civil War broke out, the Union Army, cut off from its Dixie sources, marched into battle in uniforms of Maui cotton.

The most famous food crop today is the Maui onion, so sweet it can almost be eaten like an apple. It is prominently featured on island menus.

The biggest little town in Upcountry is Makawao, the center of ranching country. Cowboys still ride their horses down the rustic main street, but now they're as likely to pass by a thriving art gallery or craft emporium as an old feed, grain and saddle shop.

Leading the art trend is the Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center holding classes, exhibits, and workshops by prominent artists on the grounds of a gracious Upcountry estate.

One of the great treasures of the area can be discovered in a small white octagonal church in Kula, newly restored to jewel-like perfection. Its magnificent altar was a gift to the Portuguese plantation workers of Maui from the king and queen of Portugal.

Several fine restaurants have taken hold in Upcountry, in Makawao, Kula, Pukalani and Haliimaile. Stop by for the big, unabashedly caloric and dangerously delicious cream puffs at Komoda's Bakery in Makawao.

It is safe to say that no other place in the world offers both down-to-earth and out-of-this-world experiences in a place called the House of the Sun that looks like the face of the moon.

RESOURCES

Maui onion farmers: Masaru and Celestine Uradomo, M. Uradomo Farms.808-8781828.

Carnation grower: Ray Nishiyama, Maui Carnations, 808-878-6120.

Rose grower: Jan and Earl Yokoyama, Upcountry Flowers. 808-878-6511.

Protea farmers: Denise and Clark Champion, Cloud's Rest Protea Farm. 808-878-2544

University of Hawaii Maui Agricultural Substation, Charlotte Nakamura,(808) 244-3242.

Enchanting Floral Garden of Kula, Kazuo Taketa 808-878-2531

Pony Express Tours (into Haleakala Crater), 808-667-2202.

Thompson Ranch (for Upcountry horseback riding), 808-878-1910.

Haleakala National Park, 808-572-4400.

Tedeschi Winery, Paula Hegle, 808-878-1213.

Komoda Store and Bakery, Takeo Komoda, 808-572-7261.

Article Courtesy of the Maui Visitors Bureau

See also:
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