Saturday, March 22, 2014

Searching for Oprah

Maui isn't  all about beaches and cemeteries, people. Yeah, wrap your  head around THAT one.

There's the Up Country. Oprah's got a place up there. And we found it. But she wasn't there.

Call me, girl friend!

Going Up Country while on Maui is probably one of the best things you can do during your visit to the island. First and foremost, it's stunningly different. Which, on an island, is something to be said. And which, since it's Maui, is impressive because pretty much everything is stunningly something.

The Up Country is where many of Maui's first ranching and farming enterprises began -- in the 1850s and earlier. It is also gateway to the island's volcanic crater Haleakala (which everyone assured me would not pop during my vacation). You'll find a couple of interesting sub-populations of tourists with a strange obsession with Haleakala: (1) Bicyclists who take a lifetime peddling up the mountain and 30 minutes going down and (2) people who get up at 2 a.m., pile into charter buses and go see the sunrise from the crater.


Agrarian Maui trivia tidbit: Capt. George Vancouver gave King Kamehameha I a gaggle of long-horn cattle back in the 1790s who thrived up country -- along with Kula tomatoes, strawberries and other fresh produce we snarfed throughout the week.  Imagine generations of volcanic ash mixing it up with the island's stunning red clay soil and warm, moist climate. The lush pasture land and gardens made me want to weep. As did the tomatoes and strawberries, which actually tasted like tomatoes and strawberries as opposed to the red paste we call fruit on the Mainland this time of year.

Where there are cows, there are cowboys. On Maui, they're
called paniolos. And there is a cowboy town -- Makawao.

But I digress.

The drive is half the adventure of going Up Country. From the Kapalua-Kaanpali-Lahaina part of the island where we staying, we headed south (?), then turned east (?) heading inland away from the beaches. For the most part, we cruised along two-lane roads flanked by endless fields of sugar cane.

That is, until we hit Pulehu Road (?) and began our ascent into yet another island take on paradise. The vistas were stunning, looking out over the entire island and across to Lanai and the boomerang-shaped midget island of Molokini.

Our first stop was a tiny community with the impossibly delightful name of Ulupalakua -- home to Maui's Winery. It was 5 o'clock somewhere so, of course, we did a tasting. The merlot and chard were, um, serviceable -- but the sparkling pineapple wine, we decided, might find an appropriate place at brunch. . .  with an elderly great aunt.

And, oh, the tasting room was a former guest cottage for King David Kalakaua, aka The Merrie Monarch, back in the 1870s. (The moniker didn't do him much good because he was essentially ousted by Hawaii's missionaries cum business tycoons in a pretty epic American land grab called the annexation of Hawaii).

Across the road is a lovely general store where some of us made new friends

and enjoyed an island confection known as Shaka Pops. I passed on the pop -- as I was wearing a white T-shirt, which is always an invitation for disaster when eating things that are frozen on a stick. I did have a taste, though -- delicious.

We cruised the former tuberculosis-sanitarium-now-Kula Hospital (couldn't decide if it was astonishingly beautiful or a worthy location candidate for a sequel to "The Shining") and then headed out to find Oprah's plantation. Yes. Plantation.

She lives down an eye-popping country road. Here's the view from her front yard. Basically on the scale of the state of Rhode Island.

Hi, Oprah! Note how the color of her bodice cleverly matches the local flora.
Note to self.

Trust me, you work up a fair appetite gawking at celebrities' homes so off we went to the Sandalwoods Cafe and Inn. The owner looked faintly surprised to see us when we strolled in -- perhaps because there were only four people in the restaurant (no doubt, the rest were furiously peddling their way up to Haleakala) -- but I'm here to tell you the Kalua pork was sensational. He smokes it himself everyday behind the cafe.

And, if you ever get a hankerin' for staying in an Swiss chalet on Maui, this is the place for you.

Now on to Kula Botanical Garden. . .

This family-owned establishment is a pleasantly manageable introduction to Maui's overall plant population, which frequently seems to want to impale or eat you.

Feed me, Seymour.
And in keeping with our botanical theme, our last stop was Ali'i Kula Lavender Gardens, where my cellphone battery conveniently died, taking with it any photographic capabilities. Let's just say, with 45 different types of lavender, plus numerous other island plants, the place packs a serious olfactory wallop. (And I SWEAR when I opened their website, I got a whiff of lavender. Seriously.)

And, with that, we waved good-bye to the Maui's lovely Up Country -- and Oprah.

See ya next time, lady! And save some Kula strawberries for me.


  1. Wow...all I can say is that I am definitely talking to the hubby about a visit to Maui. I was there one time before and now you got me wanting to see everything I missed!

  2. That was an impressive tour of Maui--my mouth was watering (as well as wanting to just get away SOMEWHERE).