Posts Tagged With: Ulupalakua Ranch

Dark Side of Haleakala Reveals Quirky Maui (discovery)

 

panorama of the dark side of Haleakala near Kaupo

With the sounds of Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the Moon pulsing in my head, I woke up in my tourist condo in Kihei, Maui and shouted out ‘Enough of canned activities from the vendor on the beach. Today is adventure day and I’m going to find it.’  After two relaxing and beatific weeks of hot tubs, drinks with mini-umbrellas, and surfing with the ho-dad (beginner surfer) hordes.  I had to bust out.  I filled up the tank of my rental car at Costco and headed up-country.

Forty-five years of travel vacations gives me some perspective on what I like or not.  I’ve dabbled in various forms in my terminally peripatetic life.  Mostly I prefer new locations that offer some special passion such as last year’s trip to southern Africa where I tapped into my passion for deserts (red dunes of the Namibian desert) and waterfalls (Victoria Falls).  At times I just want to go to tropical islands and relax, ride the waves, drink Mai Tais and chill.  But even a chill out in a very ordinary and predictable place like Maui offers up some edgy adventures in between the surfing, scuba diving, and the, yep, Mai Tais.

Curt is a thinker

C-Dog pondering  Kula’s plants

That day I stretched out of the Maui beach routine.  Getting an early start with my old college buddy, C-Dog, we decided to explore the dark side of Haleakala volcano (dark in the sense that it is much less trampled by the tourist hordes, or so I thought).  We headed up-country (meaning higher elevation on Maui) initially checking out the privately owned Kula Botanical Gardens.  Botanical gardens rank right up there with my passions for hot springs, waterfalls, caves, and deserts.  Kula didn’t disappoint.  Family developed in the seventies, the gardens offer a wide range of plants from all over the world that are commonly grown in Hawaii.  I was surprised that the country of origin is most often South Africa.  When I reported this to a South African friend, he confirmed that most people think plumeria and others are Hawaiian native plants.  Now I understood the acclaimed of the Kirstenbosch National Gardens in Cape Town which I visited in 2014.  Although, a small, 8 acre, property , with a wide mix of plants and the 180 degree view of the island, Kula Gardens qualified this side stop as an adventure.

 

DSCF0102

Old-style sanatorium,  Kula

Prompted by my buddy’s desire to revisit where he had done some medical training back in the 80s, we found another of Maui’s rare gems:  Kula Hospital.  Originally, built in the 1920s as TB sanatorium, it is now a general hospital for the island.  Classic art-deco architecture and original landscaping and old houses gave the impression of old Hawaii.  Except for the modern cars in the parking lot, it could have been 1945.

 

guy with studio

art gallery cum studio, Kula

 

While getting gas, next to one of Maui’s original coffee houses (Grandma’s) I peeped into an art gallery located in an ancient 1920s building.  But not a typical dolphins on a wave type pervades tourist strips in Kihei or Lahaina, it houses the artist’s studio, his gallery, and his stream of consciousness self-promotion.

Finally, we rolled to Ulupalakua Ranch where a seniors’ motorcycle club had gathered for lunch, next door to MauiWines’ tasting room.  After a couple sips of expensive and too sweet pineapple wine, we headed into the reportedly treacherous road on the leeward side of the mountain.  For the daring (according to the hyper-cautious car rental maps) motorist, it is an alternative route to the famous rain forest haven of Hana.

 

bought a shirt

Kaupo General Store, Maui

Although I’ve been to Maui at least 8 times over the decades, I’d never been to the backside of Haleakala.  Tourist maps make it sound problematic with a long stretch of unpaved, one-lane road.  But instead of drama we were rewarded with big vistas of undeveloped grasslands and lava rocks.  Like a prairie on the moon.  Every so often a ramshackle, half-built house with a satellite antenna popped out of the brush.  I later found out that a lot of the area is Hawaiian Homestead land, where native Hawaiians can live for free.  Out there it felt as distant from civilization as the Navajo Reservation is from Flagstaff, AZ.

Arriving at the end of the paved road at Kaupo, we found the coolest general store on the island.  More than a store with cold beer and drinks, it offers home-made jewelry, and a museum of old stuff like cameras and hair dryers.  Weird but real, and definitely not Lahaina.

While sipping a cold brew on the lanai of the Kaupo store I felt adventurous and satisfied, until van after van of Friendly Isle tour buses rolled by in their packaged tours.  Oh well, I had enjoyed my fantasy escape to the edge of Maui.  Meanwhile, I had to negotiate the one-lane road back to tourist central in Kihei.  Just  another day in tourist paradise, adventure style.  As always, the living the dream means seeking and SEEING the adventures right in front of you.

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Uncovering Maui’s Historic Roots & Hipsters (discovery)

On my recent trip to Maui, driven by curiosity and desire for the authentic,  I explored many nooks and crannies on Maui from Makawao to Paia to Lahaina.  Nowhere could I get a hit of the real and soulful with local vibe and original spirit.  Until I spent a day in Wailuku.  Wailuku is the original town and administrative headquarters on that side of the island and has minimal visitors.  The first time I really visited Wailuku was in 2008, when a friend from college relocated here from Pismo Beach.  I had been coming to Maui for decades, but my previous experiences on Maui, mostly at the nature sites (Haleakala, Hana, Kihei, Little Beach, and Lahaina) had nothing to do with Wailuku.  I stayed at his apartment overlooking the town and discovered it was a normal town with neighborhoods and kids and like my hometown Santa Monica used to be back in the seventies.—an ignored and decrepit historic core (modern euphemism for old part of town).  But now gentrification has hit old Wailuku.

new  arch no bldg in Wailuku

New arch, no building historic Wailuku

 

Gentrification often saves the downtown core of old cities from demolition, including in paradise.  After a four year absence from Maui, I spent a few weeks on island and to my chagrin the beach tourist towns have blown up, just like my home beach town.  As in too much traffic, jaded merchants, and ersatz culture.  But in Wailuku redemption has come.  In 2011 I noticed the seeds had been planted, but now they have sprouted.  The coffee place, the restored movie theatre, the record store, and other shops bustle on Market.  The next street over Central Ave is primping for redevelopment, with  signs announcing restoration of old buildings from the forties.

wailuku bustles at Wailuku coffee

From street people  to stockbrokers, everybody stops at Wailuku Coffee

After several days watching the long lines of rental cars cruising through the tourist strips of Paia, Kihei, and Lahaina, I craved a hit of  the down home and local.  Wailuku called. On my last trip, I spent a whole days at Wailuku Coffee Company and few people would come in.  This year, I sat there for a couple hours and observed a constant stream of customers.  In just two visits, I was able to identify regulars.  I observed several business meetings, mothers with  their kids, and even the local eccentrics.

 

 

chic restaurant next to hostel

chic restaurant next door to hostel in the core

Inspired, I took a walking tour of downtown Wailuku, and discovered a wide-range of new shops catering to various hip or up-scale clientele.  A converted gas station now operates as a metaphysical gem store, whose ethnically mixed, young clerk wore a huge mumu, assisted a young Hawaiian guy buying crystals, while a 80-something white woman in an aloha dress waited.  Across the street an art deco style building housed an attorney, a yoga studio, and a holistic healer.  Rounding the corner, next to a huge parking lot for the municipal bldg. the hostel had a few youthful travelers lounging around. On one side of the hostel a totally vegan store celebrated its health orientation and on the other an upscale, table-cloth restaurant served lunch.  At the prime intersection, Market & Vinyard, a vacant store announced the pending opening of Pono with no clue on its mission.  Across from that corner the venerable Kokopele grill stand with its big yard used for weekly outdoor reggae movies.  In typical island style the stand occupied only one tenth of the lot.

A variety of other health-oriented shops have popped up next to the mysterious Pono.  They boasted a sign indicating no smoking of either kind—tobacco or e-cig.   Walking a couple more blocks down Market, I saw a man about 40 sitting on the sidewalk surrounded by debris of old pineapples.  Wary of being accosted for funds from my years of travel I braced myself, but he simply smiled and said “Hi.”  Even an empty lot had the makings of a re-do with a brand new concrete archway in the Japanese style opening to a barren lot except for a few cement pilings and trash.

Iao Theatre

Built 1933 and posters from  this year, Iao Theatre

As in many historic cores with classic theaters, the Iao Theater from the thirties (official historic landmark) had flyers of past and upcoming concerts from Margaret Cho to the Maui Chamber Orchestra.  Like the enigmatic Bowling Center which is only open for two mornings per week, nothing surprised me in reviving Wailuku.  Across from the heartbeat of Wailuku Coffee Company is Maui Shoe Academy, which deals in shoe repair and specialty footwear.

Further down Market I noted two more hostels, old and basic,  that could’ve been here since 1976, my first visit, but weren’t.  These days globe-trekking young people have a place to land and forage around the magical isle of Maui.  One, The Banana Hostel had a sign that announced that smokers had to stand away from the entrance.  It must be for foreigners, I can’t imagine Americans needing that instruction.

The Wailuku merchants seem to be serious about their revival with a guy sweeping in front of shops on Saturday with a broom and bucket.  Along with the industrious street sweeper, a wacky ‘hapa’ (ethnically mixed) guy lingered around the café for the couple hours I was there.  He flitted from store to café to another store and somehow finally got a couple dollars and waved them around and bought a coffee and salad and asked to sit at my table.  I said, “Sure.”  He then said, “Do you mind if I talk to myself?”  I responded, “No problem.”  He apparently didn’t like that response and promptly left. So, check-check for Wailuku’s harmless, aloha-spirited street guys.

Discovering the ‘new’ Wailuku, confirmed for me the value of keeping an open and curious mind-set while traveling as a counter-balance against the ‘been there, done that’ attitude that can surface later in life.  Even going to super touristy Maui for the umteenth time gave me some  discovery time.   Coming up on LDD:   Adventures in wild cowboy country on  the backside of the volcano.

 

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