Photo by Marco Koerner/Shutterstock
Ho‘okipa Beach is Upcountry Maui’s picturesque spot to wade, surf, and watch sea turtles.
There’s a magic side to the 728-square-mile Hawaiian island that’s mobbed with 2.4 million visitors a year. Here’s how to find it.
The secret’s long been out about Maui, site of a million honeymoons. Put in some cursory searching before your trip and you conjure the usual suspects: sprawling, 400-room resorts, a scenic highway jam-packed with rental Jeeps, row upon row of tchotchke shops. More or less the reasons you’d avoided the island in favor of its less-trafficked neighbors.
Maui’s rural northeast, however, shatters the mold. You won’t find it topping the lists of places to stay, which is likely why it remains a peaceful place for renewal. Here is the Valley Isle’s secret: Upcountry.
In a historic building that once housed sugar plantation workers, Lumeria Maui is a far cry from the manicured resorts of ritzy Wailea. The original structure is over a century old, the rooms are comparatively rustic, and you’re 20 minutes’ drive from the beach. But if you are at all nourished by meditation, yoga, and an atmosphere that’s more laid-back Zen temple than upscale beach party, this is where you start.
Lumeria's quiet, lush grounds are constantly tickled by cool ocean breezes. A saline pool hosts a couple quietly reading or chatting in hushed tones in the hot tub. Breakfasts of freshly cut pineapple and papaya, farm-fresh eggs, and proper health-food garnishes for your steel-cut oats like chia seeds and almond butter are served every morning by friendly, laid-back staff on the sun-soaked lanai.
Expect the trip to go down something like this: After rolling out of bed and enjoying your organic breakfast, you wander across the gently sloping lawn with a nod to the giant stone buddha that presides over it.
You’re headed to one of whichever of the three to five yoga and meditation classes moves you that day. They take place in a range of styles in one of the three (three!) dedicated yoga spaces and are included in your daily resort fee, so you’re treating your stay as something of a self-styled wellness retreat.
In a setting like this, you try styles you don’t usually have time for outside of your regular practice, like Kundalini or restorative, and indulge in the yogic ideal of both a morning and an evening class. Unusual for a vacation destination, the teachers are knowledgeable and experienced, making experimentation worthwhile.
Your impromptu retreat includes a daily self-lead meditation in between classes. That usually takes place in the forest overlooking the rolling fields of grazing cattle and, further below, the shores of the Pacific. There isn’t much noise to begin with, but if there were, it would be drowned out by the trade winds whipping through the whispering pines.
You meander down the hill into tiny Paia town, which most tourists treat as a last stop on the traffic-choked Road to Hana, but it is your daily home base. Its 35-year-old natural foods store, Mana Foods, rivals anything in Northern California’s hippie epicenters.
The town’s barefoot, dreadlocked youth gather out front for impromptu banjo jams featuring the occasional sitar, and you keep your eyes peeled for Paia’s most famously chilled-out resident and musical legend, Willie Nelson. Inside is a wonderland of fresh produce, mouthwatering, homemade mini pecan pies (yes, the baked goods come in gluten-free and vegan varieties), a wide variety of kombuchas and freshly made smoothies, and a curated selection of toxin-free sunscreens and essential oils.
A post shared by Mana Foods (@manafoods) on May 18, 2018 at 10:04am PDT
Every product in here seems like a good idea, you think, as you stuff local lychee in a sack and congratulate yourself on how good the gluten-free date bar you carefully selected is going to taste on the beach later along with this house-bottled coconut water. “You are loved and beautiful,” its label assures you. Inspired, you have a hard time choosing between an “I really appreciate you” and a “Whales make me happy” bumper sticker but ultimately choose the former.
“May all beings be stoked” yet another message reads on a friendly woman’s car outside the store. “Yes, indeed,” you agree, wondering in what other universe you could have had such a pleasant interaction in such a typically fraught landscape as a grocery store parking lot.
After wandering into the local Tibetan Buddhist temple, consecrated by the Dalai Lama himself, to turn the prayer wheel and send up a few positive thoughts, you make for nearby Ho‘okipa Beach Park. At this excellent spot to watch or partake in windsurfing or surfing off the point break, you wade in the tidepools and monitor the movements of the Hawaiian green sea turtles popping up periodically in the waves just beyond. The gentle beasts reliably populate the northeast end of the beach, patiently dragging themselves up onto the sand for their midday rest. You swim lazily in the water as a gigantic member of the tribe glides noiselessly past you on its way back out to sea, surely a good omen.
It’s third Friday—the day of the party in nearby Makawao town, a historic Hawaiian cowboy enclave a bit further up the base of the Haleakala volcano. (Makawao has maintained the region’s hippie vibes, though. Rodeo General Store serves VitaliTea, the island’s best kombucha, on tap.) The party closes off the main drag in the picturesque little town to vehicle traffic. In its place are local food vendors, bakers, a band of old coots playing country music hits from the ’90s, and locals who appear to have made a special trip down for the occasion from the slopes of the dormant crater.
A legendary vegan miso ramen stand that everyone seems to know but has no official name is exactly where one of the friendly staff at Lumeria told you it would be. It’s as full of hearty vegetables and umami goodness as you’ve been lead to believe. This is ramen that could hold its own in noodle-soup-crazy San Francisco. The meal is somehow even better here on a chilly Upcountry Maui night, punctuated by a light, cool rain that sends no one scattering. (The stand also serves gluten-free noodles on request. Because of course it does.)
Following a few days of this routine and its various detours, you’re impossibly well-rested and healthfully fed, your bones are happily aligned loosely in their joints and—bonus—you’re pretty sure your Kundalini shakti is awakening. You’ve avoided the tourist traps, shaken off the stress of the busy life at home that affords you this indulgent getaway, and are seriously considering what it would take to move here.
On the plane ride home, you’re not even sad vacation is over, really. You’re just stoked. This is Upcountry magic.
Sign up for the Daily Wander newsletter for expert travel inspiration and tips
Please enter a valid email address.