Marilyn Jansen Lopes’ white van slowly climbed the two-lane road up the mountain as she spoke about the view and prepped the group for the next stop.
Lopes, who runs farm and food tours around Maui every day of the week, moves through the day as if hooked up to a hidden intravenous caffeine drip. She has spent years getting to know the farms and farmers in Maui’s upcountry and brims with enthusiasm and love for the island.
We were halfway through our daylong tour, and lunch would be 2,000 feet above sea level at the Ulupalakua Ranch Store, followed by a tasting at Maui’s only winery. At this elevation, even on a clear day with the sun shining down, the intense heat at our oceanside hotel was well behind us.
By the warmest part of the day we were roaming Maui’s upcountry on a tour sponsored by the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau, shaving 5 to 10 degrees off the temperature in the valley.
As a tropical destination, some travelers might be wary of sweating through their Hawaiian shirts during the summer months. The average August temperature is 80 degrees, 7 degrees higher than the average for January, and highs creep into the 90s during the summer. However, July and August have the least precipitation, making it less likely that any outdoor activities will be rained out.
Hawaii Tourism Authority data shows December and January are the busiest months in the Islands as measured by total visitor days. But July and June are third and fourth, respectively, so travelers are still choosing Hawaii for their summer vacations. Water activities, from surfing and kiteboarding to kayaking and snorkeling, are the first thought when looking for ways to cool off.
But instead of turning to the ocean, visitors can head to higher elevations to find cooler temperatures and activities out of the sun.
Hawaii Island and Maui have the highest peaks among the islands and afford the most opportunities to escape the heat among the clouds.
For the Maui upcountry farm tour, Lopes picked us up in Kahului, and we immediately headed into the foothills of Haleakala. The first stop was the Ocean Vodka Organic Farm and Distillery, where they make vodka from sugar cane and desalinated deep ocean water.
On a clear day at the 80-acre, sustainable farm, where the distillery operations are powered by a large solar array, visitors are greeted with an expansive view of western Maui and the ocean flanking both sides of the narrower middle section of the island.
More than 40 varieties of sugar cane are grown on the farm, and rum is now produced at the distillery in addition to the vodka that won a triple gold medal at the 2013 Beverly Hills World Spirits Competition.
Lopes is a fountain of information about the farms and the surrounding community, and using a jury-rigged microphone she reveals interesting factoids, quizzes tour passengers and offers small prizes, frequently punctuating the stories with a two-note, staccato chuckle.
Next up was the Alii Kula Lavender Farm, a colorful, 13.5-acre facility that grows 45 varieties of lavender in addition to a host of other colorful plants and flowers, such as olive trees, hydrangeas, proteas and succulents. While lavender is not native to Hawaii, the plant blooms year-round in the cool, dry climate at 4,000 feet above sea level.
Before wandering the manicured gardens and absorbing the panoramic vistas of the valley below, visitors can relax over a cup of lavender tea and a warm, buttery scone.
For lunch we feasted on well-made burgers from Ulupalakua, which serves traditional beef patties in addition to elk, lamb, pork and taro versions.
With our stomachs prepped, we crossed Piilani Highway to sample the production at MauiWine — Ulupalakua Vineyards, which was established in 1974 and is the island’s only winery.
MauiWine is perhaps best known for its Hula o Maui pineapple sparkling wine, but it also produces more traditional varieties such as shiraz and malbec.
The property, with sweeping views and pleasant weather, has a history that includes hosting Hawaiian kings, and tours are available in addition to tastings.
Lopes offers a variety of excursions at the Maui Country Farm Tours, including a West Maui tour starting at $150 per person, and both an upcountry and deluxe upcountry farm tour at $175 and $200 per person, respectively. The tours include lunch and fees at the various farms.
While a tour can be a great way to fit in several farm visits in one day (especially if you plan to stop at those producing wine and spirits), travelers can rent a car and craft their own plan of attack.
Another farm in the vicinity is O’o Farm, which also operates the farm-to-table restaurant Pacific’O and produces herbs, citrus fruits, vegetables and coffee. O’o offers a farm tour with lunch and a coffee tour with breakfast. Each lasts three hours and costs $58 per person.
Also in the upcountry region, Surfing Goat Dairy makes a wide range of goat cheeses and other varieties, many of which can be spotted on restaurant menus and stocked at cheese counters around the island. The dairy offers daily tours ($12 for adults, $8 for children). Visitors can meet the working dairy goats and other animals on the farm, including Charlie the pot-bellied pig; learn about the modern milking machines; and observe the dairy operation.
Other altitude activities
Paragliding is another great way to combine an exhilarating experience with unparalleled views and a break from the heat. Paragliding involves running and jumping off a mountain or cliff while attached to a steerable, lightweight, inflatable wing and gradually gliding down to a landing spot.
Proflyght Paragliding on Maui offers both tandem jumps and lessons for those who want to go solo. On Hawaii Island, Paraguide Hawaii offers similar options. Paragliding, depending on the length and type of jump, ranges from $115 to $225.
For those who would prefer to stay at a higher elevation and enjoy cooler temperatures during the entire visit rather than just on a daytrip, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offers an option. The Volcano House inside the park offers accommodations at about 4,000 feet above sea level. The property bills itself as the oldest in the Islands; it was completed in 1941 and saw major renovations in 2012 and 2013. The cabins and the campground were improved, including the addition of rooms featuring views of the Halemaumau Crater. Rooms start at $285 and campsites start at $80 per night.
If simply escaping to the cooler temperatures of elevation and relaxing with a cold drink are all you need, Hawaii Island is home to the Aloha State’s most elevated brewery.
The Big Island Brewhaus, which started bottling its beers in 2013 and only distributes in Hawaii, sits above 2,700 feet. The Brewhaus offers a wide range of lagers, pilsners, porters, stouts, bocks and other varieties and features favorites such as White Mountain Porter and Golden Sabbath ale. Its Overboard IPA was listed among the 101 best beers in America by Men’s Journal. The brewery, which features a beer garden, is a good spot to cool off, grab a bite and try a pint.
Golf is a top activity for many visitors to the Islands, but the sticky summer heat at sea level courses can challenge the endurance of even the most avid players. When the August highs hit, visitors to Hawaii Island can head to the Volcano Golf and Country Club, which resides at 4,200 feet above sea level inside the grounds of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Not only will the weather be cooler, but, thanks to the noticeably thinner air, the balls fly a little farther, too. The par-72, mostly flat course plays through groves of Norfolk pines, hau trees and lehua trees. A round of 18 holes costs $55.
Sometimes the easiest way to escape the heat is by going underground. The volcanoes that formed the islands have left behind dormant lava tubes: dark, cool tunnels that are fascinating for the life that manages to survive inside with such little light and the constantly changing topography.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park boasts the Thurston Lava Tube, which is about two football fields long.
Maui has a larger lava tube, near Hana, that takes about an hour to explore and offers self-guided tours for $11.95 per person. The temperature inside the lava tube sits at a comfortable 72 degrees most days, and the cave can be a welcome respite from the humidity of the muggy eastern side of the island. As you move deeper into the cave, the texture of the walls and ground change, and visitors can spot stalactites and stalagmites. While green vegetation rims the tube’s entrance, as you go farther in, the dearth of natural light means the only life that can be spotted are various insects and bugs.
-Originally in Travel Weekly, May 25, 2017 by Tovin Lapan
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