Life in the rural upcountry of Maui

Up Country Maui_Cover

Living in Hawaii is unique. We all came here to enjoy island life, a life with fewer demands than those of the big cities on the mainland. But there are also times of exasperation when none of the local stores have just the product you’re looking for. In your previous life you knew you could easily find almost anything on the mainlalnd.

IMG_0015Scarcity happens often on all the islands and you have no choice but to adjust.

After living here for almost fifteen years we have learned to tolerate the inconveniences and trade them for the unique environment. But trust me, you can’t stop yourself from noticing when some new containers have been moved into the parking lot of your favorite stores. It’s a competition to see what new products have arrived.

All of the main islands in the Hawaiian chain have similarities, but each is vastly different from its neighbors. We started our life in Hawaii on the Big Island, living in the village of Kailua Kona for twelve years (yes, a village). Now we live on Maui and here we find a whole new and different experience. In the central part of the island are Kahului and Wailuku and if you crave traffic and shopping, go there first. We’ve also spent time in the big city environment of Honolulu on O’ahu which is another good place to get your urban fix.

We went to Molokai only to discover it rural beauty, and we also rode a boat around Lana’i on a private snorkeling trip. We saw whales, we swam with dolphins in some of the clearest water you can imagine. If you’re lucky you might find a school of mermaids like we did.IMG_0059 Actually it was my granddaughters birthday and we took her and several of her friends to this remote and beautiful spot.

And recently we visited Kaua’i for the first time and we were dazzled with its rural Polynesian beauty. I could only think I was in Bora Bora, but Kaua’i is fodder for another photo-blog (and future blog posts).






Other articles posted on this blog may have allowed you to enjoy some small vignettes of life in these islands. I try to focus on themes of normal life, unannounced locations and then allow you to see some of the unique sites and history of the culture of the islands not published for tourists.

Today, in this article I wanted to do something I’ve been thinking about for some time. I thought a view into the world of the upcountry of Maui, through words and pictures, would give many a glimpse into the world of rural Hawaii. Hawaii is mostly rural, but each rural area in the islands has its own unique flavor and focus.

Oahu has the north shore with its long, sandy beaches that are battered with high waves every winter. The north shore is as rural and remote as you can get in the islands, and yet the opposite side of the island is home to the dense population center known as Honolulu.

The Big Island is just as the name describes – it’s BIG. The largest population center is Hilo, which is nothing more that a small town on mainland standards. On the west side of Hawaii Island is Kailua Kona, and as the County describes the population center, it’s a village at best.

Maui County is made up of several islands and atoll’s. Maui is the main and largest island. To the northwest is Moloka’i and to the west is Lana’i. Just off the west coast of Maui is a small islet of Kho’olawe and a volcanic remnant called Molokini that pokes its head about 200 feet above the waves.

IMG_9741We live in a small hamlet called Makawao ( phonetically, Makawow). Makawao is a small community located in the ruralIMG_9643 upcountry on the island of Maui. The 2010 census population declares that there are 7,200 people living here on the northwest slope of Haleakala.

Makawao is a community known as the hub of the upcountry, a part of the island

IMG_9754dominated by agriculture and ranch land. In the mornings and evenings it’s common to see the faces of hardworking farmers and paniolo’s, mixing and talking story with locals and tourists on the main street of Makawao.

There are several hamlets on the northwest slope of Haleakala, neighbors to Makawao. Haiku, Kula and Pukalani are just minutes away in either direction from central Makawao.IMG_9646

Upcountry, to those who live and work in Hawaii, means a cooler and sometimes wetter climate. It means living at 1,500 feet above the sandy beaches, and it means being away from the tourist-driven life in the cities of Kahului and Wailuku. Not too far, maybe 15 – 20 minutes downslope (I measured the distance from the house to Costco as 11.2 miles).

The intersection of Baldwin Avenue and Makawao Avenue is considered the center of town. As you can see in the following images, Makawao’s image is anything but pretentious. And like any American small town, Makawao struggles to keep paint on the siding, trims and doors, Like any other rural community the residents are hardworking and work in one of the shops or restaurants, or they might have a job on a local farm or ranch. Some live in the upcountry for the temperate climate and quiet but commute daily to the town of Kahului or the county seat at Wailuku.IMG_9740

Most of the year Makawao is quiet on weekdays and busy on weekends. During the summer months, when school sessions are out, many learn of and flock to the upcountry, crowding the sidewalks along the storefronts on Baldwin and Makawao Avenues.

There are also several nice sit down restaurants in town and for a different menu, there are smaller eateries with maybe a few tables or just take out. There is something for everyone and it’s all within easy walking distance.IMG_9654

And sometimes you will find a friendly cat resting on a chair or the wooden floor planks of a porch.IMG_9746

As you walk along the sidewalk, look into some of the paths between buildings. There’s likely to be a small sandwich shop or professional offices, or some other hidden treasure. If you pay notice, about IMG_9666the mid-point on Baldwin Avenue is a place known as The Rodeo Store, and you should notice that this deli, grocery-liquor store is where you will find locals picking up something for lunch or dinner, or just catching up on events or local gossip.IMG_9667


The town of Makawao is made up of its commercial IMG_9729and residential components and covers an area of about 3.5 square miles. A short walk to the east or the west side of town will land you in the rural residential area of the upcountry. Most homes are small, wood-framed and set back from the street. Most home yards are lush landscapes with a IMG_0004variety of shrubs, colorful flowers, and it’s not uncommon to see bananas, avocados or papayas IMG_9731growing within easy reach.

Many of the rural homes have livestock on the land around them. Horses, cows and goats are common in the outlying area – and chickens are everywhere.






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