We were poking around upcountry Maui and driving its narrow, twisting roads, but by midafternoon we had to turn around. We had an important date at a lower elevation.
Forget meeting friends for mai-tais or heading to Lahaina for the sunset. We were going to herd the animals at Surfing Goat Dairy.
Herding anything may be the last activity one considers for a Maui vacation. But the dairy is one of several island farms that have opened for public tours over the last few years. They offer the chance to explore the island’s back roads, meet the growers and learn something about the exotic fruits, vegetables and cheeses you’ll encounter and enjoy on Maui.
“It’s a growing national trend,” says Maui resident Charlene Kauhane, a board member of the Hawaii Agri-Tourism Association. “Visitors are looking for authentic experiences, for opportunities where they can meet locals and buy local.”
And sometimes, you just want a break from the beach. So let’s go down on the farm on Maui.
Alii Kula Lavender Farm
Even before you arrive, you’ll detect Alii Kula Lavender Farm from the lovely fragrance wafting over Upcountry. It comes from 45 lavender varieties planted over 10 acres in Haleakala’s foothills. You can meander over paths on your own, or join one of the walking tours. You’ll learn about lavender’s culinary uses and healthful benefits, as well as the farm’s dedication to practicing agriculture in a sustainable way.
Alii Lavender also offers workshops in wreath making and container gardens, and other special events. Children will enjoy the lavender treasure hunt. Finish it, and you’ll get a prize.
At the end of any visit, do take time for a cup of tea and scones, both flavored with lavender, of course, on the pavilion that looks out over the hillsides that bloom in a haze of mauve, deep blue and violet.
The drive up Waipoli Road is part of the adventure. Proceed cautiously. Cows often meander across the road as if they own it. A trip here may be planned with a lunch tour at Oo Farm, a short distance away.
Details: Open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. 1100 Waipoli Road, Kula. 808-878-3004; www.akliikulalavender.com.
Haliimaile Pineapple Co.
One of the best things I’ve ever eaten — anywhere — was fresh Maui pineapple in the field. Moments before, a plantation worker had whacked it from the plant and cut it into wedges. One bite, and the sun-warmed fruit juice exploded in my mouth and dripped from my chin. It was sublime.
This is part of the pineapple tour experience led by people who work in the field and who know everything about the fruit’s life cycle and the history of growing pineapple on Maui. They will also take you into the packing and shipping facility. After a few months’ hiatus, the tour, along with Pineapple Gold ownership, has been transferred from Kapalua to Haliimaile. You’ll catch the bus at Haliimaile General Store, one of Maui’s best restaurants.
Details: Maui Pineapple Tours: 9-11 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.-1:45 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Look for the Maui Gold bus near Haliimaile General Store, 900 Haliimaile Road. 808-665-5491; www.mauipineappletours.com.
Kapahu Living Farm
On this tour, you can, if you choose, get your feet and hands muddy by working in the taro patch. This is a Hawaiian cultural experience and an invigorating hike as well as a farm tour. It takes place in the Kipahulu section of Haleakala National Park where the nonprofit Ohana Kipahulu has restored some of the ancient taro patches (lo’i kalo) that filled this area in pre-contact times, the centuries before the arrival of Capt. Cook.
Even getting to Kipahulu is an adventure. It’s about seven miles beyond the end of the Road to Hana at the park’s Oheo Gulch section (popularly and erroneously known as Seven Sacred Pools). A native Hawaiian will guide you past remains of ancient dwellings, a historic home from the 1920s and to the taro patches. You’ll see lots and learn lots, especially the deep respect that Hawaiians have for the land, or aina. You’ll taste samples of traditional Hawaiian foods grown at the farm.
Details: Tours by appointment. 808-248-8558; www.kapahulu.org.
Maui Tropical Plantation
This is an agricultural-themed attraction, not a working farm. If you have no idea how papaya, guava, mango, coconut or lilikoi (passion fruit) grow, this is the place to find out. Add to the list macadamia nuts, coffee, sugarcane, ginger, apple banana and rambutan. Laid out like the sections of a giant fan, the 60-acre garden showcases each of Hawaii’s major crops. A narrated tram ride takes visitors along the plots.
Fountains and brilliant tropical blooms give the grounds a manicured look. Children will enjoy animal displays, and the restaurant offers a killer banana split. Families with young children and older visitors gravitate to this place.
Details: Open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. 1670 Honoapiilani Highway, Waikapu. 808-244-7643; www.mauitropicalplantation.com.
Formerly Tedeschi Vineyards, this may be Maui’s oldest agritourism facility. The property hosted King David Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani in the late 1800s when it was the Rose Ranch. The tasting room is the “cottage” built for the king’s visits.
Inside you’ll taste Maui Blanc, a semisweet pineapple wine, or Maui Splash, a dessert wine made from pineapple and passion fruit. The bold, dry Ulupalakua Red comes from cabernet sauvignon grapes grown elsewhere, and the winery is about to launch a red from estate-grown grapes. The 23-acre vineyard yields several grape varietals in this semitropical climate.
The winery is in the upcountry village of Ulupalakua, where I saw someone coming to pick up mail on horseback. It’s home to Ulupalakua Ranch, which supplies meat for the Maui Cattle Co. Stop in the general store for burgers from Maui beef or elk, or other picnic supplies from the deli counter. Late spring and early summer are beautiful up here when jacaranda trees bloom at the edge of pastures.
Details: Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Highway 37 at Ulupalakua. 877-878-6058; www.mauiwine.com.
ONO Organic Farms
This isn’t just a farm tour, it’s a feast. Members of the Boerner family, now in the third generation of farming at Kipahulu, cut and serve jack fruit, lilikoi, guava, star fruit, soursop, ice cream banana, sapote and several kinds of mango, all the while keeping up a commentary on the fruit at hand and the nature of living in a place as isolated as Kipahulu. And you’ll sample from platter after platter of the luscious fruit.
Following the presentation, visitors tour the orchard. But don’t expect orderly rows of trees. Instead, exotic fruits, cocoa and Arabica coffee grow willy-nilly in a junglelike tangle. And they thrive. This is one of the largest organic farms in Hawaii.
People drive four hours from Kaanapali or Wailea resorts to get here, and it’s worth the trip. The tasting presentation gives insight into organic farming on Maui and into the lifestyle of the people who practice it.
Details: Tours and tastings by reservation, 1:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. 808-248-7779; www.onofarms.com.
The morning at O’o Farm, a project of PacificO and Io restaurants in Lahaina, starts with warm apple cider and pastries, most welcome in the cool and often misty air at the 3,500-foot elevation.
Then you might work for your lunch in the 8.5 acres of baby lettuces, root vegetables and herbs growing in graceful curves along the hillside. A farmworker or chef will take you into the plots and explain their biodynamic practices and the many crops raised while you pluck or dig something that will appear on the lunch table. Then it’s back to the picnic pavilion where a chef whips up delicious dishes with the produce and perhaps some fish.
Much of the produce from the farm ends up on the table at the Lahaina restaurants, but this is the chance to visit the source.
Details: By reservation, 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays. Waipoli Road above Kula. 808-667-4341; www.oofarm.com.
Surfing Goat Dairy
German expats Thomas and Eva Kafsack run the dairy, which produces dozens of varieties of goat cheese, including some flecked with precious Perigord truffles or even gold leaf. Some of the goat cheese is transformed into chocolate truffles.
Goats thrive in the pastures below Kula in a spot protected by the trade winds. Tours of pastures are available during the day, but on the last one you will get to herd the goats to the barn. Here their keeper does a nimble dance as he connects milking machine to udder with one hand and fills a feed trough with the other. Munching away, the goats hardly notice they are being milked.
Picnic tables offer the chance to linger and enjoy some cheese, perhaps with some Maui wine, greens and fruits from a farm stand and bread from The Bakery in Lahaina.
Details: Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday. 3651 Omaopio Road, Kula. 808-878-2870; www.surfinggoatdairy.com.
Contact Carol Fowler via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Farm, FOOD FESTIVALS
Maui County Agricultural Festival: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. April 2. Luau grounds, Maui Tropical Plantation. www.mauicountyfarmbureau.org.
East Maui Taro Festival: April 30-May 1. Hana. www.tarofestival.org.
Kapalua Wine & Food Festival: June 9-12. Kapalua. www.kapalua.com.
More Maui festivals: www.gohawaii.com/maui/plan-a-trip/events.
FARM STANDs AND MARKETS
If you don’t have time for a farm visit, you might stop by a Maui farm stand or farmers market. You’ll find them almost any day of the week on various parts of the island:
Maui Swap Meet: A number of growers sell at the famed Saturday market. 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays, Maui Community College, Kahului. www.mauiexposition.com.
Farmers Market of Maui: Two locations. Kihei: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday, to 5 p.m. Friday. 61 S. Kihei Road. Honokowai: 7 a.m.-1 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday at Farmers Market Maui grocery store, 3636 Lower Honoapiilani Road.
ONO Farms stand: 10 a.m.-p.m. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, beside the service station, Hana.
Kula: Numerous farm and flower stands dot the roads in the district.
Makawao Farmers Market: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays. 3654 Baldwin Ave., Makawao. www.makawaofarmersmarket.com.