If you go to Hawaii and don’t watch people surf then you’ve missed a big part of the culture. Even in Makawao, the town full of cowboys, hippies and art that was my first stop on Maui, I found a little surf shop. Hawaiians will be Hawaiian.
That said, there’s something different about the little drive to Makawao, something authentic. You have to pass through the trendy town of Pa’ia, which is also has a hippy and artistic flavor to it, although its far more developed and crowded than Makawao to the south along Route 390.
They have some charming little restaurants and shops in Pa’ia, which is a great place to meet up with friends in one of the fudge, coffee or ice cream shops.
Cafe Des Amis in Pa’ia has a very hospitable staff and fabulous crepes. There was a cute 30-year-old (I asked) Australian working behind the counter when I was there the first time and when I asked if they were on Twitter, he said: “What’s that?”
Along the way, there aren’t a lot of “big things” to see and do, but if you pay close enough attention, you’ll catch the smaller charming things you should take in, like the Hali’imaile General Store. There are sugar cane fields in all directions, all irrigated by water from the Hana coast.
Located on the mid-slopes of Maui’s Haleakala volcano, Makawao has one foot in its plantation past and another in its arts community. While this town is far from big, it is apparently the biggest little town in the region locally known as Upcountry Maui and is famous for its Hawaiian cowboys, or paniolo. While it may not feel quite as upcountry as it does further south along Route 377, it does cool off a little at night, although it was very hot and sunny when I was there.
The center of Makawao is pretty quiet even though there are a number of charming little shops, boutiques, cafes, art galleries and jewelry stores on both sides of the main drag. At the end of the street, there’s a local restaurant named Polli’s with an sign on the front of it that reads: “Come In And Eat or We’ll Both Starve.” You’ll want to buy a coffee from them — if nothing else — even if you’re not hungry or thirsty.
The people are a major attraction. I met Bruce, one of the most laid back people I met during my stay in Hawaii. Originally from Canada, he has been living in Hawaii for most of his adult life. And, he lives in a funky, old house surrounded by beautiful flowers and green banana and lemon trees.
Since the late 19th century, horseback-riding paniolo have wrangled cattle in Maui’s wide-open upland fields. The Makawao Rodeo, held yearly on the Fourth of July, is Hawaii’s largest paniolo competition and has been an Upcountry tradition for more than 50 years. The weekend events include a parade and traditional rodeo competitions such as barrel racing, calf roping and bareback bronco riding, all with a few Hawaiian twists. Makawao is also home to the Hui Noeau Visual Arts Center, where visitors can take classes and explore free gallery exhibits.
It’s a fascinating and pretty little drive especially if you go slowly and take in the little things. The little things are a big deal in this part of Hawaii.