Maui’s beaches and sightseeing are indeed spectacular, but there’s an entirely different experience waiting should you decide to visit gorgeous Upcountry near Haleakala. It’s about 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the island, a little cloudy, and the perfect break from sun and sand. Stretching across Maui’s southern and eastern coastline, Haleakala National Park houses Maui’s highest peak. Rising approximately 10,o00 feet above sea level, Haleakala’s slopes can be seen from just about any point on the island. Haleakala means “house of the sun” in Hawaiian, and legend says that the demigod Maui lassoed the sun from its journey across the sky as he stood on the volcano’s summit, slowing its descent to make the day last longer. In addition to being a tourist magnet for mountain-top sunrises, the fertile slopes are home to ranches, botanical gardens and farms with breathtaking views. We visited three of these places and it made for a really fun day off the beaten path.
Nestled in the community of Kula, O’o Farm consists of eight sustainably maintained and biodynamically cultivated acres. The farm is the result of the owner’s commitment to providing high-quality, local produce for their Maui restaurants in order to deliver a true farm to table experience for diners seeking to participate in the slow food movement. In 2000, Louis Coulombe and Stephan Bel-Robert purchased mostly undeveloped land with a small citrus and stone fruit orchard and a few coffee trees. Today, O’o farm is maturing with more coffee trees, fuju persimmons, white sapote (tropical pear), five varieties of lemon, lime, tangerine, tangello, pomello, mandarin oranges, plums, figs, cherries, avocados, berries, kaffir lime, buddhist palm, almonds, loquat, peaches, Maui onions, and more. They recently added a few chickens. The farm supplies upscale Lahaina eateries Pacific’O, I’O, The Feast at Lele, and Aina Gourmet Market. O’o Farm is also the home of roasting operations for Aina Gourmet Coffee. Aina is a single-origin coffee offering unique characteristics derived from the land, and in their own words, offering Aloha in every cup.
Ancil Clancy, the orchard manager, was our tour guide for the day. He did a great job of explaining the farm’s crops and history. He led us around the entire farm, answering questions along the way while we all eagerly anticipated lunch.
Lunch was expertly prepared by Chef JJ Johnson. While chatting with him for a bit, I was happy to learn that prior to coming to Hawaii, he lived and worked for 22 years in the Seattle food scene: Campagne, Place Pigalle, Matt’s in the Market, Tilth, Whole Foods Market (where he ran a cooking school), and on private yachts. He misses Seattle only a little, and if you visit the farm and check out his digs, you’ll see why:
On the menu that glorious day: Fresh Hayden mango slices from Lahaina; Kula-grown strawberries; a variety of raw vegetables and garden salad picked by us; freshly baked bread, chicken-fried tofu (a revelation) with beets, rutabegas, red Russian kale, and Swiss chard; freshly caught, wok-seared monchong fish with stir-fried onions, carrots, kaffir lime leaf & Juice, olive oil and purple shiso leaf; and to finish things beautifully, homemade dark chocolate bites with strawberries. Dessert was of course served with Aina Gourmet Coffee–Maui-grown, Red Catuai #16, to be specific for you coffee connoisseurs. Another hugely important note: You can bring your own wine to enjoy with lunch!
If you find yourself in Maui, I highly recommend the O’o Farm tour and lunch. You’ll fondly remember this part of your trip and want to tell your friends all about it, because everyone should be able to experience this at least once:
Created by Agricultural Artist and Horticultural Master, Ali’i Chang, this 13.5-acre farm resides at roughly 4,000 feet and is home to some 55,000 lavender plants including 45 different varieties of lavender. A variety of other plants and trees can be found on the farm as well, including olive trees, hydrangea, protea, and mind-blowing succulents.
Although lavender is not native to Maui, it has acclimated well and thrives in Kula’s Mediterranean climate. AKL’s lavender blooms year round. Lavender was given to Ali’i in 2001 by a friend and he planted the herb with the hopes of it blossoming into what AKL is today—a quick walk around will reveal a true work of art! Much more than a working lavender farm, AKL is a botanical garden filled with the artifacts and collectibles that Ali’i gathered in his many years of travel and entrepreneurship.
AKL strives to be the premier purveyor of “Sustainable Aloha” through educational stewardship and nurturing the well-being of the community and planet for future generations. As a lifestyle company, it is animal and earth-friendly; AKL hopes to play an integral role in supporting sustainable economies through agri-tourism and support its community-based business model through agricultural education.
Because we grow and harvest our own lavender in Seattle, I wasn’t all that interested in the lavender itself. And as soon as we got out of the car, it was obvious that there was much more to see. Oh, and the view–the view from the café deck is probably the best in Upcountry. You should definitely visit the gift shop/café and enjoy a glass of lavender lemonade while you take in this view:
And this, all around you:
While we take a short break from food, I’ll share these pictures of some of the amazing plants that caught our attention at AKL. Every nook and cranny of this place is unreasonably beautiful. Gardeners, these are for you:
Owned and operated by German expatriates Thomas and Eva Kafsack, Surfing Goat Dairy is one of two goat dairies in Hawaii. Located on 42 acres with almost 2/3 of the land dedicated as pasture, the Dairy’s three bucks and over 100 does have plenty of space to freely roam and forage. The pasture land of Buffel and Kikuyu grass is divided into four large plots, one night pasture with shelters and one day pasture for each of their two herds-while several smaller parcels house bucks, kids, or does during their dry period; Surfing Goat is a Certified Humane Raised and Handled farm. Looking for a new adventure in their lives, the Kafsacks decided over a decade ago to move to Hawaii and practice the art of gourmet cheese production which is a bit of a stretch from their previous occupations of leading a software company and teaching high school German. While Thomas went to work on the financial planning, Eva’s mission was to learn the craft of cheese-making from Europe’s best. Working at and visiting dairies throughout Germany, Austria, and France allowed her to develop an idea of the type of dairy that she wanted to run and cheeses she wanted to make. After finding a nearly ideal plot of land on Maui, they turned 42 acres of brush land into green pastures with a spacious 10-stall barn for boarding horses and a 100-square-foot dairy.
After the initial experimental phase, during which the Kafsacks had to adapt many of their processes to suit the demands of Hawaiian climate and consumers, they eventually settled on producing a variety of cream cheeses and soft cheeses. Surfing Goat cream cheeses are available in all kinds of flavors from Udderly Delicious (plain) to exotic varieties like Mandalay (apple bananas and curry) or Pirate’s Desire (anchovies and capers). The Dairy also produces several soft cheeses, including soft cheese ripened under wax, in olive oil with garlic, or coated with mesquite ash, along with brine-ripened feta cheese. The Kafsacks started out selling their cheeses at local farmers markets, but their product was soon picked up by a variety of retail locations, varying from wine stores to delis to locally owned grocery stores. Quickly afterwards, many of Maui’s gourmet restaurants voiced interest in using the Surfing Goat cheese on their menus, where it can be found crumbled on salads, on pizzas, stuffed inside ravioli, or simply making an appearance on a cheese platter.
When you first pull into the farm you’re greeted by the cutest, friendliest goats you’ve ever met. It’s a good thing they sell little grass bundles that you can feed them, because the first thing you want to do when you meet these gals is offer them some sort of treat:
We certainly didn’t arrive to the dairy with food on our minds, having just devoured the fantastic lunch at O’o Farm, but we couldn’t resist trying one of the samplers anyways:
I’m glad we did. I’ll admit to everyone right now that I’ve never been a huge fan of goat cheese. While I love lamb, venison and other “gamey” meats, chevre has always been just a tad too funky for me. I read somewhere that the distinct flavor of goat cheese isn’t as strong if the does are kept separately from the bucks since hormones are a factor in the flavor of the milk; I wonder if this is the case at Surfing Goat because all of these cheeses, even the plain, were fairly mellow. They’re great cheeses with lots of creative flavor combos, no doubt about that. It was a perfect last stop for this unique island day trip.
Dan and I have a not-so-secret dream of having a small gourmet farm, educational center, and community gathering space someday in the Willamette Valley, Oregon or a place like it. Trips like this continue to feed our souls, put smiles on our faces, and inform our ideas and aspirations. A million Alohas to the good people of Upcountry Maui for the hospitality and inspiration!