I first stepped foot in Hawaii in 1998. A girlfriend had booked us a trip to Maui, and as a new immigrant to San Francisco I was entirely in her hands. I remember stepping off the plane, feeling the windy, balmy air on my face for the first time, and hearing the rustle of palm trees and tall green sugar canes. It felt exotic and entirely surreal to be in this magical part of the world.
Back then, we stayed at a vacation rental near Paia, which 21 years ago was a sleepy little hippy town with visitors only coming for the windsurfing or passing through briefly on the road to Hana. Two decades later, Paia looks largely the same, but is much busier with long lines outside most eateries and a lot of traffic trying to make its way through the one set of lights in the center of town.
This trip, we spent the first three days in an amazing Airbnb in Upcountry – the rural, farmed part of the island which is lush and idyllic. The valleys are populated with giant trees and plants that look straight out of Jurassic Park. Pterodactyl gliding through the air wouldn’t be out of place. Winding country roads will take you past cows with their calves, and glossy horses swishing their tales. Little Colonial-style farmsteads remind you of the settlers who came out this way—on what surely must have been treacherous voyages—in the early 1800’s.
I hadn’t spent time exploring this area before and loved it. No high rise hotels. Almost unspoiled. Easy to imagine how the land has been for the last two or three hundred years. Not too far away from where we stayed, is Baldwin Beach Park, a beautiful long golden sandy beach with protected areas at each end which make it a little easier for swimming. The wind was high the whole time we were there, which I think it pretty typical. But first thing in the morning, with the tide on its way out, it was great to walk and job along the beach, trying to spot a sea turtle in the bright turquoise waters.
Afterwards, breakfast at Better Things just up the hill on Baldwin Avenue. With deconstructed iced latte (containing coffee ice cubes), handmade PopTarts and great toasts (avo, pesto, etc) it’s a nice brightly lit space, with inviting sofas to hang out in for a while.
If you’re looking for a fun thing to do, while also exploring Upcountry and catching some pretty awesome views of the North and South shores, then you can’t go far wrong doing yoga with goats at Maui Goat Yoga. Yes, I did say yoga with goats! To be fair, there’s more ‘goat’ than yoga, but our instructor did her very best to engage us with a sound asana practice, but the head-butting she-goats, and the cuddly little boy goats rather stole our attention. It may not be a regular yoga practice, but it was definitely entertaining and even the two 18 year old boys with me agreed!
If you’re feeling thirsty by mid-afternoon, then I highly recommend catching happy hour at Cafe Des Amis, also on Baldwin Avenue in Paia. Their margaritas are long and tall… and hit just the right spot. If you’re peckish, there’s a great mezze plate, as well as savory and sweet crepes and even Indian curries.
By now it’s probably time to go catch the sunset. The “true” sunset can be caught at Lahaina but you can see most of the sun going down from Ho’ookipa Beach which is where the locals head to get in their last surf session of the day while their friends and family socialize on the narrow beach. You’ll also see windsurfers zipping back and forth across the white caps, and if you’re really lucky some curious sea turtles may be hanging out near the rock pools.
If you’re ready for dinner, then you can’t go far wrong with delicious fresh sushi from Izakaya restaurant and sushi bar, Nuku in Haiku. With the restricted seating capacity due to the pandemic, we opted for takeout instead of dining in. And sat in the comfort of our AirBnb, we had an absolutely tasty and satiating meal. You won’t be disappointed. With any of it.
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