Favored by many of its residents for the cool climate and unparalleled views, Maui's Upcountry resembles nothing of its west side counterpart. Resting on the slopes of the Haleakala crater, it is a land of paniolos (cowboys) with rodeos aplenty, where mailboxes made from horseshoes and working with the land are still a part of everyday life.
In 1793, Captain George Vancouver brought Hawaii's first cattle to Maui as a gift for King Kamahameha I. The king placed a tabu on the killing of cattle, causing the herds to prosper. By 1830, with the tabu lifted and a large population of cattle to contend with, King Kamahameha III brought over Mexican vaqueros from Vera Cruz to teach the local Hawaiians how to work the cattle industry. During this time, the number of visiting whaling fleets increased, causing a high demand for red meat. In response, Upcountry increased its production of cattle and switched from crops of taro to those of Irish potatoes, thus birthing Makawao's cattle trade and Kula's produce industry.
Caught somewhere between the past and present, the small town of Makawao retains much of its cowboy flavor while catering to modern tourism. Not in many towns do you have the ability to buy a bullwhip or a rifle in one store and a Gucci bag or contemporary art piece in an adjacent shop. Big-rigs still cruise the streets, but at night they sit on lawns within suburban communities rather than in front of ranch houses. But on the 4th of July, Makawao's paniolo spirit re-emerges for an all-town rodeo and parade.
Makawao's sister town, Kula (meaning open country or pasture), is located on the doorstep to the Haleakala Crater. Adorned with rolling pastures lined by pine and eucalyptus trees, Kula boasts an ideal temperature and landscape for growing a variety of produce. Strawberries, onions, lettuce and coffee retain their popularity, but the protea shops, lavender farm and the surfing-goat dairy add a special twist to Kula's personality.
On a clear day from these elevated towns, you can see the rolling waves of Ho'okipa, the calm waters of Kihei and the giant wind mills of the West Maui Mountains. And it is in this very spot, where the rainy east meets the sunny west, that the backbone of Maui resides.