Maui, above sea level....

Ready to spend some time away from the beaches and all the crowds? Here is my perfect day spent exploring parts of Maui you may have never seen.

Start your day at the Iao Valley State Park, home of the Iao Needle. Take Kaahumanu Road (HI-32) west out of Wailuku in central Maui. This turns into Iao Valley Road. Follow signs to the park. The park is open 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m..

Towering emerald peaks guard the lush valley floor of Iao Valley. Located in Central Maui, this peaceful state park is home to one of Maui's most popular landmarks, the 1,200-foot Iao Needle. This iconic rock peak overlooks Iao stream and is an ideal attraction for easy hiking and sightseeing.

Aside from its natural tropical beautiful, sacred Iao Valley has great historical significance. It was here in 1790, at the Battle of Kepaniwai, that King Kamehameha clashed with Maui's army in his quest to unite the islands. Kamehameha defeated Maui's forces in a ferocious battle that ultimately changed the course of Hawaiian history.

There is a well-marked path from the parking lot to view Iao Needle and the ridge-top lookout provides incredible views of the valley. The Needle is often covered in clouds, so an early start is your best bet for a good view.

After your time at the Iao Needle stop for an early lunch in Wailuku at the A Saigon Cafe, the restaurant does not have a sign, but is easy to find at 1792 Main St, Wailuku. Take Main Street to a slight right on Oihana Street, turn left on Waiale Rd and then a sharp left back onto Main Street, the restaurant is on the right, look for the neon open sign. It’s not much to look at but the food is very tasty and a real bargain for Maui.

After lunch head up the slopes of Haleakala Crater to the Surfing Goat Dairy, home of the best Goat Cheese on the Islands. Located about 20 minutes from the airport and Kahalui area at 3651 Omaopio Road, Kula, Hawaii 96790. You can stop by for a “Casual Tour” of the dairy and then pick up some great goat cheese to snack on later.

Your next stop is the Ali`i Kula Lavender gardens, located at the 4,000 foot level of Haleakala Crater and home to some of the best views Maui has to offer. The gardens are located on 10 acres and include walking paths and a small gift store with more things made from lavender than you can think of. Located at 1100 Waipoli Road, Kula, Maui Hawai'i 96790, 16 miles and about 35 minutes from the Surfing Goat Dairy.

Next stop is Makawao Town, home to several art galleries, boutiques, craft stores and places to grab a snack if you are hungry. Makawao Town is one of the state's last paniolo towns. The paniolos were the first cowboys in the United States. Long before there were cowboys in the old west, paniolos came to Hawaii in the early 1800's from Mexico to teach the Hawaiians how to herd cattle. The town retains a lot of its original feel and is a refreshing break from shopping in the resort areas. Travel time should be around 35 minutes from the Lavender Gardens.

Last but not least is dinner at The Hali'imaile General Store, which is entering it's 20th year and is consistently rated one of Maui's best restaurants. Nestled among pineapple fields in upcountry Maui it a great place to end your Maui upcountry tour. The rack of lamb and the ribs are my favorites, and be sure to leave room for dessert! Located at 900 Haliimaile Rd, Makawao, HI 96768, a short 10 minute drive from Makawao Town. Phone: 808.572.2666 for reservations.

The drive back to Wailea or the Kaanapali resort areas will take about one hour depending on the time of day and traffic.

So there you have it, my perfect day in Maui when I want a break from the beaches. Have fun, take it slow, drive carefully, and enjoy the scenery.

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