Friday, April 25, 2008

Maui: Day #5....My Birthday in Up Country

"Over all the sky - the sky!
Far, far out of reach,
Studded with the eternal stars."
- Walt Whitman

For me, birthdays have always been special. This year, my 39th is no exception. I am spending it in paradise with someone I love very much. Can't ask for anything more.
We hit the road for Up Country....a serene, quiet and cooler place. Kula is a district of songs, poems, and a conscious state of mind. High, clean and cool with towering eucalyptuses, Norfolk pines and ironwoods. A place where songbirds compose life in the vivid mornings and leave a hush at sunset as the world pauses to wait for the night.

Norfolk Pine

Brian and I thought our journey would take much longer, but we broke the trip up with frequent stops as we soaked in all the beauty of the country-side setting. Breakfast at Charley's is a tradition. They were open and serving up the most wonderful Macadamia Nut Pancakes on this planet (fire destroyed the bar area last year). The sun was already beating down in breeze, so our journey up to 2500 feet was welcomed.

Driving south on Baldwin Avenue we first came upon the little town of Makawao....a Paniolo or Hawaiian Cowboy town. Once a rough and tumble "wild west" outpost - it's now a lively "artsy" community with a main drag lined with fine art and a collection of boutiques.

Jacaranda Tree

Continuing along the Kula Highway, we were a bit disappointed with the low cloud cover, masking incredible views, but the sweet smell of the air and the cooling breeze more than made up for our lack of view. Vog (volcanic fog) began sweeping across Maui due to the on-going eruption of the Big Islands - Kilauea.

We made it to Ulupalakua, offering many treats for the eyes, palate and spirit. Our drive gave us a chance to get up close with wild horses and roaming cattle.

It's also the home of Maui's winery, Tedeschi vineyards. We sampled some unique wines in their tasting room located in the King's Cottage. This guest cottage was built specifically for the celebrated visit of King Kalakaua in April of 1874.

I begged Brian to drive 10 minutes further along the road, but the eerie remoteness and the on-coming rain proved too much for this trip. We've already travelled this back road to Hana before and neither one of us was up for the trip again.

We headed back north along the back road (Crater Road) nestled up against Haleakala Crater. Clouds enveloped the second largest volcanic mountain in the world (10,023 foot high summit), so we continued up to the Kula Lodge - and had a look around.

Kula has become a mecca for visitors looking for a glimpse of rural Hawaiian life - a longtime farming community. The lodge itself offers charming chalets and an extraordinary garden setting. The birthday girl had a chardonnay and relaxed in the mountain setting.

Our journey back to Paia took us through Haiku and Keokea, two rich - green pasture-land villages dotted with purple jacaranda flowers, which bloom every year around my birthday. The incredible beauty of this place has drawn artists from all over the world. Little studios and galleries are hidden around every turn.

Paia, is a bohemian north shore beach town where the start of the road to Hana begins. Boutiques, antique shops, fine art and native handicrafts fill the streets. Brian and I wandered around before heading just east of the heart of town to Mama's Fish House.

The island's iconic seafood house, Mama's Fish House has a unique location in a pocket-sized coconut grove, where the waves and the sun meet in perfect harmony. It's a classy, yet relaxed setting - and Brian and I had one of the best seats in the house.

Our meal was good, not phenomenal, but some of the best prepared "clean" food I have ever had. It's a pricey treat (something I had a hard time with upon review) You have to enjoy the entire "package" and realize that you are not just paying for the food on your plate, but rather - the opportunity to enjoy the ambiance and scenery of the north shore while eating fresh local fare.

Our pupus were delicious, Brian had Mama’s Macadamia Nut Crab Cakes with Fire and Ice Relish - 2 cakes each dabbed with a spot of caviar that were mellow and well seasoned.

I had the Ahi Tartare, served with tomato and goat cheese bruchetta. Rich, buttery tuna offset by the earthy, mild cheese.

Picking our entree was tough. Brian went with a wonderfully prepared King Salmon caught off the waters of New Zealand and grilled in a Ti Leaf with macadamia nuts, cilantro, lemongrass and coconut milk - along side grilled plantanes.

I debated between the Kahlua Crispy Duck and a regional fish - in the end, choosing the Uku caught over the deep reefs near Kahoolawe РSaut̩ed with Maui tomatoes, mushrooms, white wine, garlic and capers. Brian picked a wonderful Carneros Chardonnay, buttery, velvety and smooth - the perfect accompianment to our meal.

Complimentary coconut ice cream (candle included) was the perfect way to end the meal.

It was a long 50 minute journey back to West Maui. I so much appreciated Brian driving the entire day so that I could enjoy the journey.

A perfect birthday