Charming plantation-style houses and bungalows in North Maui.
As tourism increased and Upcountry Maui got rediscovered, the Kula residential market began to expand in the 1970s, accelerating in the 1990s. Most neighborhoods today feature custom homes on spacious lots cradled on the slopes of Haleakala. Other than older historic estates, most homes are wood-cladded and designed in keeping with the expansive country feeling. On the lower slopes, gated subdivisions and gentleman estates have become popular.
Kula is still the essence of rural Upcountry Maui. On the western slopes of Haleakalā, it is a broad upland expanse with sweeping panoramas of the West Maui Mountains, sprawling pasturelands, the north and south coasts of Maui, and the islands of Kaho’olawe, Molokini, and Lāna’i. Kula is also home to organic fruit, vegetable, and flower farms, for the freshest edibles and extensive floral varieties, including the exotic protea. With resplendent plant and arboreal landscapes and cool temperatures, Kula is a special place to call home for many kama’aina (locals) and malihini (newcomers).
Kula, Hawaiian for open country or open meadow, is a collection of scattered rural neighborhoods and subdivisions bordered by Pukalani and Makawao to the north and Ulupalakua Ranch to the south. It’s challenging to find a home in Kula without stunning views. Just about everywhere is breathtakingly scenic.
Unlike nearby Makawao, Kula does not have a downtown with stores, shops, or even a bank. Central Kula has a couple of territorial-era stores dating well before Maui's burgeoning tourism in the 1970s. Here, homes reflecting older Hawaiian plantation and territorial design styles are mixed with homes built much later on open land.
Because of Kula's spectacular vistas and comfortable temperatures, many affluent buyers have invested in Kula real estate. As land became available, developers created the necessary infrastructure and sold lots. Some subdivisions are designated agricultural, and lots can be several acres. Today, with subdivisions at various elevations and different climate features, the interested buyer has some diverse choices for a home.
Here are a few of the popular Kula neighborhoods.
All lands in Hawai'i were the property of the ruling chiefs, but for the benefit of the people as well. Sustainability was an integral part of the responsible use of the land, the 'ainā.
To promote sustainability, the early Hawaiians used a unique system of land division from makai (seaward) to mauka (mountainside) with the middle area termed kula. Maui’s kula originally referred to a moku, a large land division, and is still used today as one of Maui’s thirteen area designations.
The smaller rural area, more commonly known today as Kula, is a part of the Kula moku. A moku consists of ahupua’a, smaller thin wedge-shaped divisions. Rural Kula’s ahupua’a flows from the upper slopes of Haleakalā down to the south coast, where a bounty of fish and other sea life provided Hawaiians with food sources and cultural objects.
Hawaiians prized the slopes of Haleakalā for their fertile volcanic soil. Taro and sweet potato were among the abundance that became staples for the early Hawaiians. Today's Kula was the hotbed for this profusion of agricultural edibles, and it remains so.
Westerners arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in 1778 when British Captain James Cook and his crewmembers went ashore on the Big Island (Hawai’i). Eight years later, French Capt. Jean Francois de La Perouse was the first westerner to disembark on Maui. It was the beginning of not only westerners coming to Maui but a series of events bringing immigrants from Asia and around the globe to all the islands.
The arrival of westerners was the beginning of several factors that eventually reduced the Hawaiian population on Maui and the other Islands. The two most significant were diseases brought by westerners and the introduction of private land ownership under The Great Mahelē of 1850.
Hawaiians were doing well under the old system of land division. In Upcountry Maui, they were even operating successful small sugar mills in the 1830s and 1840s for the Lāhainā traders. However, Hawaiians couldn’t compete with larger commercial plantations that started in the 1850s and beyond.
Hawaiians were unaccustomed to private ownership and the legalities attached to it. As a result, westerners and missionary descendants bought large parcels of Maui land to become sugar plantations and cattle ranches. Hawaiians were displaced. By 1878, the Maui population, which had been as robust as 35,000, was reduced to 12,000.
Commercial sugar plantations and dedicated cattle ranches prospered around the same time in Maui. The largest plantations were located primarily on Maui’s central plains. The plantations used a lot of water from the Haleakalā streams.
For Kula and Upcountry Maui, the present-day origins include cattle and ranching. Neighboring Makawao is the gateway to Maui’s largest cattle ranch and known as the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) town.
In 1793, British Capt. George Vancouver anchored in Kawaihae Bay on the Big Island and gifted Kamehameha with a bull and his remaining shipboard livestock of cows, ewes, and a ram. On another voyage the following year, Capt. Vancouver gifted more livestock: cows, a bull, bull calves, and more rams and ewes. The cattle were California longhorns. The bull gifted on the previous voyage had died, but not before one of the cows delivered a calf. To allow Kamehameha's livestock to multiply, Vancouver urged him to place his livestock under kapu for ten years, prohibiting killing.
However, unfettered cattle were becoming a menace in all the islands. Kamehameha sought help controlling the cattle population and, in 1812, allowed the thinning of the animals, called “bullock catching.” Meanwhile, the islanders were building stonewalls around their properties to protect them from the frightening creatures. By the 1830s, with the trampling of agricultural fields by uncontrolled cattle and a frightened population, the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) arrived in Hawai’i.
The first paniolo was a fortunate discovery by Kamehameha III while aboard a ship in Honolulu Harbor in 1831. Born in Mexican-controlled California, Joachin Armas was on board to journey on to London. He was an experienced vaquero (cowboy), having worked with the longhorn on California missions' lands. The king persuaded Armas to stay and help. He spent several months catching wild bullocks on O'ahu and then went to the Big Island and eventually brought his brother and other Mexican vaqueros to help. The vaqueros went on to teach the local Hawaiians their skills with horses and cattle.
Though the beginnings of Maui’s ranches go back to 1845, a serious focus on cattle ranching did not begin until forty years later. In 1886, the new owner of Rose Ranch, today’s Ulupalakua Ranch, increased the small cattle herd with Aberdeen Angus.
Two years later, H. P. Baldwin, co-founder of Alexander & Baldwin and already operating a sugar plantation in Makawao, became heavily involved in the incorporated Haleakala Ranch, which today is wholly Baldwin family-owned. There are other smaller ranches in the area, but these two ranches today comprise 47,000 acres on the slopes of Haleakalā, carrying on the culture of the Hawaiian cowboy.
Sustainability has once again become a primary consideration in the future of Upcountry Maui, as well it should because, in many ways, it also affects the sustainability of the entire island. Haleakala Ranch and Ulupalukua Ranch have both made significant contributions to restoring and preserving the land.
Upcountry Maui is a wonderfully diverse ethnic community. Each culture has contributed to the making of today’s upcountry, beginning with the indigenous Hawaiian population that was not entirely displaced. Many are still wranglers on the ranches, some descendants of those early Hawaiians taught their skills by the vaqueros.
Westerners from Britain and America started to populate the Islands shortly after Capt. Cook’s voyages made westerners aware of the “Sandwich Islands.” Hawai’i’s abundant sandalwood forests created trade with Asia and brought European and American ships to transport the wood. In 1793, on his first visit with Kamehameha, Capt. Vancouver was met by John Young, a stranded British sailor who became one of Kamehameha’s closest advisors.
With the advent of the whaling ships provisioning in Lāhainā about 1820, many sailors began remaining in Maui. The whaling sailors’ rowdy lifestyle brought the first missionaries from New England to Lāhainā in 1823, followed by many more, including the Baldwin family in 1826.
Before the larger Maui sugar plantations imported immigrants to work in the fields, entrepreneurial Chinese were already in Maui owing to the sandalwood trade with China. Capt. Vancouver notes seeing a Chinese resident on his 1794 voyage to Hawai’i.
Impoverished Chinese farmers ventured to Maui on trading ships and then to its fertile uplands to grow taro and rice. In the early years of the nineteenth century, the Chinese were also the forerunners of commercial sugar production on Maui with the first small sugar mills.
With a growing need for potatoes to supply the whaling crews and then the miners in the California Gold Rush, upland Chinese farmers in southern Kula began growing potatoes. When harvested, the farmers carted them miles down the slopes to ships in Ma’alaea Bay off present-day Kīhei.
In the early 1850s, the Chinese were the first immigrants to work the plantations and settle throughout Maui after their contracts ended. Many, not only farmers, found their way to the cooler upcountry, especially Keokea, where many Chinese had already established themselves. By 1890, the upcountry Chinese population was around 5,000.
Large numbers of Japanese immigrants were next to work the plantations. Again, many, especially the farmers, gravitated to the cooler, fertile upcountry. Shops and stores in Kula and other upcountry areas were often begun by former Japanese plantation workers and continued by their descendants. In the early twentieth century, a few local boys also became paniolo, adding further to the colorful multi-ethnic paniolo heritage.
Portuguese plantation immigrants also farmed, and the Portuguese vaqueiros used their skills on the ranches. Others making their way upcountry were the Filipinos, Koreans, and Puerto Ricans.
The cooler temperatures and fertile volcanic soil have made Kula famous as the produce source for the popular Hawaiian Regional Cuisine at resorts and restaurants around the island. In summer, the average high temperature is 78°F (25°C) while the low is 65°F (18°C). In winter, the average high temperature is 72°F (22°C), and the average low is a chilly (for most residents) 58°F (14°C).
January is the rainiest month, with some rainfall on 6-7 days. While Kula experiences some muggy days, they are fewer and less intense than at lower elevations.
Many Kula residents, especially new residents, work from home, and many have businesses or work jobs in Kula or nearby Pukalani or Makawao. However, for those who commute to Kahului or Wailuku, the drive is from 15 to 25 miles depending on location. The actual commute time is difficult to determine, but there is an afternoon rush hour. It can begin as early as 3:00 p.m., especially with tourists also returning from various trips around the island.
While Kula has several variations in its Hawaiian meaning, kula can also mean school. And Upcountry Maui has an interesting assortment of both public and private schools.
Kula Elementary School (K-5) is the only public school in Kula. Samuel E. Kalama Intermediate School (6-8) is in nearby Makawao, while King Kekaulike High School (9- 12) is in neighboring Pukalani, just north of Kula.
Upcountry Maui is also home to well-known private and culturally immersed schools.
Haleakalā Waldorf School (PK-8) in Kula has a lovely upcountry territorial-era campus. However, its high school (9-12) is about ten miles away on the former Baldwin Estate in Makawao, which is also the Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center. The Waldorf philosophy focuses on the three developmental stages of a growing child.
Another former Baldwin family estate is the centerpiece for Seabury Hall (6-12), an exclusive college preparatory school in Makawao. Seabury Hall is recognized as a high-performing National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
Also in Makawao is The Montessori School of Maui (PK-8) using Dr. Maria Montessori’s philosophy of teaching. Kula has a pre-kindergarten Montessori school. In Pukalani, The Carden Academy of Maui (PK-8) employs the philosophies of educator Mae Carden.
Kamehameha Schools Maui (K-12) for students of Hawaiian ancestry is on a spacious campus in Pukalani. The school promotes Hawaiian values and the vitality of the culture in a college-prep curriculum.
Ke Kula ‘O Ho’omakuapono (K-8) is a new experience-based school located on a working produce farm in Kula. The curriculum promotes life balance as each part of the school day offers hands-on lessons that contribute to creating that balance.
Kula Hospital in southwestern Kula is a long-term nursing facility that also offers urgent care and limited rural emergency care. The adjacent Kula Clinic provides primary care and family medicine.
In nearby Makawao, Pukalani Family Practice and Maui Medical Group offer several medical services including family medicine and pediatrics.
The Maui Medical Group, All Access Ortho in Pukalani, and Minit Medical Urgent Care in Kahului provide urgent care services.
Maui Memorial Medical Center, Wailuku, is the only acute care hospital in Maui. A member of the Maui Health network, the hospital is also affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.
In 2022, the Joint Commission, the oldest health care accrediting body, rated the hospital very highly with no “Condition Level Findings,” putting it well above national standards. US News cites heart failure, stroke, COPD, and pneumonia as the hospital’s high-performance areas.
Shopping in Kula is for the wonderful variety of fruits and vegetables that grace many a table at Maui’s finest resort restaurants. Farm stands and farmer’s market’s proliferate the area while some farms allow patrons to pick their own produce. A pumpkin patch in Keokoa is an anticipated October event, especially for the keiki (kids). Flower farms provide that added splendor for a special upcountry-sourced dinner or just brightening up the home.
Wine is a nice touch for that special dinner, and Upcountry Maui produces its own delicious varieties at Ulupalakua Ranch. Surfing Goat Dairy produces ‘ono cheeses ideal for a wine tasting. And the unique offerings of Ocean Organic Vodka can be found close to the dairy.
Casual dining is pretty much the norm upcountry. With so much delicious homegrown produce, the freshness of the foods is a delightful new experience for some!
Stopping at a food truck, such as Nui’s Garden Kitchen, or popping into Morihara Store for some quick sandwiches and snacks is one way to satisfy lunch hunger for a picnic or day’s outing.
Honestly, on some days, the food and service in Kula's eateries can be as casual as the upcountry lifestyle. However, most of the time, Kula's eateries deliver delicious food and friendly service.
La Provence serves crepes as well as sandwiches. Ulupalakua Ranch serves burgers of beef, venison, elk, and lamb and plate lunches. Romantic Kula Lodge is serving only lunch at this time.
For dining family style, Kula Bistro, across from Morihara Store, presents locally sourced produce and meats “with an Italian flair.” It is one of the few Kula restaurants open for dinner and is a Tripadvisor’s 2022 Traveler’s Choice. The homemade veggie lasagna is a feast from the local Kula farms with zucchini, mushrooms, onions, carrots, red bell peppers, and spinach.
Scenic tranquility and fabulous sunsets make Kula special. But Kula’s rural culture of agricultural farms and cattle ranches utilizing programs of healthy sustainability and restoration for the benefit of the land and residents defines Kula’s character. Residents are proud of sharing in this culture.
Charming plantation-style houses and bungalows in North Maui.
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Condos, subdivisions, & custom-home neighborhoods in south Maui.
Makawao is an artsy town with a laid-back vibe in Central Maui.
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Pukalani has a more suburbia feeling with views of the country.
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