In the late 1980s when Bev Gannon opened her now legendary restaurant, the Hali'imaile General Store, on a back road in Upcountry Maui, people thought she was nuts. Upcountry, the island's unglamorous rural region, encompasses the western slope of Haleakala, a dormant volcano, and stretches up to its 10,000-foot peak. At the time, the area contained lush farms, ranches, and a few sleepy hamlets that tourists glimpsed from their cars while zipping up and down the volcano.
"There was nothing," says Gannon. "People would drive through miles of sugarcane fields and get lost trying to find us. We were in the middle of nowhere."
Not anymore. Her restaurant didn't just survive, it thrived. The wave of interest in local foods that began to build in the 1990s now makes Upcountry an increasingly popular destination, adding to the longtime lure of Haleakala National Park.
A trip to the crater will always be an unforgettable experience. From the volcano's summit, you look down not just at the ocean but at the clouds, and you could spend an hour or a week hiking more than 35 miles of cinder-strewn trails. In summer, you'll see striking Haleakala silversword, a threatened species, sprouting bold spikes of maroon flowers. If you're lucky, you might spy a Hawaiian petrel, an endangered black-and-white seabird that nests on the mountain.
But there's more to the volcano than its crater, and Upcountry's lower elevations have much to offer these days. Rich volcanic soil and a mild climate allow farmers to grow an abundance of gorgeous strawberries, Maui onions, coffee, lilikoi (passion fruit), and more. Restaurateurs like Gannon feature that bounty on their menus in bright salads and rich cakes, and farms have opened their gates to visitors.