Cadillac Above the Clouds – Driving to Haleakala and Exploring Upcountry Maui

By Steve & Tamami Laser and Nahoko Osuka reporting from Maui

Where else in the world can you drive from sea level to 10,000 feet in just 38 miles? Only on Maui. When we left sunny Paia beach on the north shore, the temperature display in our Cadillac SRX showed a balmy 88 degrees. Two hours later at the summit of Haleakala, it was a chilly 57 degrees.

IMG_6836Getting up-close and personal with a volcano is easy on Maui. Our journey began on Highway 37, a wide four-lane road that heads through sugar cane fields to the upcountry town of Pukalani.

Kula Lodge & Restaurant

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Turning left onto two-lane Highway 377, we stopped at the colorful Kula Lodge. At 3,200 feet, this rustic resort was built in the 1940s as a private residence.

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Today, it offers sweeping views of the valley and ocean below with the best vantage point from the windows of its restaurant. Stepping out onto the balcony, we walked down a staircase to a lush garden path below.

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The Garden Terrace surprised us with its quaint wood-burning pizza oven. Inhaling the delicious aroma from its smokestack caused immediate cravings for a pie. Yet the highway to Haleakala beckoned so we returned to the car.

Haleakala National Park

A short distance up the road from the Kula Lodge we turned left onto Highway 378. The road began to get twisty as we drove past ranches and pastures with grazing livestock.

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The road then climbs upwards into the sky as the green fields are replaced with desolate stretches strewn with volcanic rock.

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At 7,000 feet we reached the entrance to Haleakala National Park, where a friendly ranger collects a modest entry fee.

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We recommend stopping at the Visitor Center for a welcome break. In addition to picking up a map, and reading the informative signs and displays, it provides additional time to get adjusted to the change in altitude.

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The shop offers an assortment of guidebooks, souvenirs and packaged snacks. This is the last place on the road to buy munchies, so stock up if you don’t bring your own. Beyond the Visitor Center, the road becomes very steep and twisty as we ascended the remaining 3,000 feet to the top.

We stopped at the Haleakala Visitor Center, elevation 9,740 feet, and walked up a short path to witness an incredible view of the massive cinder cone valley in the crater below.

It’s difficult to grasp the immensity of this natural wonder that measures seven miles across and nearly 2,600 feet deep. The mind begins to wander with thoughts of how the valley looked when it was young, 1,200 years ago, filled with bubbling lava pits.

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While we could have stood there in awe for hours, we needed to complete the short drive to the last stop on the road. The sign told us that we had reached the end of our drive at 10,000 feet.

The remaining climb of just 23 feet is made on foot. The Pu’u’ula’ula Summit at 10,023 feet offers a panoramic view of the island and ocean below. We were fortunate that the cloud layer below wasn’t thick during our visit.

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Dressed in shorts and t-shirts, we began to feel the chill of 57 degree weather, so we made a beeline for the solitary building. According to our map, this stone structure has been situated on the edge of the cliff since 1936.

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The welcome shelter inside blocked the wind while offering remarkable views of the sights below.

If you’re planning a Maui vacation, be sure to visit Haleakala. Those without rental cars or hesitant to make the drive can opt for bus tours. And for hearty souls seeking adventure, the park offers extensive hiking trails. Park rangers also told us that sunrise at the top is spectacular, while the nighttime sky offers the “best star-gazing on the island.”

Historic Makawao Town

No journey to upcountry Maui is complete without visiting historic Makawao Town. Going down Highway 377, turn right on Makawao Avenue and follow the signs.

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Once occupied by paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys), this old-west lookalike is now the home of boutiques, galleries and restaurants. It’s a great place to relax and stroll among the historic structures.

We visited the General Store for a late lunch. As its name implies, there’s a wide variety of goods, yet the sandwiches were some of the best we tasted during our Maui vacation. They also offer salads to-go, along with smoothies, gelato and lattes.

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There’s a surprisingly eclectic array of eateries in Makawao including a sushi bar, steak house and bistro. The Komoda Store and Bakery offers delicious fresh-baked treats from rolls and pies to azuki-filled anpan.

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Makawao hasn’t abandoned its roots. Every July 4th, locals and visitors alike gather at the Oskie Rice Arena for the Makawao Rodeo. Located on the outskirts of town, we paid a visit to wrap up our day exploring upcountry Maui and the wonders of Haleakala.

We traveled from sea level to 10,000 feet in comfort and luxury thanks to our Cadillac SRX test car. It never missed a beat during the drastic changes in climate and altitude. And it provided excellent performance on the steepest stretches along with responsive steering and braking during the twists and turns. If you’re seeking a trusting companion for the journey to Haleakala, we recommend the Cadillac SRX.

Story, photos and videos ©2014 CarNichiWa.com

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