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Chapter 14 – Kula

If you’ve been fortunate to enjoy a meal at one or more of Maui’s renowned restaurants, chances are the food on your plate was grown in Kula. With its fertile fields and rich volcanic soil, the district of Kula provides much of the state’s produce and cut flowers. Almost all of the carnations used in Hawaii’s famous leis come from Kula. And the famous Maui onion, thought by many to be the sweetest in the world, as well as other fresh farm-to-table ingredients—lettuce, potatoes, jicama, tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower and cabbage—all hail from Kula.

Part of the Upcountry region of Maui, Kula is centrally located and rests on the western slopes of Haleakala, the dormant volcano that dominates Maui’s landscape. With its stunning views of Maui and the Pacific Ocean, Kula arguably has the best views in Upcountry Maui.

Kula’s residential areas range from about 1,800 ft. to 3,700 ft. above sea level. Traditionally, the district has been home to full-time residents (population 6,452) who prefer its cooler temperatures over the warmer and denser touristy towns, such as Kihei and Lahaina, closer to sea level. “It’s cooler in Kula” is a popular phrase, and, increasingly, just as many Upcountry residents like to vacation at the seashore, many coastal residents enjoy visiting Kula for its lower temperatures that may even necessitate a fireplace in winter.

The higher-elevated area of Kula (2,800 ft. to 3,700 ft.) is aptly called Upper Kula. Kekaulike Avenue, also known as State Highway 377, runs through the region and is surrounded by lush, green pastures and silver eucalyptus tree groves. There are not many commercial ventures along Kekaulike, but there are a few must-see destinations including Kula Botanical Garden and Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm.

What began as a display garden for a family’s landscape architecture business, Kula Botanical Garden is now a major tourist destination, drawing thousands of visitors each year. Patrons can meander over eight acres of vibrant and unique plants, including carnations, birds of paradise and orchids; unique and impressive rock formations; waterfalls; koi pond; covered bridge; aviary and carved tiki exhibit.

Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm, created by agricultural artist and horticultural master Ali’i Chang, is home to approximately 55,000 lavender plants and 45 different varieties of lavender. Interestingly, lavender is not native to Maui. In fact, it wasn’t until 2001, when a friend gifted some lavender to Ali’i and he planted it, that the herb existed here at all. Yet, it quickly took a liking to the Mediterranean climate, with many varieties blooming year round. Visitors can take walking tours and learn about and purchase more than 50 lavender products, including culinary, aromatherapy, bath and body.

Lower Kula (1,200 ft. to 2,800 ft.) comprises the areas around Lower Kula Road, the old county road that traversed the region before Kula Highway was finished in 1964. Communities include Pulehu, Waiakoa, Omaopio and Keokea, each with its own ethnic background. Portuguese and Chinese immigrants first arrived in the late 19th century to work on the sugarcane plantations. Shortly thereafter, Japanese farmers moved to the area because of its ideal climate for growing vegetables.

With the resurgence of a farm-to-table lifestyle in the past decade, much of the agricultural land is being carved into “gentlemen estates,” essentially family farms with large homes taking advantage of the mild climate to produce vegetables for Maui’s demanding market.

An overview of Kula would not be complete without mentioning Kula’s best-known landmark—the Holy Ghost Catholic Church, located along the Lower Kula Road. Built in 1894 by Portuguese immigrants, the church is octagonal in shape and boasts a hand-carved altar. With the slopes of Haleakala as its backdrop, the church’s white turret is visible from much of Central Maui.

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