Makawao catches the visitor up in a tropical John Wayne film, somewhere between luscious rainforest vegetation and tumbleweed. A self-acknowledged 'cowboy' or 'paniolo' town, the old-west style buildings remind guests that they are in the heart of ranch country—Hawaiian ranch country. While Makawao may be much further along the path of modernity than the old store-facades suggest, locals want to preserve the cowboy feel of Maui's 'west' despite the sprawl reaching towards this town southeast of Kahului.
Makawao makes no attempts to compete with the attraction of endless sandy miles of beachfront. Their rodeo season starts late spring and finishes in late summer but off-season the town itself has a very unique charm and there are a number of historical buildings worth a stop.
Close to Makawao are the Kula Botanical Gardens, brimming with six acres of carefully tended tropical and subtropical species, including Maui's famous flower, the very cactus-like Protea. Enjoy nature at its uncultivated best just beyond the gardens at Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area. Camp with appropriate permits out in the trees, or simply enjoy a day's worth of hikes on the trails that criss-cross the region.
Makawao is about 20 miles southeast of Kahului.