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Travel: Upcountry and North Shore Maui

A variety of cultures, lifestyles and philosophies have come to rest at the base of the Haleakala volcano

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It was my second trip to Maui and I'd never done the Haleakala volcano. So given a clear morning - the 3,000-metre summit is usually encased in cloud - a friend and I drove the zigzag road up to a landscape that the U.S. National Parks website rightly describes as "deeply sculpted, richly colored - and intensely evocative."

From an outlook building - one of two at the summit - you peer into a vast depression filled with cylindrical cinder cones in shades of brown and grey. Carefully placed walking trails appear from a distance like meandering lines etched in charcoal.

Hikers can access the 10,000-hectare Haleakala wilderness area that includes this alpine desert, but also the volcano's lower slopes, described as "cloud-forests dripping with red and green native ferns." In fact, you can walk all the way down the volcano to the east coast of Maui. And if you overnight on the volcano, you can tent in a wilderness campground or sleep in a cabin (with permits, and for modest fees - www.nps.gov/hale ).

A Calgarian - we picked him up on our return from the summit - had camped for three nights in the crater. He'd seen few people and had had a great time. In other words, there's more to Maui than the (albeit wonderful) resorts and beaches of its West Coast.

We based ourselves at the Paia Inn in the town of the same name. Paia was founded in the late 1800s to house labourers who worked Maui's pineapple and sugar-cane fields. Abandoned after the Second World War, it was revived by hippies in the 1970s, and by wind-surfers in the '80s. Today Paia is a funky, free-spirited place.

The Paia Inn, a one-time rooming house, opened last year as a 12-room "beachfront boutique hotel." It includes elegantly minimalist suites and, across a leafy back lane, a cottage smack on Paia Bay Beach. We stayed in the latter, right on the water. But I caution that the surf on this north coast of Maui is powerful; an average swimmer, I didn't dare go into these thundering waves.

Continental breakfast in the inn's courtyard is fruit-and-nut-filled scones and coffee from nearby Anthony's Coffee House. Then exit through the inn's hand-carved doors and you're in hipster-ville. Its two intersecting streets (one traffic light) are lined with chic beachwear outlets and arts and crafts shops. At the town's Buddhist temple we ran into a gentle soul named "Po," who keeps the mechanism that runs the rotating stupa in good working order.

Another morning our breakfast at the Moana Café was coconut and macadamia-nut pancakes. The Flatbread Company is known for its Mopsy Kalua Pork flatbread. Said manager Jenna Haugaard: "It starts with our mango barbeque sauce. We add whole milk mozzarella, Surfing Goat chevre, organic red onions, local organic pineapple and our slow-roasted organic pulled pork." It's topped with Parmesan and organic herbs.

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