Photo by Sue Hudelson
Few people expect to stumble into the Wild West while they’re on Maui. But Kanaio, the untamed landscape just beyond the genteel hills of ‘Ulupalakua, could be the set for any lonesome cowboy flick. Standing in for desert plains and tumbleweeds are sun-baked lava fields and native wiliwili trees. On cue, feral goats scamper ahead of cows plodding up the massive slope of Haleakala. The only sound here is the wind whipping past your ears, searching vainly for something to bounce off.
It’s as good a place as any for a burger stand. If you happen to be heading home from Hana the back way and find yourself hungry, Bully’s Burgers appears in the boonies like a starving man’s mirage. Only it’s real. Step up and place your order at the window of the tiny bamboo shack. You’ll find that the burgers — made from freerange Angus beef and set within a toasted bun—are delicious.
Bully’s Burgers is a living memorial to Louis “Bully” DePonte. The lifelong paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) and champion bull rider passed away in 2011. His widow, Paige DePonte, and two of their kids, Zach and Maurissa, followed through with Bully’s plans to expand operations at the family’s Triple L Ranch. In addition to raising cattle, the DePontes now lead horseback tours down to a secluded Kanaio beach and of course sell burgers at their roadside attraction. Paige makes the chayote pickle that comes on the side.
On Sundays during summertime, this tiny outpost erupts with music. The John Grover Band, the Haiku Hillbillys and other local acts take turns transforming the lonely stretch of highway into a rollicking street party. Loyal customers from near and far roll up on all manner of transportation: pickup truck, horse, Harley and ATV. The Hillbillys’ medley of harmonica, fiddle and finger-picking is a perfect soundtrack for this windswept wilderness. As the groove gets going, the corrugated tin roof above the band begins to vibrate along with the crash of the cymbals. For the daring, the road serves as a ready dance floor.