When I was initially looking into this trip to Maui, there was only one thing that I HAD to do. Ok – maybe I had to go to a beach, and eat pancakes with coconut syrup, and eat fish tacos, and drink Mai Tai’s, and photograph palm trees but really the most important activity on my radar was the famous (and sometimes infamous) Road to Hana.
The Road to Hana is really just the Hana Highway, which is a 64.4-mile long stretch connecting Kahului with the town of Hana in east Maui. But don’t be mistaken, this is not your average highway. Although, Hana is less than 100km from Kahului, it takes about 2.5 hours to drive when no stops are made as the “highway” is very winding and narrow and passes over 59 bridges, 46 of which are only one lane wide. You heard me – ONE lane! This means that every few minutes you may be required to pull off to the side to let a vehicle, that is coming straight towards you, pass.
This winding road is definitely not for the faint of heart. Many people experience extreme car sickness or anxiety due to the 620 curves along Route 360. Fortunately, I did not experience any of the negative side effects on my own trip to Hana. I was deliriously happy to be driving through lush, tropical, rain forest, snaking along the coast, and passing by beautiful waterfalls. Simply put, Maui is paradise!
With so many potential stops and view points along the way, I enlisted my friend Natasha (a Maui expert) to help me nail down a kick-ass itinerary. With only one day, we needed to make it count.
These are the 5 main stops we recommend on a one day return trip to Hana:
Stop #1: Twin Falls Farm Stand
The Road to Hana starts near the town of Paia. After following highway 36 for about 20 minutes you should come across this easy to spot Farmstand with a small parking lot. We got there bright and early (8:30am) so we easily found a spot to park. We spent an hour strolling along the path and enjoying the jungle-like atmosphere. This is also a great spot to buy fresh local fruit (although you will pass tons of vendors along the way) and sample some coconut candy on your way out.
Stop #2: Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread in Ke’anae / Halfway to Hana
We were eagerly anticipating our second stop because BANADA BREAD! Maui is famous for the stuff and I was told that Aunty Sandy makes the best. After another 45 minutes of driving we pulled off in Ke’anae and our jaws hit the floor. The view was so spectacular that we were barely phased by the unfortunate closed sign on the store front (it was Easter Sunday). We had a mini photo shoot and then continued on our way before quickly running into a giant Halfway to Hana sign. We pulled over and discovered that we could still purchase banana bread at this snack shack instead. And it even turned out to be home of “the original” banana bread. Our lucky day!
Stop #3: Waianapanapa State Park
Yet another 40 minutes down the road was Wai’anapanapa State Park where we were excited to see our very first black sand beach! While the hot sun beat down on us, we enjoyed photographing the blowholes and climbing over the volcanic rock. I especially loved the colour contrast of the black rock and the vibrant green plant life against the blue sea and sky.
The park is a great rest stop; It’s set up for camping, picnic lunches, or just a relaxing day at the beach. We could easily have spent the entire day here but we soldiered on.
Stop #4: Hana & Red Sand Beach
Following our leisurely stop at Wai’anapanapa, it was only another 10 minutes to our excursion’s namesake. We reached Hana Bay and found the town a bit small and underwhelming. Many people decide to stay in Hana overnight or camp nearby but we needed to get back to the other side of the island by nightfall. We originally planned to visit the Red Sand Beach here, but opted to skip it in order to spend more time at our final major stop of the day. We’d been warned that the best stops were past Hana.
Stop #5: Kipahulu Area of Haleakala National Park
You can’t miss Kipahulu – It’s a very obvious stop and has something for everyone. Upon arrival, I quickly darted into the visitor’s center to seek shelter from the sudden rainstorm. The weather on the eastern side of the island is milder and wetter, prone to sudden heavy rains and winds. Unfortunately, the Seven Sacred Pools at the Oheo Gulch were not open for swimming during our visit. So instead I opted to hike the Pipiwai Trail in search of Waimoku Falls (pictured above), the great Banyan Tree (below) and the Bamboo Forest.
I began the hike knowing full well that I was going to be completely drenched by the end and that flip flops (the only footwear I had with me) would not be ideal. I was mildly concerned that I wouldn’t be able to make it all the way when I saw everyone coming down decked out in proper hiking gear. But I surprised myself and managed the 2 mile trail and 800 ft elevation gain with relative ease, although I wouldn’t recommend it. Check out Go Visit Hawaii for detailed tips on hiking the Pipiwai Trail.
Even though I was soaking wet and covered in mud by the end of it, I felt elated. This is what it means to be alive! I loved how it felt to be alone in nature with the elements and nothing to think about but where to put my feet next. I returned to the car rejuvenated and thankful for a body that can move and for the opportunity to travel to places like Maui.
The Way Back
Most people return from Hana by going back the same way they came.
If you continue on past Kipahulu around the backside of Haleakala and around, the road gets really rough. Not only is it one lane for a major section but it is unpaved and rocky with blind turns and drop offs. We had been warned about the road conditions but were promised that the road does get better and that the view is worth it. And it was!
My photos do not do justice to the awe-inspiring landscape we drove through in near isolation for the 2 hour return trip. The road did get better and the landscape was completely different from the tropical rain forest we had passed through on the other side. We drove through rolling fields of long grass, seemingly untouched by civilization. We presume that tourists are told not to travel this way so that the locals can hoard this place to themselves.
So in conclusion I leave you with a few words of advice if you plan to do the Road to Hana for yourself.
Top 8 Hana Survival Tips:
1. Pull over for faster vehicles
This one is more about etiquette and the aloha spirit. On one lane roads, it is just better for everyone if you let the speeders pass you by.
2. Plan for a full day and leave early
We left our condo just after 7am and returned just after 7pm (post-sunset). I’m not a fan of driving those roads in the dark and it really is a full day. Beat the crowds and start early.
3. Leave with a Full tank of Gas
There are no gas stations between Paia and Hana so do not make the mistake of expecting to find gas on the road.
4. Find good music
My favourite part about road trips is singing loudly and car dancing with friends. Katie and I fell madly in love with the station 99.9 Kiss FM – Maui’s Best Mix of Yesterday & Today. One minute you’re belting it out to Sam Smith and the next minute you’re dancing to Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun! What could be better than that?
5. Prepare for Rain
Hana is lush and tropical for good reason. It is one of the most rained on places on Earth, so be prepared with something to dry off with and some protection if you plan on walking around a lot.
6. Eat the Banana Bread
I don’t care if you don’t like bananas – eat the bread! Yes, I am bossy. You’ll thank me later.
7. Don’t Stop Everywhere, but do stop where you want
As I mentioned, the best stops are past Hana so if you stop at every bridge and shoulder with a view you are never going to make it in one day. We definitely made some unplanned stops because the view was just too good not to but we definitely passed on a lot of spots. Trust me, you will see amazing things no matter what!
8. Bring snacks and water
There are not a lot of restaurants between Paia and Hana (and basically nothing on the backside) so we packed a full day of snacks and water so that we would have enough energy to tackle all of the awesome sights on the way. Plus we never had to wait in lines to buy food. Efficiency is sexy people!
Our little engine that could – 2014 Ford Focus
If you can stomach up the courage to rent a car and drive the Road to Hana, I highly recommend it. In this case it really is (as cliché as it sounds) all about the journey, not the destination.
What about you? Have you ever consider driving the Road to Hana?