The Road to Hana.
Infamous for its curves, tiny bridges and lack of visibility, this glorified one-point-five-lane highway takes you into the depths of paradise. Even though the road is well-worn, you feel as though you are venturing into unchartered territory.
You also feel crazy, because who in their right mind would crawl into a car and subject themselves to this, which is just a portion…a mere fraction…of what you endure?
Answer: Everyone who visits Maui.
There are hundreds of sites and blogs that will tell you everything (and then some) about the Road to Hana. If you want to see everything, make it a two-day trek and spend the night in Hana. If you’re attempting to do it in a day, pare down your stops to something manageable. We did 6-7 stops and it felt like the right amount for us, albeit pushing it. Our entire round-trip adventure took 11 hours—and that was during the slow season with less people and, more importantly, less traffic. Plan. Ahead.
I was on the fence about whether to even attempt this after hearing nothing but horror stories from our friends. Yes, it’s a slightly-dangerous, exhausting drive, but you will see things you cannot see anywhere else on the island. It’s totally worth it. Here are a few things that made it easier:
* Start early. We left at 7:30am to beat any midday traffic.
* Make the drive early in your trip. Don’t wait until you’re sunburned and exhausted from playing on the beach. We did it our first full day on Maui.
* Have a full tank of gas. There’s no place to get fuel until you get to Hana, so fill ‘er up completely before leaving Paia.
* If you have a tendency to get car-sick, eat a light carb-heavy breakfast (no acid, no dairy), pop a Dramamine and don these sexy Sea Bands. I didn’t have one issue the entire ride.
Annnd after wearing it for over 11 hours straight:
* Plan out your stops in advance so you aren’t twisting and turning your way back to town in the dark.
Here are the stops that made our short list:
# MM 10.5 – The Garden of Eden
At $15 a person, it’s hard to imagine that this is really a worthwhile stop when most of the other sights are free, but this is one of the best places we explored. The family-run botanical garden is home to over 500 of Hawaii’s stunning indigenous specimens. And it’s a great place to stretch your legs. They have several walking trails (or you can drive through) that reveal so many interesting flowers, plants, incredible ocean views, and even a secret waterfall.
A little perspective on how huge these bamboo stalks are…
# MM 17 – Keanae Peninsula
This is a good stop if you’re anxious to get off the main road, sit by the ocean and enjoy taro beds and lava rock. It’s gorgeous. Every sign and person will tell you not to swim here because it’s so dangerous, but we watched a guy and his two dogs go crazy jumping off the rocks.
# MM 18 – Halfway to Hana
Even though you’ll only be back on the road for another mile, this place is worth the stop if only to grab a mini loaf of their famous banana bread—a recipe they’ve been whipping up for tourists since 1983. I like my recipe better, but it was still delicious and hit the spot.
# MM 22.8 – Puaa Kaa Waterfalls
There are so many waterfalls along the way, but few that have off-road parking so take advantage of this stop. The 20-foot waterfall is gorgeous and also provides easy-access swimming holes….for those that like to be soaked on an all-day car ride. (Not me.)
On our way back to the car we also spotted a slew of adorable cats and I managed to catch one mongoose for a pic. These guys are all over the islands and this was the first (and only) opportunity I had to capture one before it scampered off.
# MM 32.2 – Waianapanapa State Park
If ever there was a place to stop on the Road to Hana, this is it. This family-run park offers mind-blowing views, blowholes, lava tubes and…the best part…black sand beaches.
The pebbles at the back of the beach are quite big and then they get finer and finer, until ultimately you have sand where the water has constantly ebbed and flowed over the rocks.
It was pretty awesome to see and plenty of people were swimming. Doesn’t it look like water on asphalt?
The entire park was gorgeous.
We even climbed through a narrow lava tube.
Once you’re on the beach, over to the left is a trailhead leading you across the shoreline. One of my guidebooks likened it to “Alice in Wonderland in Hawaii.” That pretty much sold it for me.
It offered a pretty amazing view back to the beach.
And you got a good look at what these volcanic rocks looked like before the ocean pummeled them for years and years and years.
# MM 36 – Hana!
We actually didn’t stop in Hana, but there are nice places to catch a meal and a bathroom break along the highway.
# MM 45 — Wailua Falls
This magnificent 113-foot waterfall is right next to the road. It was gorgeous, but becomes a bit of a traffic nightmare as people try to just pull over on the bridge to snap a picture instead of parking in the designated lot *after* the bridge.
# MM 42 – Oheo Gulch and Pipiwai Trail
The mile markers stop at 50 and start reversing afterwards, so this evens out to a little over 9 miles after you leave Hana’s limits. Honestly, I hated these nine miles more than the rest of the previous miles combined. It was very rough going, but soon you’ll come to Oheo Gulch also known as the Seven Sacred Pools. There is a $10 park fee, but as my aunt says…”Pay the man!” This is one of the best places you’ll see on the island.
Oh, how I wanted to slip into these cool waters!
They run straight out into the ocean!
North of the pools is the Pipiwai Trail, lauded as one of the best hikes in Maui. It’s four miles round trip and takes you through swarms of mango trees, a bamboo forest and ends at the 400-foot Waimoku Falls. We didn’t make it the entire way (exhaustion + bugs + wanting to see the pools), but it was definitely worth the 45 minutes we put into it.
The bamboo forest was epic. These shady stalks were so cold to the touch that I actually rested my head against one for a few minutes to cool down. (Cue Joe acting like he doesn’t know me.)
Although we didn’t make it to the top waterfall, we still had plenty to swoon over along the way.
One mile past the pools is a small church and the grave site of Charles Lindberg. We didn’t make it there due to said exhaustion, but overall this is a good place to turn around and head back. If you’re in a rental car, chances are your contract won’t let you finish the loop because there are several miles of unpaved (hideous) roads that require at least a Jeep if you’re wanting to have all of your teeth when you return to the States.
The pools/trail has a really nice park area to rest and clean bathrooms, so that’s all we needed before piling back into the car to make the 3.5 trip home.
If I could do it again: I’d spend less time stopping at the smaller, random waterfalls like these…
…and spend more time at the sacred pools and hiking to see the big one. I was sad we didn’t have more time there, or that I couldn’t just submerge my sweaty self in those chilly waters after the hike, but we had reached our max by that point and you have to save something for that ride back or you’ll go crazy.
That’s it! We did it; we survived the Road to Hana! (And now you did too!)