Maui’s Road to Hana is hailed as one of America’s most scenic drives, and after experiencing it firsthand last August, I would have to wholeheartedly agree. The journey starts at the top of the island, in the town of Paia and slowly winds through unspoiled territories along the east coast to end up in beautifully remote Hana. The point is not to get to Hana, but to experience all the sights along the way. The entire drive can take three and half hours straight through, but most tourists take all day to explore all the nooks and crannies, tucked away waterfalls, and private swimming holes Maui has to offer.
We must have made about ten stops that day, so we’ll just focus on the big ones.
First up: Black Sand Beach at Wainapanapa State Park. It is pretty obvious what makes this beach unique. This one was Philip’s fave beach of the day, but I found the sand/rocks too rough on my delicate feet. On the right side of the beach, there is a cave entrance that you must check out. We followed the tunnel and it lead to a secret cave opening to the ocean, with waves crashing into it.
After arriving at the village of Hana, we had a quick lunch at a delicious Thai restaurant.
Then, it was time for the next adventure: Red Sand Beach (also known as Kaihalulu Bay). This beach is secreted away in a hidden place and you need very specific directions to get there. We had to cross onto a grassy field that looked like private property, find a small opening in the midst of some very tall grass, follow a trail, teeter on the edge of some rocks in between waves crashing on them, slide down some gnarly tree roots to FINALLY reach the top of the hill that looks down onto the beach.
After passing Hana, we encountered an organic fruit stand. We bought the biggest mango they had, which was a three pound honker, and it was predictably delicious. The two employees working there were telling us that in exchange for a few hours of work on the organic fruit farms, they were given room and board, which is how they were able to see Hawaii.
Finally, my favorite and the final stop of our journey: O’heo Gulch or the Seven Scared Pools, set against a backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. There were various signs everywhere warning about flash floods that could quickly turn this serene play area into a torrential danger trap. There is also a bamboo forest and a hike to another humongous waterfall that we did not have time to check out.
My Tips for Road to Hana:
1. Leave early.
Road to Hana will take you the whole day. Unless you’re planning to stay a night in Hana (which many recommend as well), you have to leave no later than 9 am. This allows you to stop at most of the beaches and sights before turning back around and driving back to West Maui or Wailea, wherever you are staying. Most people don’t go past Haleakala National Park at the bottom of island because past that, the roads are unpaved and dangerous. Your rental car agreement will ask you not to attempt to cross this area. Because you have to turn around and drive 2-3 hours back on narrow roads and cliffs which sometimes turn into one lane, you don’t want to do this when it is too dark. We spent too much time at the Seven Sacred Pools before heading back, and Philip had to drive half of the way back in darkness, and it was pretty scary.
2. Use the guidebook Maui Revealed and pick up a guided tour CD at a gas station in Paia.
I cannot praise this guidebook enough. I made fun of Philip for constantly quoting this book at the beginning of the trip, but after reading some of the tips, I was like holy cow, this is pretty awesome indeed. It’s really indispensable for the Road to Hana because it tells you which waterfalls to skip and which ones are must sees. It also gives you those cryptic directions to find the hidden Red Sand Beach. I also absent-mindedly picked up a CD guided tour at a gas station in Paia and it turned out to be the best idea ever. It is a great accompaniment for the journey, with the hosts playing Hawaiian music, teaching you local customs and history lessons, and explaining the different sights you are seeing. They will tell you to pause the CD at the stops and once you climb back in the car, you simply press play to continue your journey.
3. Leave your car unlocked when stopping at waterfalls and landmarks.
Just as any other touristy place, stops at Road to Hana are sometimes hit by thieves taking advantage of the parked cars. The only way to avoid this is to not bring any valuables (or take them with you) and leave your doors unlocked. This way you will not find your windows smashed to smithereens upon your return.
4. Reset your odometer of the highway so that it matches the mile markers.
I forgot if this was a tip from the guidebook or our CD, but it was a great tip, especially when we were looking for those hidden sights. Sometimes the directions would be as simple as “stop at the third tree past the banana bread stand at mile mark 120”. If your car is synced up to the mile markers, it is a breeze to figure out where you are on the highway.
5. Practice Aloha!
Aloha refers to the laidback, friendly Hawaiian spirit. It might be frustrating driving on a narrow road where you might have to coordinate with the car coming from the other side in order to cross bridges and one way lanes. Letting others pass and being friendly makes everyone’s experience much better.
*This lengthy post was an Em-Tiff collabo.