Following a path that is centuries old of winding roads, twisting trails, and one-lane bridges that lead to lush forests, and breath-taking coastal views. The Road to Hana is a 55 mile journey into the untouched core of Maui.
Hana itself is not the bustling city that you would expect out of somewhere, like Waikiki, but the allure of ensuring you experience this on your vacation is the adventure that you go on to reach Hana. As the old saying goes, “the journey is the destination”.
So how does one tackle such a daunting task? Where does one begin? And what is there to see on this mysterious Road to Hana?
There is so much to see on this great voyage, and luckily, there are mile markers that can be used as a reference guide when navigating. The following are just some of the highlight areas that we personally witnessed on our trip, and we even felt that we barely scratched the surface as there is so much more that we could have seen.
1. Begin your journey in Pa’ia, which is a little town on Maui’s North Shore. This will be where you fill up your gas tank, as there are no gas stations along Hana highway, and the station in Hana closes at 6:00pm. 10 miles past the Pa’ia the roadside mile-posts begin measuring the 36 miles to Hana town, and the infamous winding and noodling roads begin 3 miles after.
2. Just after mile marker 2 be on the look-out for a fruit stand that sells fresh juices of coconut, pineapple, and sugar cane to refresh and rejuvenate your bodies. Following the path beyond the stand will lead to a trail that leads to the picturesque waterfalls known as the Twin Falls. Sparkling pools of emerald water under the waterfalls provide excellent swimming and photo opportunities.
3. At mile marker 12 you will come across Kaumahina State Wayside Park, which is a chance to stretch out your legs and use a flush toilet. Even for a rest area, you still get a great overlooking view of Ke’anae Peninsula. The park is open from 6:00am to 6:00pm and admission is free.
4. About 6 miles from Kaumahina State Wayside Park, you can stop at the Ke’anae Overlook, where you can behold the quilt-like effect that the taro patches create below. Taro is seen in Hawaii as an agricultural art, and the crop is deeply rooted Hawaiian tradition and culture.
5. A little ways before mile marker 19 you will come across Wailua Village, which houses a very interesting story regarding the formerly named St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church made of coral built in 1860. Now called Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, legend has it a storm washed coral onto the shore to build the church and waves took any extra coral back to the sea.
6. Get your cameras ready because just beyond mile marker 21, you will encounter arguably the most extraordinary falls in all of east Maui, Wakani Falls. Since the water is not diverted for sugar irrigation, the falls have a much more dramatic effect.
7. The rainiest and densest part of the East Maui rain forest can be found at mile marker 25, in Nahiku village. During ancient days, this was a busy settlement of a few hundred residents, but ever since the failed rubber growing operation in the 1900’s the settlement has relegated to about 80 people. Just 10 minutes before arriving into Hana, you will find the quaint Nahiku Ti Gallery and Coffee Shop where you can order energizing espresso, buy local coffee, dried fruits, Hawaiian crafts, and delicious banana bread. If you’re lucky enough the barbecue will be fired up and you can try fish skewers, and the island favorite; baked breadfruit.
8. Just past mile marker 32 you will reach Wai’anapanapa State Park, which is the home to one of Maui’s only volcanic-sand beaches. Baking right into the ocean, this is a great place to picnic, camp, hike, and swim. Numerous times a year the tide pools turn red as if bleeding. Local legend claims the color represents the blood of Princess Popo’alaea who was said to have been murdered by her husband, Chief Ka’Akea. Scientists however, attribute the water’s changing color as small shrimp coming to the shore, but whatever you wish to believe, the black sands and sapphire water are sure to impart a lifelong impression.
9. After all the driving, pulling over, picture taking, and swimming, you will finally arrive at Hana. Do not be discouraged that this town is a little more than a gas station, a grocery store, a post office, and a general store. Hana is rich in Hawaiian history and lore as it is the birthplace of Queen Ka’ahumanu, who is known to be to be the favorite wife of King Kamehameha I, and held great power during Kamehameha’s reign. A few miles past Hana and off the shore is Alau Island, where the legend of the demigod Maui is said to have fished up the Hawaiian Islands.
10. By now, if you decided not to stay in Hana, you would want to head back towards the Maui main area before it gets dark. The drive back is just as impressive and actually gives a different perspective of the scenery as the sun begins to set. When you get back into Pa’ia, I would highly recommend making your way over to Mama’s Fish House (and I’m hoping you made reservations) and get yourself ready to experience the best fine dining experience Maui has to offer. I won’t go into too much detail about this place because this is something you would have to savor on your own, but I will say that this will be the perfect closing to an adventure filled day of sight-seeing and Hawaiian culture.
Mama's Fish House
Tips for the Road to Hana
a) Make sure your cameras have their batteries charged, and a fresh memory card is loaded because you will want to capture absolutely everything.
b) Set aside a whole day for the trip, or if you have the time, you can spend the night in Hana so that you aren’t pressed for time, and have to drive through the winding roads at night.
c) If you are prone to carsickness, be sure to take medication before you start the drive, and stop regularly to give yourself a break.
d) Bring water shoes or old shoes you don’t mind getting dirty or wet. You will need them for crossing streams on some stop overs. Swim at your own risk, beware of flash floods, and check the weather before heading out.
e) In high seasons the road tends to clog as vehicles can only drive as fast as the car in front of them. You will barely notice the mini-convoys forming as you will be too busy taking pictures and capturing each moment, however, as a courtesy to other drivers, if you find yourself in the role of locomotive, pull over and let the other drivers through.
f) If you see any vehicles who happen to just be zipping along the road, they are most likely locals to the area, be sure to pull over and let them pass.
g) Approaching the noodling roads can be a bit intimidating at first, but after a few passes, you’ll get the hang of it. If the idea of driving the Road to Hana still feels a bit much, you can always inquire on van tours, which make stops all along the way.
h) Take constant breaks to rest weary legs, and to give the driver a chance to enjoy the scenery.