So, if you’ve been following my writings, you know that I love a good road trip (remember my unforgettable 20 days in frigid Tasmania? Or the epic panoramas along the Great Ocean Road?) Well, after three jam-packed days in Ohau and some much deserved relaxation in West Maui’s Napili Bay, my partner and I set off for one notorious jaunt around one of Hawaii’s most famous roads.
Welcome to the Road to Hana, the crown-jewel of Hawaiian driving tours! Included in your road trip package are 56 oh-my-gosh one-lane bridges, 600 hold-your-breath hairpin turns (yes, that’s 600), dozens of waterfalls to splish-splash your time away, handfuls of tasty banana bread stands, and numerous pull overs with drop-your-jaw vistas.
Assumptions aside, the goal of the Road to Hana is beyond the actual arrival at the destination of Hana – ’cause there isn’t much actually there, love! If you focus on getting to Hana in order to just turn around for the return trip, you miss out on the true magic of the Road.
Our goal (and yours should be too) was to fully appreciate the journey, enjoy the breathtaking beauty of nature, and experience a side of Maui that the typical tourist hordes usually don’t see. We took two full days to cover the entire Road to Hana, including our trek around the Road’s backside across Ulupalakua Ranch and into Kula.
Getting there: Maui’s not actually very big, folks. From Napili Bay, the drive to Paia takes just under an hour. Begin early, grab some breakfast in Paia, and then follow Highway 36 out of Paia until it turns into Highway 360. Make sure to gas up your car before leaving Paia as it’s your last chance for fuel before reaching Hana.
With stops, the drive from Paia to Hana should take about two to three hours. Frequent stops, a leisurely lunch by a waterfall, or a long hike through the jungle can turn this trip into a full-day event. Consider staying the night in Hana and then continue around the Road’s backside. We stayed the night just outside of Hana at Hana Accommodations, a quaint little B&B with super cute dogs and self-catering facilities. Though the road leading past Hana evokes images of car wrecks, potholes, and muddy messes…You Will Be Fine. (Okay, there are a few potholes. Just drive slow and take your time.)
The following are a few of my favorite stops along the Road to Hana.
Waikamoi Nature Trail at mile marker 9: We somehow flew right by the Twin Falls mile marker and found ourselves at the Waikamoi Nature Trail. I think that I was expecting these stops to be further apart so remember to pay attention to the mile markers – or have your driving buddy do the map reading and keep your own eyes on the road. The Waikamoi Loop is a great opportunity to stretch your legs and breath in the sent of jungle and ginger. I enjoyed relaxing in the lush tropical rain forest vegetation before climbing back into the car.
Garden of Eden Botanical Garden at mile marker 10: We skipped the Garden of Eden Arboretum. I actually pulled in to quickly use the restroom, and then I pulled back to the highway to continue on our way. Saying that, I did visit with a pair of travelers at the Honomanu Bay Lookout and they absolutely raved about the Gardens, claiming it was well worth the $15 per person admission price. If you love plants, go for it!
Honomanu Bay Lookout at mile marker 14: This was probably one of the most beautiful views along the Road to Hana. A huge cliff drops directly down into Honomanu Bay and beyond to endless ocean. Look back and gap at the sheer engineering of the Road as you see the highway snaking across the cliff side. Be sure to take some photos here. Your grandma will thank you.
Waikani Falls at mile marker 21: Just plain pretty. I can’t find my photo of the Waikani falls at the moment – more to come about this sweet gem.
Nahiku Ti Gallery at mile marker 28: This is a cute stop for banana bread, curry, locally made jewelry, Hawaiian crafts, and more – a little bit of everything. There were some gorgeous pieces of silver along with the usual coconut bras and postcards.
Wailua Falls at mile marker 45: I thought this was the loveliest of the Maui waterfalls. Wailua Falls sits directly by the road, and you can hear the crashing water from about 800 meters away. Stay for a minute and let the waterfall’s mist cool you off.
Oheo Gulch at Kipahulu: Ten miles outside of Hana live the famous Oheo Gulch pools – the reason that many make the Road to Hand trip. And yes, all 600 hairpin turns are worth the rewarding views at Oheo Gulch where a basalt-lined stream cascades from one pool to the next. If the weather is good, you can swim in the pools. We lucked out. As a pools were churning in whirlpool frenzy and a green/gray storm was approaching, we weren’t allowed to swim. If you have the time, take the two-mile hike to the 400-meter Waimoku Falls. The Pipiwai Trail, which crosses a magnificent gorge, can take up to four hours roundtrip. Bring water and wear solid hiking shoes.
Grave of Charles Lindbergh: A few miles past Oheo Gulch lies the world renowned aviator, Charles Lindbergh, who wanted to be buried here with his wife. The duo spent much of their later years enjoying the vast beauty of East Maui, and his grave has been here since 1974. We didn’t stop to say hello to dear Charles, but there were many cars pulled aside to pay their respects.
And then the road starts to look like this:
Kaupo Road: Continuing past Oheo Gulch and the Grave of Charles Lindbergh is the gorgeous Upcountry of Maui. The road does get a little rough in places, but the drive is so dramatically different than rest of the Hana Highway that you just have to bite the bullet and go for it. The desert-like topography and scenery remind me of a Salvador Dali painting. Do you agree?
It is incredibly windy along this shore of Maui. Hold on to your hat, and be careful when opening your car doors. We lost our map on more than one occasion, leaving me to gallop across the sparse terrain in search of our dog-eared, marked-up souvenir.
Finally. Last, but not least…a bit of vino to end your day and to celebrate your road trip awesomeness.
Tedeschi Vineyards: As you wind your way through Ulupalakua, stopping often to take photos hopefully, you will eventually come upon the Tedeschi Vineyards on your right hand side. There is a cute ma’ and pa’ shop on the opposite side of the road where you can grab a sandwich or cold drink. Before or after your refreshments, head on over to the tasting rooms and try Tedeschi’s pineapple wine. You can taste up to three wines for free, and there is plenty of both white and red wines available to purchase. Buy a bottle to share that evening, perhaps at a B&B in the Upcountry or at a seaside resort in West Maui. Enjoy your wine and reminisce about this memorable road trip journey during your Hawaiian vacation.
That’s it! If you have any suggestions or tips, feel free to leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about your experience along this epic road trip.