The Hana highway road trip was the first thing I had put on my reduced Maui itinerary as a MUST DO. It’s not just that you’re driving on a twisty, turny highway through valleys and peaks, passing waterfalls and black sand beaches along the way. It’s that every few miles there’s an inlet, an opening, or a gravel road leading to a tiny bit of heavenly Hawaiian landscape. Basically, a road littered with “secret” gardens, waterfalls, parks, and beaches is exactly the type of thing I would go for. So I went for it!
After whiling the previous evening away in Lahaina, I had an early morning start to hit the road before the crowds. I went back and forth on the idea of how I would do the drive: would I go rogue and hit the road on my own or sit back and relax as a passenger in a tour group? I went through details of the road, Google mapped it, identified where I’d like to stop and tried to estimate the time and cost of the trip, and seemed to come up against the same realization every time: for a solo traveller trying to keep a budget, the tour group was the way to go.
The Mahalo Tours van picked me up and we hit the road just a bit past 7:00am. The major pro of going on an organized tour is that everything is planned for you. Yeah, you do forgo the adventure of the unknown but then you get to savour some fresh Maui pineapples for a pre-breakfast snack. And follow that by fresh-baked orange coconut cake. Not a fan? Perhaps strawberry guava cake would be more your speed. Oh, and you also get to enjoy the view of the epic road to Hana.
Mile marker 8.8
Our first stop was at the white sand Ho’okipa beach, just past Pa’ia town. Early morning surfers were out trying to catch some waves, and the beach was sparsely occupied. We took 20 minutes to roam around the beach and lookout, snap a few pics, and, of course, tuck into the basket of cakes we got by the tour. I grabbed an orange coconut cake and headed for a picnic bench on the beach. Talk about a breakfast with a view!
Ho’okipa in depth: http://mauiguidebook.com/beaches/hookipa-beach-park/
Mile marker 16.8
After 8 miles of twisting and turning through green valleys (fun fact: Maui is known as the Valley isle) we suddenly veered off the highway onto a gravel road. Our van stopped in front of Aunty Sandy’s Banana bread stand, where they sell miniature loaves of warm, fresh out of the oven banana bread. The road to Hana has a banana bread stand every mile or so, all claiming to be the best. I can’t comment on the others, but I can say that Aunty Sandy’s is the best I’ve had – EVER.
They also sell coffee to accompany the droolworthy banana bread, so I grabbed both and we headed down to the shore, to watch the waves crash violently against black rocks. A rugged spot that had once been ravaged by a tsunami – the only surviving structure is the church – Ke’anae is beautifully wild on one side, and balmy forest on the other. Beware of the beautiful flowers! I was so mesmerized by their beauty I didn’t notice I had passed a sign warning of dogs… you know the kind that will chase you away? Needless to say, I took a selfie and then booked it out there!
Mile marker 18
For a lookout with a gorgeous view of mountains and the ocean, stop at Wailua Valley State Wayside.
Mile marker 32
There are a few major highlights on the Hana highway that everyone can agree on. Wai’anapanapa State Park is one of those highlights. Freshwater caves, black sand beaches, a sea arch, and a blowhole. Is there anything else you’d like to see? How about a turtle swimming in the turbulent waters? I could have stayed all day at this gorgeous park, perhaps even joined some of the campers there for an overnight stay. I can only imagine (and dream!) of how gorgeous the starry night sky would be there. *sigh*
Wai’anapanapa info: http://mauiguidebook.com/camping/waianapanapa-state-park/
We took a lunch break at Braddah Hutts BBQ just south of Hana, where we feasted on BBQ ribs plate lunch with mac salad.
Mile marker 45
Wailua Falls is the second major highlight on the Hana highway. How can I describe this place? The parking spots next to the falls are completely engulfed in gigantic, philodendron-wrapped trees. On one side of the bridge is the sparkling, dainty waterfall that we’d all come to see. It was flowing into the pool of crystal-clear water on the other side of the bridge. Is magical the word I’m looking for? I felt like a fairy transported into a Hawaiian version of Fern Gully (reference to the movie, though obviously it is based on the place of the same name in Jamaica – but I digress). Needless to say, this was spectacular.
Wailua Falls fyi: http://mauiguidebook.com/waterfalls-maui/wailua-falls/
Mile marker 42
Haleakala National Park is not only host to the stunning Haleakala crater, but also the last of the major highlights on the Hana highway: the ‘O’heo gulch aka the Seven Sacred Pools. The gulch is swimmable and photos showing swimmers just made me dream of taking a dip in the clear waters. However! I had arrived the day after a tropical storm had rained down on the area, increasing the flow of the gulch and making the water unsafe for swimming. I went to the Seven Sacred Pools and all I got was this picture *wiping a single tear*.
So it’s at this point that rental cars turn back, as agencies prohibit the use of the roads past ‘O’heo. That’s where the tours come in. They go all around East Maui, so you get to take in the Haleakala crater, moon-like landscapes and even visit a winery (where you can sample wine made not out of grapes but of pineapple! I tried the Maui blanc – recommended).
Though the day was a long one, the road to Hana trip was a unique look into the hidden and remote beauty found on Maui’s East coast. I left tired from the day, happy with the mental & digital photographs I took, and with a whole slew of things to see when I visit again. Because I definitely will.