Endless ocean on one side, verdant jungle on the other, punctuated by untamed beaches and cascading waterfalls. The legendary Hana Highway (aka the Road to Hana) is considered one of the ultimate road trips. Comprised of 52 undulating miles, 620 curves and 59 bridges through some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world, the Road to Hana culminates in a bucolic town isolated from the rest of Maui and unique in attitude. Largely untouched by recent development, Hana Town gives a glimpse of old Hawaii and reveals a laid back way of life.
Is there an ideal season to drive the Road to Hana? November through March is prime time for waterfalls and spectacular wave action, but the high season also brings more travelers. Summer provides less traffic, longer and drier days, more placid water, and a slower pace. Here are our recommendations to make the most of your journey at any time of the year.
1. PLAN AHEAD
Map out your day prior to your trip, but don’t be afraid to make an unexpected stop or two for a particularly good waterfall or tempting banana bread.
- Fill up your tank the night before as there are no gas stations between Paia and Hana. If you thought gas on Maui is expensive, prices in Hana can be astronomical and the gas quality there is so poor the locals don't use the gas station. If you refuel in Hana, only put in a couple of gallons.
- The number of waterfalls, scenic overlooks, parks, hikes, fruit stands, gardens, attractions, etc. can be overwhelming. Get a good guidebook or do some research on the Internet to find the sites and activities that interest you ahead of time. We always refer to www.roadtohana.com for a comprehensive overview.
- Facilities are limited and widely spaced, so familiarize yourself with the options along the route.
- Leave Hana with plenty of time to drive back during daylight hours.
2. PACK PROVISIONS AND BRING CASH
Options for food and drinks are few and far between, so bring snacks and refreshments. There are a few banana bread, fresh fruit and smoothie stands along the road, but most only take cash. A picnic lunch is a great idea for an al fresco feast in a scenic spot when the moment moves you. The Kuau Store just outside Pa’ia (look for the surfboard fence) has a great selection of deli sandwiches, salads, sliced meats & cheeses, plus you can fuel up with coffee, smoothies and breakfast before you hit the road.
3. START EARLY AND COME BACK EARLY
The drive between Kihei/Wailea and Hana Town is about 3 hours (one way) without stopping and Oheo Gulch (7 Sacred Pools) at Haleakala National Park is about 40-45 minutes past Hana. Beat the heavy traffic by starting before 9am and you’ll enjoy the journey at a more leisurely pace with less crowds. Aim to be back in Pa’ia by sunset. We recommend leaving Hana Town by 3:30pm in the winter and 5pm in the summer as that side of Maui gets darker earlier (if you go as far as the Oheo Gulch/7 Sacred Pools leave at least 40-45 minutes earlier). All those twists, turns, drop offs, and one-lane bridges can be a hair-raising experience at night, especially with commuters driving fast and furiously to get home.
4. GO TOPLESS
With unbridled beauty coming at you from every angle, a top down cruise is the ultimate way to enjoy the endless vistas, lush canopies, crashing waves, and fresh ocean breezes mixing with vegetal lushness. Whether you’re in a Porsche Speedster, a Mustang convertible or a Jeep, the wind in your hair, the sun on your face, and the smell of the sea will engage all your senses and elevate your journey to an unforgettable driving experience. Ditch the climate controlled bubble and enjoy the Road to Hana the way it was meant to be driven.
5. DRIVE WITH ALOHA
“Slow down, brah. This ain’t the mainland.” Unfortunately this popular bumper sticker sentiment often applies. Slow down, relax, and enjoy the journey. It’s not a race. Don’t be the lead in a string of cars because chances are you’re holding up the pack. Pick a safe spot to pull over and let others pass, especially locals. Yield to oncoming drivers at bridges and areas where the road narrows. It’s a great idea to switch drivers so everyone can experience both the drive and the views.
6. TAKE TIME TO STOP
Although the road offers breathtaking views and photo opportunities galore, many visitors breeze through its 52 miles in record time and arrive in Hana Town asking, “Now what?” (Spoiler alert: there really isn't much in Hana itself). The phrase, “It’s all about the journey, not the destination,” was coined with the Road to Hana in mind. It takes most people at least 9-10 hours to make the round trip from Kihei, stopping at the many waterfalls, scenic overlooks, beaches, and roadside stands along the way. Don't make the mistake of driving straight to Hana or beyond and working your way back. Most of the parking and sights along the Road to Hana are easier to hit on the trip out and you'll be driving back against traffic including big buses on very narrow roads and tight turns. The best thing is go with the flow and take your time getting there.
Our favorite highlights on the way to Hana and beyond include:
- Ho’okipa Lookout, a world-renowned windsurfing and kiteboarding destination with epic waves. Stop here on your way back to view the green sea turtles coming ashore to rest at sunset. Park in the lot at the top of the cliffs, not the parking area down below where the surfers are.
- Kaumahina State Park offers stunning coastal views of the Ke'anae Peninsula and beyond. A short trail through the 7.8 acre park is easily accessed from the parking lot. Facilities available.
- Ke’anae Peninsula with an old Hawaiian village and stone church built in 1856, surrounded by patchwork taro fields and jagged coastline. This is one of the few opportunities along the Road to Hana to be close to the water and the crashing waves make dramatic photos. Facilities available. Look for the turn on your left just after YMCA Camp Ke'anae.
- Pua’a Ka’a State Wayside Park (mile marker 22). Park in the lot with facilities on the left side of the road. Picnic tables overlooking an easily accessible waterfall are on the other side.
- Wai’anapanapa State Park (Advanced reservation required) with its legendary black sand beach, rock arches, blow holes, and fresh water lava caves. A 2.1 mile easy hiking trail follows a portion of the ancient Hawaiian Kings Highway from the black sand beach to Pakaulua Point.
- Hamoa Beach, a picture perfect salt-and-pepper crescent rimmed by cliffs with unbelievably blue water and great boogie boarding when the surf is up.
- Oheo Gulch (7 Sacred Pools) at Haleakala National Park (Kipahulu District) is about 40-45 minutes past Hana and features multiple pools and waterfalls cascading to the sea. The Pipiwai Trail that borders them is about a 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hour hike each way with a 1500 foot change in elevation. At the top you are rewarded with a bamboo forest and a spectacular waterfall. **Please note: there is a $25 fee per vehicle to enter the park** This is the furthest our Speedsters are permitted to drive.
7. SAVOR THE LOCAL FLAVOR
Don’t expect white tablecloths and a fine dining experience once you get to Hana. It’s all about roadside stands, food trucks and carts serving up local grinds in a Hawaiian (read: VERY casual) atmosphere. Banana bread stands abound, but Aunt Sandy’s in Ke’anae is purported by Hana locals to be the best. Love Thai food? Pranee’s open-air restaurant serves up delicious and spicy curries and stir-fries across from the Hana ballpark or grab lunch to go from Ae's Thai Kitchen food truck (kitty corner from Hana Ranch Center) and hit the beach. Braddah Hutt’s lunch wagon is parked in the owner’s front yard and offers a wide selection of plate lunches, pastas and fish tacos. Reward and refresh yourself with a locally made popsicle from Shaka Pops featuring tropical island flavors such as Lava Flow, Coconut Lime, Passion Orange Guava, and Pineapple Cream. Look for the Shaka Pops trike beside the Ono Farms produce stand just past the gas station. You'll find other rotating food trucks here as well.
8. BRING APPROPRIATE GEAR
Being on the windward (wet) side of the island, brief showers are common at any time of the year. Rain is what makes a rainforest so green and lush! The weather can change quickly in Hana, so bring a light jacket or sweater and a towel. Even if you’re not planning on hiking or swimming, bring a pair of sturdy walking shoes and your bathing suit just in case a particular waterfall or beach calls to you unexpectedly. On our first trip to Hana we forgot our suits and decided to swim in our underwear, which was a very liberating experience up until the soggy ride back. Make sure to carry sunscreen and bug repellent to protect all your exposed appendages. And an extra battery and memory card for your camera is always a good idea.
9. DON’T MAKE OTHER PLANS
Hana is a full day excursion, so don’t plan to hit the top of Haleakala for sunrise or book a luau that evening. Your most ambitious goal should be making it back to Pa’ia in time for dinner. Flatbread Pizza Company and Pa’ia Fish Market are tasty, casual options that will revive the weary traveler.
10. BE SAFE
You might be on vacation, but don’t check your common sense with your luggage. The Road to Hana is an unforgettable experience that you’ll want to remember fondly. Ensure your journey is a safe and sound one by taking some precautions.
- This is not the road to demonstrate your driving prowess or set land speed records. Slow down, drive carefully, yield where indicated, and be aware of others making sudden stops.
- Take all your valuables with you when you leave your car. It is advisable not to lock your car to avoid broken windows.
- Respect posted signs and warnings. Do not trespass, no matter what the guidebook says.
- In the presence of Mother Nature’s bounty, it’s easy to forget you’re also at her mercy. Be aware of your surroundings and know that conditions can change quickly. Sudden rain showers bring flash flooding and rockslides. Footing can be treacherous on slippery rocks and loose gravel. Standing under idyllic waterfalls can bring more down on your head than just cascading water.
11. STAY AWHILE
One thing we regret every time we drive to Hana is that we didn’t stay overnight. If your schedule permits, consider taking two or three days to appreciate all that the Road to Hana and East Maui has to offer. By spending the night in Hana, you will fully experience its slower pace and beat the day-trippers to popular places like Wai’anapanapa, Hamoa Beach and Oheo Gulch that typically fill up in the late morning to early afternoon. Accommodations range from a rustic tree house to a luxury retreat at the Travaasa Resort & Spa.
We hope your adventure along the Road to Hana will leave you saying, “A Hana Hou!” (one more time)!