With over 600 tight turns and 50 one-lane bridges, The Road to Hana is an adventure that is not for the faint hearted.
While visiting Maui, The Road to Hana is one of the most popular destinations for tourists. It is a road that runs through the Eastern side of the island, through forests and waterfalls, beaches and tiny towns. There is so much to see, but not everything is well marked. Some stops are packed with people, and at some you may have a waterfall to yourself. It helps to know what you’re getting yourself into. Based on my experience, here is my Road to Hana Guide, that I hope will help you plan out your magical time in Maui.
NOTE: You can read all the blog posts in the world, but nothing is as great a resource as a live GPS guide. You can download these in the form of apps, that cost anywhere from $0.99 to about $9.99. We used Shaka Guide, which offered different tour options. We chose the “Loop” Road to Hana Driving Tour, as we were very ambitious about how far we could get that day! Other than the witty commentary and the really helpful tips, my favorite part was the music. We got to listen to songs from Lilo & Stitch, as well as some more classic Hawaiian artists.
Visit the first attraction the evening before
The first stop is the busiest. Before visiting I had read that you may as well skip Twin Falls, as it is always busy. Not wanting to forgo a waterfall just because of its popularity, we decided to go the evening before.
We arrived just before sunset to an almost empty parking lot. This is a huge deal on a small island like Maui. It was approximately five minutes to walk to the falls. We had them to ourselves. Although it had rained earlier in the day and we were unable to swim, we got to enjoy the falls and take our time.
Twin Falls is located about 25 minutes East of Paia, around Mile Marker 2 on the Hana Highway. The next morning as we set out for the day we passed a full parking lot, and drove past at least a mile of cars parked on both sides of the road. There would definitely be no opportunity to get a clear shot of the falls now. If you have a chance to visit beforehand, during the evening, Twin Falls will be much more worth your time.
Prepare to get wet
After bypassing busy Twin Falls in order to get our day started, we were anxious for our guide to announce the next waterfall.
Na’ili’ili-Haele (Mile Marker 6.7) was the first waterfall after Twin Falls. Although there is no designated parking lot, it is possible to park along the road. Walking to the trail head we came across a small patch of Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees. The towering trees have peeling bark in different colors, due to shedding layers at different times.
The trail was harder than expected: it was muddy and required a wide river crossing that included slippery rocks and fast moving water. And then it started to pour. Unprepared for the rain, we got soaked. Our rain jackets were in the car and we were shoes that soon got soggy. Rookie mistake. We made it to the first and second (of four) waterfalls before becoming waterlogged and turning back.
Although it is not super common to have early morning, torrential rain on the Road to Hana, it does occur. The rain continued to follow us as we wound around each sharp curve.
The coast (usually) has better weather
After drying off for awhile we decided to detour off the main road to the Garden of Eden Arboretum (Mile Market 10.5) This is a privately owned botanical garden that offers views that include the coast line in the distance.
It offered some covered areas for us to dart under during heavy periods of rain, and a view of Keopuka Rock, the rock that a helicopter flies past in the opening scene of “Jurassic Park”. It was clear gazing out at the rock that the coast was much clearer than inland.
This proved to be true. As we approached the lava ridden Ka’aene Peninsula (Mile Marker 16.8) the rain magically ceased. The area is covered in fairly new (geologically!) black lava rock, and is the perfect place to sit and view powerful waves crash along the coast line.
If the weather is wet and dreary inland, head to the coast! The Ka’anae Peninsula is a short detour off the main road, and it is worth the respite from the incessant falling rainforest drops.
The beaches are incredibly unreal
Due to the rainy weather the many beautiful waterfalls were muddy and fast moving. Upper Waikini Falls (Mile Marker 19) was beautiful, but only worth a few minutes in the rain. Ching’s Pond (Mile Marker 16.9) was unsafe and flooded.
The real treat was when we again reached the coast and made it to Wai’anapanapa State Park (Mile Marker 32). Apart from the hilariously quick weasels, the park has much more to offer. There is a black sand beach, which you see as soon as your descend the stairs from the campground area (yes, you can camp in this beautiful spot!). A lot of people only stop here, but a bit of climbing and a short walk leads you to caves to explore, and a pretty impressive blow hole.Ending at this amazing beach would have been an awesome end to the day on the Road to Hana, but we managed to squeeze one more, even prettier beach in.
Kaihalulu Beach (Red Sand Beach) is located in the town of Hana, and it took some conversations with the locals to even find the trail head. It is a hike to get to the beach, and the hike is not for everyone: it hugs a cliff’s edge most of the day. But the views were worth our sketchy trek there. Red sand and cliffs, green trees and plants and clear blue ocean water. I have never seen anything with that beautiful contrast of colors anywhere else in nature.
The washed out waterfalls and rainy weather was made up for with beautiful beaches. Not your average swimming beaches of Hawaii, but pieces of coastline that seemed too beautiful to be real.
Stop for some local food
The Road to Hana is a long drive even though in terms of distance it is fairly short. We spent around 8 hours adventuring along the road, and even with our road trip snacks we were two hungry and slightly irritated people as we began our drive back the way we came.
Good thing for all the food stops! We visited on a Sunday, which meant all of the famous banana bread stands were not open. We lucked out with Coconut Glen’s. I am excited about ice cream rain or shine, summer or winter, and was extra excited to try vegan coconut ice cream. I think I am a coconut ice cream convert. The ice cream was delicious, and we got to eat it out of the rain, with a local cat lounging nearby. All day I had been searching for fresh coconut water, and we finally found that as well as some pasta salad at Hana Farms.
Even though we had fewer options than there usually would have been, the food on the Road to Hana was so delicious and fresh.
Don’t try to see it all
The Road to Hana does not end in Hana town, it follows the coast all the way back towards Haleakala. We aimed to accomplish the whole thing that day, as there are many amazing sights past Hana.
But there is not time for it all! Reading a Road To Hana guide (like this one!) beforehand can help to narrow down “must sees” on the road. If you make it past Hana with plenty of sunlight to spare you can visit the Seven Sacred Pools, Hamoa Beach or Wailua Falls.
NOTE: According to Maui Guidebook the road is closed here on weekdays between 7:30 AM- 4 PM until August 2018.
There is definitely not a lack of things to do on the Road to Hana- there are waterfalls, beaches, road side stops and botanical gardens. You cannot do it all, so plan ahead!
I heard it a million times before I embarked on the Road to Hana, but it really is a silly name. Hana is nothing special in terms of the town, and it is more about the journey than the destination. Have you driven the Road to Hana? You could drive it over and over and have a unique experience every single time with all the different options. Rain, sunshine, flowing waterfalls or dried up waterfalls, you will have a good time. Just remember: the most important thing on the Road to Hana is to bring some dramamine for the many turns!!!
Looking for more adventure? Check out my Moreton Island post!
Enjoy the adventure,
A Truthful Traveler