The Road to Hana

Luckily, it wasn’t until after we did the Road to Hana that I found out this drive is also termed “The Divorce Highway…” I can see why! The Road to Hana is a long, winding road that takes gives you the full Maui experience as you drive all the way across to east side of the island. The road features countless hairpin turns and many one-lane bridges, with cars pulling on and off the road. Luckily, we did our research before making the drive so we knew exactly what to expect! I’m going to first give you an account of where we stopped, and then my recommendations and how we’d do it differently next time. 

First things first. If you are planning on driving the Road to Hana, downloading the GyPSy Guide app is an absolute MUST! This navigation app features check-points along the way to let you know when a stop is coming up, what’s there, and where to pull off and park. It was also helpful to have check-ins along the way (“if it’s before 11AM, you’re making good time!” or “if it’s after lunch, you may want to skip these next few stops…”), and the commentary he gives on the way back of myths, legends and history keeps you entertained after a long day. 

Alright, it’s time to put the top down, buckle up and hang on tight because you’re about to go on the ride of your life!

Paia Bay Coffee – we made a quick stop at this tucked away, local coffee shop in Paia for an acai bowl and coffee to-go. I would have loved to spent more time here people watching and walking around the little shops and boutiques, but knew it was best to get on the road early.

Twin Falls and Twin Falls Fruit Stand – this is a 20-30 minute (muddy) hike to see the waterfalls. There is also a food truck here where you can stop for a coconut, smoothies, etc. if you didn’t pick up breakfast before hitting the road and are getting hungry. The falls were pretty, but somehow I forgot to take picture of them!

Huelo Lookout – a quick, easy stop offering a panoramic view, food stand and bathrooms.

Waikamoi Ridge Forest Trail – we skipped this 30 minute hike to keep ahead of the crowds and because we knew we’d be hiking a similar trail later on, at Keane Arboretum. 

RustyBuckets – we couldn’t pass us this roadside stand of a local selling his girlfriend’s homemade banana bread and a Hawaiian-styled plate lunch. What is that exactly? Glad you asked. According to his sign, it’s a “seasoned chicken grilled on a guava wood fire, and slow roasted pork served on a bed of coconut and banana infused rice, smothered in a vegetable coconut curry with fresh grown greens, fresh pineapple, grilled banana and whatever else may so happen to be.” This goes without saying, but it was GOOD. 

Ka Haku Smoke Shack – right down the road from RustyBuckets, this smoke shack is known for having a delicious “ten buck chicken” plate that comes with a free coconut. I might be biased, but I’d recommend RustyBuckets over Ka Haku! Ka Haku was also closed on our way there (~9AM) and on our way back (~5PM).

Garden of Eden – This stop is $15/pp and is another great hiking and picture option, especially if you’re a Jurassic Park fan… the opening scene is filmed here! We skipped this stop, knowing that Keane Arboretum was coming up and we’d be able to walk around to see the trees up close there for free. 

Keane Arboretum – this was worth the 30-40 minute walk to stretch our legs and get a glimpse of a number of different tree species, including taro plants, hibiscus, and my personal favorite, the Rainbow Eucalyptus. 

Kaumahina – quick stop that offers bathrooms and a lookout view to the Keana Peninsula. 

Keane Peninsula – you can easily bypass this one, as you have to take a turn off the Hana Highway, but this was one of our favorite stops! Bypass this and you’ll miss beautiful views, waves crashing up on the volcanic rocks, local fishermen, a church from the 1860’s and Aunty Sandy’s banana bread. Whatever you do, get a loaf and eat it right there while it’s warm. Bonus points if you pack a nut butter and spread it on top. 

Chong’s Pond – by the time we arrived at Chong’s Pond, it was getting pretty busy with people jumping off the cliffs and swimming. We had worn our swim suits, but unfortunately forgot to pack towels! We got a glimpse of Chong’s Pond from the road and kept on driving. 

Halfway to Hana Snack Shop – another pit stop and snack option that we kept driving through. 

3 Bears Waterfall – we decided to get out of the car and take the short, but steep and muddy trail to get closer to the falls. This was another one of my favorite stops! It’s one thing to get a glimpse from the road, but it’s a whole different experience getting to experience it up close!

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Nahiku Ti Galley and Coffee Shop – this row of about 6-8 food vendors comes up on your left and makes an excellent stop for coffee (I got an iced Maui blend) and a snack if you’re getting hungry. Mo and I split pork tacos and talked to a man who was selling baked coconut chips. I had heard the vanilla bourbon coconut chips are his specialty, but he didn’t make any that day. Next time!

 

Wainapanapa State Park – this is one of the reasons you’ll want to get an early start! This State Park gets mobbed with people swimming on the black sand beach, hiking on the volcanic rock and walking through the caves. This is absolutely worth a stop to spend at least 45 minutes exploring.

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Hana Beach – we made it to Hana! By now it was easy to see why people say the Road to Hana is more about the stops you make a long the way and less about Hana itself. Hana is a small town with a beach, some places to stay overnight if you want, but most of all, where locals live! You can turn around here, but there are two more stops past Hana that you shouldn’t miss if it’s not too late in the day yet!

Koki Beach – a quick stop here gave us some great views of a red sand beach and a small island called Alau. This stop is in one of the Hawaiian legends we learned about from the GyPSy Guide app, about a battle between sisters – the goddess of the ocean and the volcano goddess.

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Hamoa Beach – another popular beach for swimming. We kept going past this one to make it to our final two stops. 

Wailua Falls – this is a beautiful, picture-perfect waterfall that you can view from the road or take a short walk down to the lower falls. 

Haleakala State Park – a $20 entrance fee is charged here, but it’s also valid at Haleakala if you plan on driving to the top to watch the sunset. It was late afternoon by the time we arrived here so we just did the short walk to the Seven Sacred Pools, but unfortunately decided to skip the 4 mile hike to the bamboo forest.

Total time: we left our resort at Ka’anapalii at 6AM, started the return trip at 4PM and made it back to the resort by 7PM. It’s a full-day adventure! 

What to bring: 

  • Cash for vendors if you plan on buying any food, drinks or handmade crafts along the way.
  • Hiking boots – NOT walking shoes! My Nikes got extremely muddy on some of the paths.
  • (if you plan on swimming) A swimsuit, flip flops or water shoes… and don’t forget your towels like we did! 
  • Layers – it was hot in the morning and afternoon, but got chilly on our way back as the sun started to go down.
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Bug spray – learn from my mistake! Some of the trails are pretty buggy and the mosquitos found us quite tasty.
  • Umbrella or rain jacket – it didn’t rain on us, but apparently it’s pretty common that it will rain due to the microclimates on the island.
  • Snacks – if you don’t plan on stopping much, bring some snacks for the drive since it will likely take you 10-12 hours to complete.
  • Water
  • Make dinner reservations in advance – we got back to our resort at 7PM, famished. If we would have gone to a restaurant and been told that we would have to wait over an hour for a table… hangry Paula might have come out. 

Overall, I am very happy we did the Road to Hana, as tiring as it was. Mo was an absolute champ for driving! If you want to experience it without the added stress of driving on the roads yourself, there are also options to go with a private driver or a touring company, which I would recommend doing if that’s all that’s holding you back. It is an all day thing, however, so if you prefer to spend your time relaxing on the beach, don’t love road trips, or get motion sickness, it might not be the best idea for you! But if you’re ok with taking a day out of your vacation to experience the culture and a completely different side of Maui, then it’s worth it! With that said, I would definitely recommend using the GyPSy Guide app and doing the trip one of two ways:

  1. Following an itinerary similar to what we did – getting a pretty early start, making frequent stops at the ones that sound most interesting to you (you definitely won’t want to do them all unless you’re staying overnight in Hana), and getting to experience a little bit of everything.
  2. Getting an even earlier start and skipping most of the stops to spend more time at the “must-see” stops (Keane Peninsula, Wainapanapa State Park, and Haleakala State Park). By the time we arrived at both Keane Peninsula and Wainapanapa State Park, they were already pretty busy. I can only imagine how magical both of these places would be when you beat the crowds. By skipping more of the smaller stops a long the way, you would also allow more time at Haleakala State Park to hike to the Waimoku Falls and the Bamboo Forest, both of which would be incredible to see. I found a blog of a woman who does the Road to Hana using this approach. Check out her post here in case this way sounds more appealing to you and you want her perspective.

However you decide to do experience it, you really can’t go wrong. It was an absolutely unforgettable experience and worth every hairpin turn!

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