With its stunning views of tropical rain forests, colourful beaches and hidden waterfalls, the Road to Hana earns its place as one of Maui’s top tourist attractions. Its 150 miles of hairpin turns and narrow one-lane bridges scare a lot of people off, but we didn’t find it problematic at all. And for us, the Road to Hana was more than just a pleasant drive through Maui’s beautiful northeast coastline. It was an unforgettable experience discovering one of the most breathtaking places we’ve ever been.
The Road to Hana goes from Kahului all the way along the coast to the town of Hana. One may think, by looking at a map, that you can easily make it in a couple of hours, but since the speed limit is 20 mph or less for the entire way, the journey can take up to four hours one-way, and even longer if there is traffic. While viewing everything in a single day is certainly not ideal, it is doable, but it really depends on how many stops you plan to make. If we get the chance to do it again, we will do it in 2 days, overnighting in Hana. If you only have one day, be ready to spend it in the car and plan at least a 10 hour round trip from your hotel with only a few stops.
We rented a convertible Jeep Wrangler, filled it up with gas, packed some lunch and left our hotel, the Westin Kanaapali resort, at around 8AM. It took us an hour to get to the beginning of Hana Highway. It would have been better to hit the road a bit earlier (most people begin before 7AM from Paia), but we still had enough time to visit everything we wanted to see. On the highway between Paia and Hana town, these were our stops:
Ho’okipa Beach (Mile Marker 9)
Our first stop was Ho’okipa Beach, the Mecca of windsurf because of its huge waves and high winds. This long and narrow white sand beach is the perfect spot to witness the best kite and wind surfing on the island. It is also an impressive surf destination, although not a swimming beach. If you are lucky, you might spot Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles (Honu) on shore at the far end of the beach. But you’ll have to look closely, because they look just like the dark boulders.
Twin Falls (Mile Marker 6)
Easily accessible waterfalls beyond a parking lot packed with cars. I would say its a beautiful break after the first hour of driving, but the falls themselves are small and not that impressive. Although, to be fair, we didn’t do the hike. It’s recommended if you want a short distance hike, or a dip and a cool down, but is not a must see if you’re on a one day round trip.
Na’ili’ili-haele Stream and Bamboo Forest (Mile Marker 6-7)
It can be tricky to find the entrance to the trailhead. It actually took us a couple of attempts before we finally found the entrance. Park your car on the side of the road near the bamboo trees and look for a little hole into the forest marked by flip flops hanging from a pole (if they are still there). From there you walk and boulder hop through a cool bamboo forest on your way to the Na’ili’ili-haele stream bed and a string of two or three waterfalls and pools. Although most people head back to the road at this point, the most adventures can continue the hike along a ledge.
Honomanu Park (Mile marker 12-13)
A picturesque and rocky beach of small rounded boulders and black sand. It rests at the base of Honomanu Valley but it is very accesible. You can easily descend to the valley with your car by the small road that lead to the beach and reach the parking area which is next to the sand. It was not very good for laying out on but good enough to stretch our legs, have a bite, take a quick dip and explore before we headed back on the road.
Wai’anapanapa State Park (Mile Marker 32)
Wai’anapanapa State Park is among the best sites along the road to Hana and a “must see” destination for anyone visiting Maui. Pa’iloa Beach, the Black Sand beach at Wai’anapanapa, is the biggest attraction for visitors and probably the most famous of Maui’s volcanic-sand beaches. Created by thousands of years of surf pounding on fresh black basalt lava, this unique beach offers a beautiful contrast between the black lava field, the bright green plant life and the deep blue-greens of the ocean. This true Hawaiian treasure deserves a longer stop for exploring lava tubes, blowholes, natural sea arches, cliffs and fresh water caves.
Hana Town (marker 52)
Hana is a small town in the Eastern Maui coastline. It is considered the “Real Hawaii” for many. We would have loved to stay longer, and if we did it again we’d certainly spend this night, but we were only half way through our road trip so we basically had to drive right through the picturesque village.
Many people will recommend you turn around after Hana, but there is still so much more to discover. Going straight through means going all the way around this part of the island, and it’s what we recommend. Beyond Hana, the route continues through beautiful but less touristy areas, with stunning views of the ocean. In fact, some of our favourite spots along the drive were beyond Hana, and this was easily the best part of our Maui vacation! In some parts here the road deteriorates into a little bumpy single lane of gravel with a cliff at its shoulder, but we found it to be totally safe. The only thing you will need to be sure to check is if your rental car agency has any restrictions. These were our stops from Hana back to the town of Paia:
Haleakala National Park at Kipahulu
Our first intention was to stop at the National Park and visit the Seven Sacred Pools known as “Ohe’o Gulch”, unfortunately the site is currently closed due to safety concerns with rockslides. We were a bit bummed because this was supposed to be one of the highlights of the trip, but we were happy to avoid the expensive ($25USD/car) park fee that you have to pay even if you are just planning a quick stop.
Now that is a waterfall! Wailua Falls, just north of Lihue, is an iconic 100 ft tall cascade, one of the largest along the road. The best part it’s Wailua Falls can be seen from the roadside, so no hike is needed. Visitors can park along the road and easily see it and take photos right from the bridge below.
Palapala Ho’omau Church
Palapala Ho’omau Church is a beautiful and peaceful coral and lava rock wall building from 1857, located a little further down the road, by the dramatic southeastern coastline of the island. It is famously known as the burial ground of Charles Lindbergh, the first solo aviator to fly non-stop directly from New York to Paris.
This is a traditional farming and fishing area located on a very rugged and remote side of the island. When you start driving along this dry barren side of Maui, you’ll be impressed by the enormous contrast to the lush rainforest of Hana, which seems to disappear in a second. For us, the breathtaking scenery of the western slopes of Haleakala, the stunning views of the ocean and the expansive grassland area where cows graze freely was our favourite thing on the “Road past Hana”. The roads were in immaculate conditions and we were lucky enough to finish off our trip while cruising into a beautiful seaside sunset.
There were many other places we would have liked to visit, but the amount you can see on a one day trip through Hana is limited. We hope to discovering the wonders of the Road to Hana in our next visit to the island. It can be an exhausting and challenging drive, but it’s also fun and beautiful, and in our books it’s a must do while in Maui.
If you are planning to discover Road to Hana in your next adventure, don’t miss out our tips and tricks for driving around this wonderful part of Maui.