Across the globe, there are a handful of drives that are considered some of the most beautiful in the world, such as driving the Ring of Kerry in Ireland, driving along the PCH in California from Los Angeles to San Francisco, driving along Italy’s famed Amalfi Coast, and, as I discovered recently, driving the Road to Hana.
While visiting Maui to check out family-friendly hotels, I couldn’t help but hear about the Road to Hana. Some visitors walk around the island in T-shirts proclaiming: “I survived the Road to Hana.” When asked, locals say, “Hana? Yes! Do the drive! I make the drive at least once a month. Leave early and pack a lunch, drink and snacks. Wear a swimsuit!” Meanwhile, some visitors may add, “Bring Dramamine for car sickness” and “It’s a loooong day. We didn’t get back to the hotel until 9 p.m.”
The Road to Hana is, in fact, a road to the town of Hana, located on the remote North Shore. The road follows the steep coastline, beneath the Haleakala volcano and the rainforest with rivers and waterfalls overflowing to the ocean. The drive actually passes Hana and ends at Kipahulu Valley’s Haleakala National Park, where the seven pools await.
Along the drive, you’ll spot numerous waterfalls, black and red sand beaches, caves, bamboo forests, swimming holes and countless fruit stands and homemade banana bread shops. There are no signs marking any of the scenic signs; instead, locals know the road by mile markers. To best navigate the road, purchase a Road to Hana CD for the car at any hotel or gas station and get a narrated guide that will tell you some of the best places to stop. (To really find the hidden gems, ask locals which mile markers they recommend visiting, as they may know of less crowded pools, waterfalls and beaches.) My favorite stops were at Waianapanapa State Park, where I buried my toes in soft black sand beaches and jumped into pools in caves, and then in Kipahulu Valley, where a 90-foot waterfall is visible from the road and is just steps away for those who want to take a dip in its pool.
The road to Hana began as a road built by islanders brick by brick using volcanic rock in 1926. It wasn’t paved until 1962 and today includes more than 600 curves and 54 bridges. Some curves are slight while many near the bridges require a bit of maneuvering and 10 miles per hour speeds. Bridges are one lane, so approach slowly and make way for oncoming cars. When curves become too much, you may need to beep before going around a blind bend, to be sure no one else is coming at your direction. Yes, this road is this crazy!
If you want to experience the entire island and its climates, follow the recommendation by the locals who say to continue along the road on the South Shore. This portion of the road begins with an unpaved road, so rental car companies will tell you not to drive along this route and will not service you if you get into trouble. While the road was extremely bumpy in some areas, it wasn’t something I found taxing. Locals told me to look up at the mountain before driving the route. If it was raining on the mountain, then I should turn around, but if it wasn’t, I was good to go. I eventually learned that rain would have turned the dirt road into mud, so it was good advice. Along this drive, the views of the ocean were even more spectacular, and then I arrived in the desert. The lush rainforest and rain I experienced in the morning was long gone on this side of the island in the afternoon, as I passed cattle and goat ranches.
The road eventually becomes paved again, and drivers will climb up the side of Haleakala, passing a cute winery that offers wine tastings, and to the entrance of the National Park, if time allows for a visit to the volcano’s overlooks.
If you want to drive the route, it’s best to leave early in the morning, by 7 a.m., to allow for plenty of time for stops and slow routes. Ask your hotel for a picnic lunch or stop at a store and get a cooler with ice, drinks and lunch, as there are not many places to stop of meals and those offering food will charge more. Bring towels and wear swimsuits and shoes that can handle climbs on rocks if you’d like to enter pools or trails.