When you do any research on travelling to Maui everyone, and every guide book, will tell you that the Road to Hana is a must see and do. In 52 miles you’ll experience 617 hair pin curves and 56 narrow one lane bridges. But how do you conquer one of the most challenging roads in the world? Do you do it yourself or take a guided tour? That seems to be the top of conversations for all travellers to the area. We contemplated this thought and took in all the information we could before embarking on our 12 hour journey. Yes, 12 hours.
The Road to Hana is an incredibly curvy road that winds through several micro-climates. At one point you’re in hot and sunny and then it’s pouring rain and then it’s dry, desert conditions. Amazing!
Everything you read, or hear about this journey is true. It’s insanely beautiful and it’s definitely worth putting on the top of your list of things to do while visiting the island.
What you need to know?
The Road to Hana is very much about the journey. Hana itself is charming with a few little shops and a couple little banana bread stands but you’re not really coming for the souvenirs. Your memories will be your best souvenirs. If you really need a shirt that says I conquered the Road to Hana, you’ll get that in Hana (and in tshirt shops elsewhere). But you’ll be here because it’s truly spectacular. It’s the most scenic and most intense drive of your life. Most of the roads, although deemed safe for two lanes in most cases, are extremely narrow. You’re hugging the cliffside for dear life and hoping that no cars come towards you…which is highly unlikely since it’s one of the most popular attractions on Maui.
At the strong advice of another tourist who had just returned from driving who was absolutely ghost-faced and embracing his Longboard Ale at the hotel bar, we decided to take a tour (we chose Valley Isle Excursions ) and leave the driving to someone who knows the roads. Another reason to take the tour? Everyone can enjoy the scenery. As a driver you’ll miss out on many points of interest as you will need all eyes on the road plus there aren’t too many places to pull over.
Yes, a tour costs money but it was worth it for the comfort, local hospitality and commentary that we wouldn’t have experienced if we were to do it on our own. Our tour guide, Captain David, was great in giving us a personal and very knowledgeable (and entertaining) experience!
If you’re driving, it’s better to go early in the morning. It takes several hours to reach the small town of Hana and you’ll most definitely want to stop just because it’s a stop. Make sure you have a full tank of gas as we had only spotted one gas station and you’ve be totally screwed if you don’t. The benefits of you driving yourself is that you’ll get to spend as much time as you like at the designated stops and to take a calming down break. But don’t feel bad if you can’t handle the drive and need to somehow manoeuvre your vehicle and turn back. By the way, you’ll want a small car here and make sure your rental insurance covers this insane road. Apparently, some companies don’t cover the road “out” of Hana – that’s less travelled as there’s no cell reception out there.
Whether you’re driving or taking a tour here are some points of interest that we loved….
Bamboo Forest is noted in many guide books but our tour guide mentioned that an average of 12 people get lost in there each day. Search and rescue missions by the fire department are common. I was surprised to see that there was no official gate to enter but just worn in paths on few stops along the road. The Japanese Bamboo is essentially taking over the area and it’s tall and dense. It’s very much a use your own judgement type of spot and make sure your phone is full charged just in case!
Black Sand Beach at Waianapanapa State Park is gorgeous. To the left of the park, there is a lava tube that you can walk through when the tide is out and to the right of the park a blow-hole that wasn’t really blowing when we were there. Local legend tells us not to remove any of the rocks or sand from this beach as it’s bad luck. When we were there the waves were a little rough so only the strong swimmers went in.
Oheo Gulch in Haleakala National Park is where most people spend time. Also, known as the “Seven Sacred Pools”, it’s a fun stop to explore and take a dip in one of the waterfalls and pools. You’ll want decent close toed shoes here as you’ll need to climb over rocks and boulders to get the most epic views of the falls. At this park, there is an information centre with a bit of local history and culture. You’ll also find clean washrooms and changing facilities.
Fruit Stands spot the road and great to stop to grab a few freshly picked avocados, bananas, taro, lilikoi and whatever else is there. Lilikoi was described to us as nature’s Gatorade but were advised to eat a couple seeds at a time to get use to the tartiness. The fruit stands are often “help yourself” and prices are listed accordingly. It’s pretty much an honour system for payment. Our tour guide also picked up some local flowers for us giving us interesting info along the way. The ginger flower was not something I would have known to come across on my own. He told us when you gently grab the blossom it releases a beautiful scent!