The Road To Hana - An Unforgettable Maui Experience
The Hawaiian island of Maui has no shortage of beautiful scenery, gorgeous coastline, and endless sunshine. It's western shores boast some of the most luxurious resorts you'll find anywhere. However, you really haven't experienced all that this incredible island has to offer until you've driven the Road to Hana.
This incredible 64.4 mile drive (check out some of the sites in in our Maui video!) along the Hana Highway will take you along the eastern coast of the island. You'll experience picturesque waterfalls, hidden swimming holes, black sand beaches, and some of the best-kept food secrets on the entire island. Read on for your guide on how to take on the Road to Hana like a pro.
Planning Your Trip
While I would highly recommend the road to Hana to literally anyone who is looking for things to do on Maui, it is not the most accessible trip. The Hana Highway snakes along the Maui coastline, meaning windy road, narrow one lane bridges, and unpredictable weather. Your day trip on the road to Hana will require a good plan to make the most of your day, and allow you to spend less time worrying and more time enjoying the journey.
Tip #1: Get the right car.
The last time we visited visited Maui (check out our post on 5 days in Maui here) we rented a car from the Hertz at Kahului Airport right after we landed. The flight was delayed coming in, so it was after dark and we were ready to get to bed. The friendly agent at the counter let us know that we had been upgraded, handed us the keys, and gave us directions on where to find our car. We soon found out, it wasn't a car at all, but instead it was a massive Cadillac Escalade ESV. For a family on vacation this might be an awesome upgrade, but knowing that the Road to Hana was on our itinerary, we had the foresight to head back to the counter and ask for something smaller.
Our trusty Hertz rental car, the unsung hero of our last trip
Looking back, this was one of the best decisions we could have made. our Cadillac CT5 was still plenty nice, came with a sunroof to enjoy the Maui sunshine, and most importantly, it was small and handled well. The Hana Highway is generally paved and in quite good condition for most of the ride, however you will hit an endless number of one lane bridges that you share with cars in the oncoming lane, and a large SUV would have been a nightmare. When taking on the road to Hana, get something that is reasonably sized, and if possible get something that is fun to drive so you can take full advantage of one of the world's greatest drives.
Tip #2: Plan Around the Weather
Unfortunately, we learned this lesson the hard way. Maui is an island that is only 727 square miles (fun fact, this is only slightly larger than the city of Houston, TX!) but it is host to widely varying micro-climates on different parts of the island. Even on a day where your hotel (generally on the western side of the island) is having yet another pristine sunny Hawaiian day, the eastern coast where the Road to Hana lies can be a completely different story.
With any luck, you'll avoid the mudslide induced tree in the road that held us up for hours
When we traversed the Road to Hana in early December, we were greeted by strong winds, torrential rain, and an altogether brisk day. Don't get me wrong, we still enjoyed the heck out of our day, but we were only able to do some of the activities we wanted to do because of the weather. If you have some flexibility in your plans, keep an eye on the weather in Kahului (the start of the Hana Highway) and Hana (the end of the Hana Highway) and pick a day with the most favorable weather to make the most of the trip.
Tip #3: Get an Early Start
The Hana Highway is only 64 miles long, but if you are doing it right, and enjoying some good food, and unique stops along the way, it's going to be an all day affair. You have the option of only going Halfway to Hana and getting some of the action, but we recommend going the entire way and enjoying the full experience, so this means getting an early start and giving yourself plenty of daylight to get to Hana and back safely.
This becomes especially important if you are visiting Maui before daylight savings time kicks in, the sun can set before the clock even hits 6pm. The Hana Highway is not a road you want to have to drive through in the dark (to be honest, it's a challenging enough drive in full daylight), so make sure you set your alarm and get out there early to avoid finding yourself in a bad situation. Have plenty of extra time on your trip? You can stay in Hana overnight and avoid the oncoming rush into Hana as you drive back out the next morning
Where to Stop
It's easy to get distracted by the incredible drive and the post-card worthy cliffs and vistas just off the roadway. But if you aren't paying attention, you will miss a ton of incredible experiences along the way. What's the best way to make sure you hit all the best spots, you ask? Outside of traveling with a local, we would highly recommend letting the Shaka Guides app for iOS and Android take you what to stop and what to skip all along the Road to Hana.
The app couldn't be any easier to use. Simply download the app, select your desired route from their options (available for the incredibly worth it cost of $14.99), and you'll have a guided audio tour all along your route. All you have to do is open the app when you start your drive, and when your GPS shows you are at a point of interest, your guide will come over your car's audio and tell you about it. With your guide showing you the way, you'll be able to hit all the best swimming holes, lava tubes, and black sand beaches that you otherwise would have driven right on by.
While Shaka Guides is most definitely Jet Lag Journey approved, here are some of my favorite stops along the way
You'll notice this little outcropping jutting randomly off the cliffside into the Pacific Ocean as you drive south towards Hana. This small peninsula, just before the "Halfway to Hana" photo opportunity that, among other things, included the best banana bread we had all day long (head to the "What to Eat" section for more on this).
This small and strangely flat mass of amidst the rapid elevation changes of the rest of the Road to Hana boasts a small but thriving community, including a YMCA, a baseball field, and an Arboretum that we didn't have time to check out (remember, leave early!). The pacific mercilessly batters the rocky shoreline, and it provides a great opportunity for photographs of the crashing water with views of the cliffside in the background. Photography not your thing? This also makes an excellent spot for a picnic while you enjoy the view.
Upper Waikani Falls
As I mentioned before, the weather can be pretty unpredictable along the Hana Highway. While you might catch a few drops of rain along your way (or in our case, buckets and buckets of rain), there is a silver lining to a rainy day: the waterfalls will look spectacular. For me, there is nothing more beautiful in nature than the never-ending torrent of water falling down some rocks, and this drive was a delight in that we saw waterfalls everywhere .
Out of all of the waterfalls we saw, Upper Waikani Falls was by far the most spectacular. The photo above is taken literally, standing on one of the aforementioned one lane bridges along the Hana Highway, so it might be best to drive past the falls and walk back on down to take in the falls, but trust me, you won't regret the extra few steps when you see this beauty.
Waiʻānapanapa State Park
Waiʻānapanapa State Park will be one of your last stops before you hit Hana, but for the beach lovers out there, this will be a unique one. The park boasts a couple of highlights that, while often crowded, you won't want to miss while on the final stretch.
From the parking area, you'll get an awesome panoramic view overlooking this geological wonder. After a short, though steep walk down, you'll realize that the beach isn't exactly sand, but rather small volcanic sediment that gives it that unique black hue. Jane and I have been to many beaches, but visiting a black sand beach in a volcanic place like Hawaii or Iceland is quite the experience.
Once you've had your fill of the beach, head to the southern edge of the beach to explore the long lava tube that will take you to an entirely different vantage point of the water. Depending on where the tide is when you visit, you may be able to get the opportunity to dip your toes in the pacific ocean while still standing in a cave (though with any cave experience, be extremely careful and of course, watch your head!)
There is so much more to do along the Road to Hana
I have so many more recommendations for the Road to Hana, but some of the best spots don't even register as places on google maps. For example, Shaka Guides told us about this tiny little cave entrance off the side of the road. We stopped and found a short trek through the cave that opened into a lush bamboo forest on the other side. So many other cars just drove on by while we were here, but it was such a cool experience!
Or this small parking lot with a set of seemingly never-ending stairs that opens you up to this insane panoramic view of the lush greenery that looks like it could be out of a scene in Jurassic Park.
The $15 price tag for all of these cool side treks was absolutely worth the price of admission. Thanks again to the folks at Shaka Guides!
What to Eat
With so much other stuff going on, food is definitely the most overlooked part of the Road to Hana. I can confidently say, however that much like the views along the Hana Highway, the food doesn't disappoint either. Here are my top spots along the way to make sure you can take on all the Road to Hana has to offer with a full belly.
Paia Bay Coffee Bar
Every day-long journey starts with a good cup of coffee, and Pala Bay Coffee Bar certainly delivers the goods. Situated in the quiet town of Paia just a few miles into the Hana Highway, this is an excellent spot to get a cup of coffee. For the coffee lovers out there? Try the house cold brew to help keep you cool in the hot Maui humidity. Looking for a sweeter option? The Caramel Coconut Macnut Milk Latte is an excellent option (that is also vegan-friendly!). Looking for a good breakfast? I'd go for the Acai Bowl of one of the Organic Scrambled Egg Breakfast Sandwiches on your choice of bagel, croissant, or toast.
With the mudslide-related problems we had on the way back to the hotel we missed out on their happy hour and dinner options, but this is also an excellent place to stop and unwind after a long day of driving, swimming, and exploring all that the Road to Hana has to offer.
Aunty Sandy's Banana Bread
It's been a few years since our last trip to Maui but I still dream about this banana bread. Aunty Sandy's is legendary for the locals and tourists alike. Situated in a small open-air stand just off the Hana Highway on Waialohe Point, this unassuming spot with a small attached kitchen boasts what was quite literally the best banana bread I have ever eaten (sorry Mom!).
As I talked about when I discussed Waialohe Point above, there is no better backdrop to enjoy the fresh banana bread still warm from being baked that morning while taking in the panoramic views of Maui and the Pacific Ocean. The menu also boasts smoothies, hot dogs, pork sandwiches, and ice cream (though we recommend going a little further down the road to our next recommendation...)
Coconut Glen's Ice Cream
Despite the rain on our last Road to Hana trek, we couldn't help but notice the numerous ice cream shops along the side of the road. Finally, about two-thirds of the way to Hana we decided to try out Coconut Glen's. We were so glad we did, even if the weather wasn't what you might consider "ice cream weather".
First, I will mention that every ice cream they serve is 100% vegan. To be honest with you, we didn't even learn this until we had already started on the ice cream, and this didn't change our opinion at all about their delicious ice cream that didn't actually include any cream. The menu boast flavors that literally taste like Hawaii, such as Macadamia Nut and Papaya Lime. There are also more unique flavors like Pineapple Panang Curry. Their serving sizes are just right to try a couple flavors and give you a boost of energy to keep on driving down to Hana.
Ae's Thai Kitchen
I will preface this recommendation with saying we were absolutely exhausted when we got to Hana, so we could have eaten absolutely anything and enjoyed it. But when I took my first bite at this little food truck in the heart of the town, it was one of the best things I had ever eaten. The drunken noodles with chicken (pictured above) was incredible with flavorful chicken, a great sauce, and topped with plenty of fresh vegetables. Best of all? the area where Ae's sits also has other food trucks that regularly park nearby, so you can really get some good food for the entire family.
Overall, like Jane mentioned in her Maui overview, Road to Hana is a transformational experience. It shows to you the vast ecosystem that exists within this small island. It makes you appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. We highly recommend anyone planning to go to Maui Hawaii to dedicate a day to visiting Hana.
Have you ever taken on the Road to Hana yet? Let us know what some of your favorite stops here in the comments below!