Road to Hana
The Road to Hana is a 55-mile journey into the unspoiled heart of Maui. Tracing a centuries-old path, the road begins as a well-paved highway in Kahului and ends in the tiny rustic town of Hana on the island's rain-gouged windward side. Many travelers venture beyond Hana to Oheo Gulch, where you can cool off in basalt-lined pools and waterfalls.
Despite its twists and turns, the Road to Hana is not as frightening as it might sound. The challenging part of the road takes only an hour and a half, but you'll want to stop often and let the driver enjoy the view, too. During high season (January-March and the summer months), the Road to Hana tends to develop trains of cars, with everyone in a line of six or more driving as slowly as the first car. The solution: Leave early (dawn) and return late (dusk). An alternative is to plan an overnight stay in Hana.
Begin your journey in Paia, the little town on Maui's North Shore. Be sure to fill up your gas tank here. There are no gas stations along Hana Highway, and the station in Hana closes by 6 pm. You should also pick up a picnic lunch. Food choices along the way are limited to fruit stands, which dot the route every half mile or so.
About 10 mile past Paia, at the bottom of Kaupakalua Road, the roadside mileposts begin measuring the 36 miles to Hana town. The road's trademark noodling starts about 3 mi after that. Remember that many residents make this trip frequently—you'll see them zipping around every curve—so please, when possible, pull over to let them pass.
Waterfalls are abundant along this stretch of the road. Roll down your windows. Breathe in the scent of guava and ginger. There are plenty of places to pull completely off the road and park. Do this often, since the road's curves make driving without a break difficult. If you're prone to carsickness, be sure to take medication before this drive.
About 10 minutes before Hana town, you can stop for—of all things—espresso. The tiny, colorful Nahiku Ti Gallery and Coffee shop sells local coffee, dried fruits, and candy. Sometimes the barbecue is fired up and you can try seasonal goodies such as baked breadfruit (an island favorite nearly impossible to find elsewhere).
Huelo and Kailua. The rural area of Huelo has two quaint churches. If you linger awhile, you could meet local residents and learn about a rural lifestyle you might not have expected to find on the Islands. The same can be said for nearby Kailua (mile marker 6). Hana Hwy., near mile marker 5, Huelo.
Waikamoi Nature Trail. Between mile markers 9 and 10, the Waikamoi Nature Trail sign beckons you to stretch your car-weary limbs. A short (if muddy) trail leads through tall eucalyptus trees to a coastal vantage point with a picnic table and barbecue. Signage reminds visitors quiet, trees at work and bamboo picking permit required. Awapuhi, or Hawaiian shampoo ginger, sends up fragrant shoots along the trail. Hana Hwy., between mile markers 9 and 10.
Keanae Arboretum. Here you can add to your botanical education or enjoy a challenging hike into the forest. Signs help you learn the names of the many plants and trees now considered native to Hawaii. The meandering Piinaau Stream adds a graceful touch to the arboretum and provides a swimming pond. You can take a fairly rigorous hike from the arboretum if you can find the trail at one side of the large taro patch. Be careful not to lose the trail once you're on it. A lovely forest waits at the end of the 25-minute hike. A half-mile farther down Hana Highway you can stop at the Keanae Overlook. From this observation point, you can take in the quiltlike effect the taro patches create against the dramatic backdrop of the ocean. In the other direction there are awesome views of Haleakala through the foliage. This is a great spot for photos. Hana Hwy., mile marker 17, Keanae, 96713. COST: Free. OPEN: Daily 24 hrs.
Wailua Overlook. From the parking lot you can see Wailua Canyon, but you'll have to walk up steps to get a view of Wailua Village. The landmark in Wailua Village is a church made of coral, built in 1860. Once called St. Gabriel's Catholic Church, the current Our Lady of Fatima Shrine has an interesting legend surrounding it. As the story goes, a storm washed just enough coral up onto the shore to build the church but then took any extra coral back to sea. Hana Hwy., near mile marker 21, Wailua, 96713.
Waikani Falls. Though not necessarily bigger or taller than the other falls, these are the most dramatic—some say the best—falls you'll find in East Maui. That's partly because the water is not diverted for sugar irrigation. The taro farmers in Wailua need all the runoff. This is a particularly good spot for photos. Hana Hwy., past mile marker 21, Wailua, 96713.
Hana Lava Tube. If you're interested in exploring underground, turn left onto Ulaino Road, just after mile marker 31, and follow the signs to Hana Lava Tube (also known as Kaeleku Caverns). The friendly folks at the cave give a brief orientation and promptly send nature-enthusiasts into Maui's largest lava tube, accentuated by colorful underworld formations. You can take a self-guided, 30- to 40-minute tour daily from 10:30 am to 4 pm for $11.95 per person. LED flashlights are provided. The site is a mile down Ulaino Rd. Ulaino Rd., off Hana Hwy., Hana, 96713. PHONE: 808/248-7308. www.mauicave.com.
Piilanihale Heiau. This temple was built for a great 16th-century Maui king named Piilani and his heirs. Hawaiian families continue to maintain and protect this sacred site as they have for centuries, and they have not been eager to turn it into a tourist attraction. However, they now offer a brochure so you can tour the property yourself, including the 122-acre Kahanu Garden, a federally funded research center focusing on the ethno-botany of the Pacific. To get here, turn left onto Ulaino Road at mile marker 31 of Hana Highway; the road turns to gravel; continue 1.5 mi. Ulaino Rd., Hana, 96713. PHONE: 808/248-8912. www.ntbg.org. COST: $10. OPEN: Weekdays 10-2. Guided tour Sat.