Driving the Road to Hana – How to Make the Most of a Day Trip
Driving the Road to Hana on the northeast coastline of Maui, Hawaii makes for the perfect scenic road trip. My husband and I chose to spend our first year wedding anniversary in Maui, discovering the lush valleys, rushing waterfalls, and stunning beaches along the Hana highway. It was 64 miles or 100 kilometers of pure driving pleasure.
The Road to Hana has the ability to leave one breathless for more than one reason – partly because of the winding road with its 600 curves and 54 bridges and partly because of the amazingly beautiful attractions along the way.
Some rightly say the Road to Hana is about the journey and not the destination while others insist it is both the journey and the destination. What we do agree on, is that the journey shouldn’t be rushed. Here is a guide to help you decide where to stop to discover the absolute highlights while driving the Road to Hana.
Driving the Road to Hana – Essentials
Paia is the last place where you can fill up your gas tank and get supplies before embarking on driving the road trip to Hana. The funky town with its pastel-colored old-west style buildings is full of good restaurants and interesting little shops.
It will be a mistake to only get your gas and snacks for the road in Paia. The eccentric bunch of locals makes it a great place for people watching. Take some time to stroll through the streets and see if you can spot an old-school hippie, street corner preacher, new-age mama or professional surfer. You might as well sit down for breakfast or a cup of coffee for some sustenance before starting driving the Road to Hana.
If you want to see surfers taking on some of the best waves in the world, Ho’okipa Lookout is the place to stop after Paia Town. The waves at Ho’okipa get pretty massive, especially in winter. There are picnic tables and an observation deck from where to watch the kite boarders and wind surfers in action. Enjoy some of the local food and drinks from the food trucks on the spot.
If sitting and watching are not your style, a walk on the beach and dipping your toes in the water is a great idea but leave the surfing for the professionals. A good time to be on the beach is around sunset when the Hawaiian green sea turtles come out of the water. They are protected sea animals, so don’t go too close. Local rangers who keep an eye on them will gladly answer your questions.
They may not be the biggest waterfalls on the Road to Hana but the Twin Falls just beyond the 2-mile marker are nevertheless worth seeing. If you like a refreshing swim in natural pools, this is your chance. Just take care to watch out for warnings of flash floods that sometimes occur here.
You will find the parking area for the Twin Falls shortly after crossing a bridge over the Ho’olawa stream. The start of the trail to the falls is easy to find from there. Once you start walking, you will discover a pair of picturesque waterfalls. It takes about 15 minutes to reach the first one.
Before you continue your journey, grab a sugarcane juice or coconut drink and local fruit at the Twin Falls Farm Stand.
Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees
The Hana rainforest is home to groves of unique rainbow Eucalyptus trees. A great spot to see them is near the 7-mile marker on the Hana Highway. It almost looks as if someone painted on the trees, but the colors are all natural. The streaks of color are the result of the outer bark being shredded at different times of the year. This leaves the bright-green inner bark exposed, which then darkens and turns into different shades over time.
Look out for a small shoulder where a few cars can park on the right of the road just before mile marker 7. The “painted” Eucalyptus trees are on your left. If the parking area is full, there is also another opportunity to pull off further ahead.
Waikamoi Ridge Trail
This beautiful, short nature trail takes you through bamboo, trees, and ferns with scenic overlooks along the way. Start keeping your eyes open for the parking lot soon after driving the Road to Hana 9-mile marker. It is a little over half a mile past this marker but around a bend.
The Waikamoi Ridge Trail starts at the picnic spot near the parking lot. It consists of two sections, with the first a 0.8-mile circular route taking about half an hour, and the other branching out from the loop. The total distance is around 1.5 miles. A good tip is to spray for mosquitoes before you start.
Garden of Eden Arboretum
If you want to see what a 100-year old mango tree looks like, don’t miss the Garden of Eden Arboretum at the 10.5-mile marker. Not only will you see the ancient tree in the immaculately kept gardens, but also the Puohokamoa Falls and Keopuka rock overlook (from the opening scenes of Jurassic Park).
Check out the local art in the Garden of Eden art gallery, while the duck pond and bird feeding area are nice spots to take pictures. The garden is open daily from 8am to 4pm. To keep it going, an entrance fee of $15 per adult and $5 for kids is charged.
While driving the Road to Hana, watch out for the road to Keanae on the left past the 16-mile marker. It leads to the traditional Hawaiian village of Kaenae where the locals still cultivate taro fields. The Kaenae peninsula is popular with fishermen and photographers in search of Maui’s famous north shore waves. The jagged shoreline, characterized by black lava rocks, makes swimming dangerous. In fact, it is prohibited in Kaenae.
Take some time to stop at the stone church on your way to or from Kaenae. It dates to 1856 and was the only building left standing after a devastating tsunami hit the area in 1946, killing 24 people. There is a stand close to the church where you can buy a smoothie or some coconut candy.
After 34 miles, the anticipated arrival in Hana is somewhat of an anti-climax. Little development has taken place in the town in the past 40 years and the locals are fighting hard to keep it that way. So, if you’re expecting a buzzing seaside village, you will discover that Hana is far from it. On the contrary, it is a rather sleepy little town.
Despite its size and quietness, there is a lot of history and culture to explore in Hana. Spend a few hours relaxing at Hana Beach Park, visit the cultural center and museum, and stock up on supplies. There are a number of fine restaurants to feed your appetite in the middle of your road tripping. This piece of uncommercialized “real Hawaii” is also a good place to overnight if you’re spending more than one day driving the Road to Hana.
Wai-anapanapa State Park
Wai-anapanapa State Park is at the end of Wai’anapanapa Road near mile marker 32 off Hana Highway. The park area includes Pa’iloa Beach which is famous for its black sand. Even more unreal is the water in the tidal pools that turn red on different occasions during the year. Although folklore insists it is the blood of a princess who was murdered in a nearby cave, scientists have established it coincides with the arrival of small shrimp.
Other highlights in Wai-anapanapa State Park to look out for include lava tubes, freshwater caves, seabird colonies, and blowholes. Fishing, hiking, swimming, and camping (with a permit) is allowed.
Hamoa Beach, at mile marker 50, is one of the best beaches for swimming and sunbathing on the Road to Hana. Just be prepared to walk down a steep hill to get there after parking next to the road. The beach is family-friendly but always keep an eye out for sudden changes in conditions as there are no outlying reefs to protect it.
Trees provide plenty of shade on Hamoa Beach. It deserves its status as one of Maui’s best beaches with facilities like restrooms, showers and foot washing stations before you walk back to your car. Just take note that there are no lifeguards.
You must be blind to miss Wailua Falls at the 45-mile marker. Given its position right next to the road en route to the Pools of ‘Ohe’o past Hana, it is also the most photographed waterfall in Maui. Fortunately, there is plenty of parking for everyone making the convenient stop.
While most people only walk to the bridge to take their pictures from there, it is worth avoiding the crowds by walking down to the pool. You can even take a dip if you want to.
Tips for making the best of your Road to Hana trip
Many stops aren’t marked with signs, so you have to look out for the mile markers. Therefore, make sure the markers are included in whichever guide you are using. A guided CD tour is a good choice. Some of them give information on the things to do and see while driving the Road to Hana.
Bring mosquito repellent! Hana is invaded by the little bloodsuckers. Take extra precaution when you are near water and fruit trees.
Drive in style by renting a convertible and experiencing the Road to Hana with all your senses with the top down. Never mind that the likelihood of rain is quite big on Maui. In most cases, the rain doesn’t last long and you will soon be able to drive with the wind in your hair again.
Take all valuables with you when leaving your car. Unfortunately, car break-ins in Maui are not uncommon, with the lush vegetation providing perfect hiding spots for petty thieves.
If you don’t plan to stay overnight, start out early to get ahead of the crowds and allow enough time to at least see the sites listed above before dark.
Don’t forget to pack a swimsuit, towels and snorkeling equipment if you want to make the best of the beaches along the Road to Hana.
Make sure you have cash on you since the Garden of Eden and many of the food stalls might not take cards.
Driving the Road to Hana – Essentials
Find out more about things to do and travel recommendations for the other Hawaiian islands in my posts Kauai, Hawaii | Dramatic Cliffs, Tropical Rainforests and Pristine Beaches and Best Places to Visit in Oahu Hawaii.
Have you been to Maui? Any tips and recommendations for driving the Road to Hana?
Which was your favorite stop? Comment below!