The Road To Hana (Hawaii) 

“Common men pass treasures by: they respond to the spectacle of nature as guests at a banquet who are neither hungry nor thirsty.” - Eugene Delacroix

This was the day Peter and I had been waiting for since Sydney, our drive to Hana, Maui’s answer to Shangri- La! having stayed at Paia for 4 nights, we were well and truly rested and ready for the relatively short (1 hour and a half) but arduous drive ahead of us. Hana is located at the eastern end of the island of Maui and is one of the most isolated communities in the state. It is reached mainly via the Hana Highway, a long, winding, 52 miles (84 km) long highway along Maui's northern shore.

Our plan before the drive to Hana was to do a good shop for some organic produce at Hana Foods at Paia and store them in the insulated bags that we kept in the car. We also stocked up on fuel, as we were told that there wasn’t going to be a station between Paia and Hana. Based on reports on what to expect from the “Road To Hana”, I deferred to Peter taking the wheel.

To Buy or Not to Buy the Road To Hana Audio Tour?

There were several audio tapes on the market that we could have bought, complete with all the interesting stops, points of interest, and some history thrown in. Available at any Kmart, Walmart, and gas station in Maui, the CD helps explain exactly what you are seeing along the way. However, Peter and I decided against using it this time, as we thought it was best to focus on the challenging drive ahead without any additional distractions. We realized it was a wise decision once we got on the road.

I Survived The Road To Hana!

The road to Hana is 53 miles (85.3 kms) from Kahului Airport. It usually takes 2½ to 3 hours to make the drive from the airport due to the twists and turns, and of course, how often you stop. From Paia, where we were based, the road to Hana was only 43 miles (69 ms) along the Hana Highway, taking us about an hour and a half.

As you’ve probably read in countless other guide books and blog postings, the road to Hana would have to be one of the most spectacular, and harrowing, drives in Maui. With a major part of the road literally carved into the side of the mountain, it features hairpin twists and turns that are so sharp that you forget to breathe until the coast is clear. I’m not kidding. 600 turns and 54 bridges is no laughing matter. However, you are treated to one of the world’s most breathtaking sceneries. And although narrow in some areas due to the single-lane bridges, the road is surprisingly well paved.

Interested in finding out about others’ experiences on the road to Hana, I looked up some travel blogs on the subject. I was quite surprised to read a few people’s description of it as being “overrated”. After having completed the journey twice (once going, once coming back), Peter and I saw this journey as a gift. There is something almost sacred in gazing at such pristine and unspoiled beauty. Nothing else is required of you than to sit back in wonder and awe, reflect on life, and be grateful that places like this still exist in the world.

Is that what makes people antsy? The “doing nothing” bit? If becoming desensitized from the simple and the beautiful is the price that we have had to pay for “progress”, then we have already paid too much. We’ve become a race of automatons, obsessed with “doing” instead of “being”. Hmmmm, worth thinking about, don’t you think?

Guided Tours to Hana

If you’re planning on just a day-trip to Hana, then my recommendation would be to take a guided tour, especially if money is not a consideration. The cost of a guided tour to Hana is approximately US$110 - 120 per person. Guided tours take the stress out of driving a very challenging road. It allows everyone to enjoy the scenery as everyone is a passenger, and the knowledgable tour guides do all the work, sharing the local history, stories, and legends about the sights along the way. Best of all, you won’t have to worry about driving back in the dark, as the local drivers know the road backwards.

Personally? I think a day-trip to Hana is a waste. There is so much to see and do there, it would be a crying shame to go all the way there, only to come back a few hours later. The reason why Hana has remained so unspoiled and uncommercialized is because it’s just so difficult to get there, so why not take the time to discover the jewel in Maui’s crown?

My recommendation would be to stay in Paia for a night or two, then drive to Hana, taking it nice and slowly. Stop as often, or as little, as you like. And when you get to Hana, allow at least 2-3 nights there. Really savor it!  We had the luxury of staying for 6 nights and found something extremely interesting to do everyday.

Where To Stay in Hana

There is no shortage of accommodation in Hana. You can find some very affordable cottages for rent. If you don’t mind sharing a kitchen, the Hale Mano Sanctuary is an eco-friendly farm sanctuary located in Kipahulu, an organic farming and alternative lifestyle mecca on Maui. Their elegant, self-contained cottages have hosted artists, spiritual seekers, honeymooners, explorers, gardeners, musicians, nature lovers, and sensitive souls from all over the world.

With our preference for putting some distance between us and the rest of humanity, Peter and I stayed at a cottage by spectacular Hamoa Beach called Hana Oceanfront Cottages. Decorated in an Island Style that oozed rustic elegance, featuring Egyptian cotton bedsheets, a fully equipped kitchen, wireless internet access, Tommy Bahama toiletries in the bathroom, and freshly baked loaf of bread still warm from the oven that Sandi, the proprietor, had baked, our cottage was not only comfortable, it was downright luxurious. It was always a pleasure to return to our cottage after an activity-filled day, chill, and cook our own dinner, which we enjoyed on the verandah with a bottle of wine and the sound of the crashing waves on Hamoa Beach. 

If you’re the type that likes everything taken care of on your vacations, and you don’t mind paying for it, there’s always the Hotel Hana Maui, a ranch-style property located on 66 tropical acres that overlook Hana Bay. 70 exquisite cottages, decorated in a contemporary eastern decor with hardwood floors and private lanais, are poised on a grassy bluff overlooking the Pacific. It doesn’t get any better than that in Hana.

Hale Mano Sanctuary
Hana Oceanfront Cottages
Hotel Hana Maui

Driving Tips to Hana:

1) Always start your drive to Hana with a full tank of fuel. There are no fuel stations between Paia and Hana.

2) If you are driving yourself to Hana, do remember that the back road (via the Piilani Highway), which many travelers swear by, is an unauthorized road. The road is bumpy, narrow, unpaved, and prone to mudslides in rainy weather. Not only will it be a safety risk, you’ll be in violation of your car rental agreement if you are driving a rental vehicle. It could also end up being a very expensive exercise for you if your car happens to break down. You will not be covered by insurance, and you’ll be left bearing the total responsibility, and costs, of towing and repairs.

3) If you are prone to motion sickness, do come prepared, as this drive is guaranteed to make you very ill. If possible, sit in the front, look out the front window, and open the window to let the fresh air in. If you find yourself getting nauseous, then close your eyes and sleep if you can. You can’t get motion sickness when you can’t see. Take lots of breaks and stretch your legs. Eating chewable ginger candies and taking a thermos of ginger tea are great remedies for alleviating nausea, as are over-the-counter medications like Dramamine and Bonine/Antivert.

4) The road to Hana gets much busier from lunchtime onwards, so why not get ahead of the crowd and head over first thing in the morning, like at 7 am. Most of the gorgeous spots along the way, like the side road waterfalls, only have room for one or two cars to park. The earlier you get going, the easier you will find it to pull over on the side of the road so you can enjoy the spectacular vistas.

5) Never drive to Hana at night as your visibility will be greatly reduced, especially when it’s been raining.

6) If there are more than one of you on the drive, split the driving times. The drive to Hana can be extremely stressful for one person.

7) Never do any hikes or swims without first finding out the conditions from the locals, or a guidebook. Flash flooding, mudslides, and rock falls occur frequently, particularly after the rains. The waters off its beaches also tend to have dangerous undercurrents and rips, which makes swimming unsafe.

8) When you get to Hana, do get a confirmation and precise directions from the locals of the areas you’d like to visit. Although it may seem like you are driving on the same road, they are considered three separate highways – 36, 360, and 31, each with its own mile markers. e.g. Once you’re past Hana, and transition from Highway 360 to 31, the mile markers start counting down from 50.

9) Pull over to the side of the road if you notice an impatient local driving behind you. You’ll know what I’m talking about by the general impatience of the driver, tailgating, horn honking, and driving over the double yellow lines. Don’t get into a contest of wills with them as it’s not worth the stress and risk to your safety.

10) Always bring water, snacks, sunscreen, and mosquito repellant with you. If you’re planning on going on a hike, do wear good walking shoes that you won’t mind getting muddy. The walk can be dangerous if you attempt it with slippers, flip flops, or sandals.

11) Always bring a lightweight waterproof jacket with you in your backpack. East Maui (Hana) is a tropical rainforest so you can expect it to rain between 100 and 300+ inches, particularly in the winter months. It’s also common to encounter some low lying clouds when you’re hiking in the mountains.

12) Always hide your valuables and lock your car if you’re planning on leaving it, even for a short time. Car break-ins are, unfortunately, common.

13) Last but not least, drive with the windows down, so you can take in the sights and smells of a tropical rainforest. If you’re into your music, take some CD’s with you, as you will lose your radio reception on the way to Hana.

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