During our family vacation to Maui, Hawaii in 2013 we knew a drive on the Road to Hana was a must-do. With countless waterfalls, a black sand beach, and sweeping views of the ocean at every turn, the Road to Hana is a 55 mile, full day adventure along Maui’s east coast. Much to my Uncle Bill’s and my siblings’ dismay, the day we selected for the drive was the day after they spent a late night out drinking (I was back at the condo, nursing myself back to health after a bad cold and fever). Despite their hangovers, we headed out pretty early, as we were staying on the west coast of Maui, so we had a 40 minute drive to the town of Paia, the official starting point of the Road to Hana. It’s best to stop and fuel up in Paia, use the restroom, and grab some snacks for the road. Pack a lunch beforehand, but there are also plenty of small fruit stands along the side of the road to grab a fresh treat as you drive.
Things to remember as you start your drive:
- Although the name “Road to Hana,” suggests that the town of Hana is your final stop, it’s not. There’s still a few more sights to see past it (and a few waterfalls!) and the point of the drive is about enjoying the journey, not the destination.
- Bring a guidebook that lists the most popular stops on the ride. Some waterfalls involve parking and taking a short hike, others are right on the side of the road. Not all of them are well labeled, so a list with mile marker numbers to tell you where to look is very helpful. I used Lonely Planet Maui.
- There is not a lot of parking at many of the stops, and traffic can back up as people slow down to enjoy the sights. Pass only when its safe and if you’re the one slowing traffic, pull over and allow people to pass. The road is very windy and there are several one lane bridges so drive carefully.
- A lot of rental car companies do not allow their rentals to travel the several miles of unpaved, bumpy area at the end of the road to Hana. It also gets flooded occasionally after heavy rain. Check with your car company before you attempt this route, otherwise you have to turn around and drive back the way you came.
One of the first notable stops on the drive is Twin Falls. This is a stop that involves a short hike to the falls. There are some streams and areas of water to cross to be prepared to get your feet wet! You can walk behind the falls as well for some cool pictures. Further down the road there’s a stop for the Waikamoi Nature Trail. We didn’t walk the trail, but stopped to check out the eucalyptus trees. Their bark is multi-colored, and looks almost fake, as if someone painted it on the trees. My mom and sisters wanted to go into the Keanae Arboretum at mile marker 17 to learn about a lot of the plants and flowers that are native to Hawaii. My brother Peter and I decided to start walking down the road, and told my Dad to pick us up on the way. Little did we know they would take their time in the arboretum and we ended up walking the Road to Hana for two miles! I wasn’t complaining- we got to see a hidden waterfall in the distance that we may not have noticed if we were driving by and we got to stretch our legs.
The halfway point to Hana is around the Keanae Overlook, which gives you views of the taro fields and the Keanae Peninsula. The next waterfall you come upon is Waikani Falls, or Three Bears Falls. Water isn’t diverted for sugar irrigation from this waterfall because the taro farmers in Wailua use the runoff for their fields. Waikani is also roadside, so there’s no hiking involved. We didn’t stop at Kaeleku Caverns, where you can go underground and explore Maui’s largest lava tube, but we did stop at Wai’anapanapa State Park, home to Maui’s volcanic black sand beach. Signs warn you not to take any of the smooth black stones or sand from the beach, so just take photos and enjoy the beauty of it. There are some lava tubes and tide pools to explore too.
We reached the town of Hana, which is small and quaint, and passed through without stopping. If you do decide to stop in Hana, you can see how the slow pace of island life is still prevalent here. You can also visit the Hana Cultural Center Museum and see some Hawaiian artifacts and a kauhale replica, which is an ancient Hawaiian living area.
We were pressed on time, so we continued on to Oheo Gulch, ten miles past Hana. Here you can see the Seven Sacred Pools (there’s more than 7 and they’ve never been considered sacred), and if you’re feeling up to some walking, take a two mile hike up Pipiwai Trail to Waimoku Falls. The falls had been my number one spot to see along the Road to Hana, but my dad wanted to head back to our condo, since we were planning on driving along the unpaved southern route as opposed to driving back up the way we came. He understandably didn’t want to drive that route in the dark, but my sister Sarah and I were determined to see Waimoku, so as soon as he parked, we hopped out of the car and started jogging up the trail. We’re both in good shape and decided we could use the 45 minutes my Dad had allotted for our final stop to run to the falls, snap a few pictures and run back. Apparently, my Dad had a change of heart right after we left, and as we were getting ready to jog back down the trail, he and the rest of my family showed up! Waimoku Falls is a stunning 400 foot waterfall that is actually located in one branch of Haleakala National Park. The trail takes you past a huge banyan tree, over a large gorge, and through a bamboo forest before reaching the waterfall, and it isn’t particularly difficult, so it’s easy for the whole family to make the trip.
We all hiked back to the parking lot together, and after double-checking with one of the park staff members that the south road wasn’t flooded, headed back to our condo on west Maui. If the conditions are okay and your rental company allows you to take that route, I would definitely suggest it. It beats riding back up the same way you drove down, plus it’s very rural, striking countryside with steep cliffs right beside the ocean. The trip can be a bit of a nail-biter because the road is so narrow at spots, but it’s a part of the island that not many people get to see, and ends up taking about the same amount of time. Overall, the Road to Hana was a great memory from our family vacation that I’ll never forget.