Let me preface this by saying that there are better, more thorough, more interesting guides to the Road to Hana. This is not it. However, this is my experience as a first timer, as most of you who come to Maui on vacation will be, and maybe I’ll mention something you didn’t know about or maybe you’ll tell me things I missed out on that I can check out next time around. So here we go.
Things to Bring:
- Bug Spray – I mistakenly thought mosquitoes would leave me alone on this side of the island. Dumb.
- Snacks – Yes, there are places to buy snacks along the way, but I always like to bring my own just in case.
- Water – You’re going to get thirsty. I don’t need to elaborate.
- Camera – It’s going to be beautiful and you will get some great shots, just don’t forget to put it down and use your actual eyeballs sometimes.
- Water Shoes – My boyfriend wore his mandals and I have fake toe shoes from Walmart. Just get something that protects your feet and has some kind of tread on the bottom.
- Flip Flops – Don’t spend the whole ride with wet feet. Yuck.
- Cash – You’re going to want to tip the person that serves you ice cream, fruit, banana bread, whatever.
- Good Attitude – You will be driving (or riding) through miles upon miles of winding roads, working as a team to find the best spots that Hawaiian paradise has to offer. Sometimes this will be with (gasp, grunt, moan) your own family. Have patience, have a sense of humor, have a good night’s sleep beforehand.
Prep & Research
Before starting our trip, I read a few different books and online guides about the best stops along the way, the must-see waterfalls, the can’t miss fruit stands, the must-do beaches, etc. There is A LOT of information, and since we knew we didn’t have time to stay in Hana overnight, we were okay with narrowing down our options and finding the ones that sounded like the most fun for us. I suggest you do the same. We settled on the ever popular, well known hard copy book, Maui Revealed (5th Edition), for most of our information, of which now there is a 6th Edition. Not everyone recommends this book, but I found the information to be very detailed, helpful and accurate.
I should also mention that we did this trip in a rental car, mostly because our car is not great on gas and has the turn radius of a Weinermobile. I’ve heard lots of people mention that insurance doesn’t cover you if anything happens along the way, but I don’t think that’s true, especially if you’re just going to Hana and turning around instead of driving the back side of Haleakala.
And we’re off!
We left Kihei at 7:00am on a Saturday morning to get an early start, which ended up being great since we didn’t get home till right after sunset. After passing through Pa’ia and the beautiful town of Haiku, you’re on the way. Pay attention to when the mile marker starts over at zero and reset your odometer, although the mile markers aren’t exactly 100% accurate. We skipped Twin Falls, one of the first and most popular stops along the way, because we read that there were less crowded waterfalls up ahead, though more work to get to. We did, however, stop for a smoothie and some coconut candy at their farm stand. As the locals would say, the smoothie “Broke Da Mouth!” (which is a good thing, if you’re wondering.)
Our first stop, located half a mile past the 6 mile marker, is called the Four Falls of Na’ili’ili-Haele. We almost skipped this one because it was listed as an off the beaten path hike and we didn’t want to spend too much time at one spot, but it ended up being our favorite. I highly, highly recommended it if you’re up for a 20-30 minute hike (one way) and aren’t afraid to cross a small ditch, wade through a couple of streams (thanks, water shoes) and climb up a rock using an old rope. Adventure pants necessary.
Next, we stopped at Lower Puohokamoa Falls and Haipua’ena Falls, which were beautiful and short stops. A quarter mile past the 13 mile marker, we stopped at Punalau Falls, a secluded spot tucked back through a 10-15 minute hike through semi-slippery boulders. While this spot was nice for its privacy, we were disappointed to find that the waterfall wasn’t flowing that day. Also, I should mention that I did slip and fall on the boulders and we were constantly covered in a swarm of a bajillion fruit flies. I’m sure it’s amazing when it’s flowing, but next time I think I’ll just wait for my boyfriend to walkie talkie and report whether it’s worth it.
I’m sad to say we missed Aunty Sandy’s famous banana bread and Ching’s Pond, a spot to watch local cliff divers along the way, but we accidentally passed both of them and it’s not the easiest road to turn around on. Next time.
The next stop, Wailua Valley State Wayside, is located just before the 19 mile marker. Take the stairs to the top and enjoy the view on both sides. Gorgeous! Just up the road you’ll find a very crowded spot called Upper Waikani Falls, or “Three Bears Falls,” but it’s for good reason. We didn’t take the path to the falls because it was pouring at the time and the path begins with a very large, very steep step down, but we will be back for this one. Perfect swimming spot!
Next we stopped at Hanawi Falls and Makapipi Falls (which sadly wasn’t flowing), and headed down Nakihu Marketplace for some delicious fish tacos and thai food.
Back on the main road, stop at Coconut Glen’s past the 27 mile marker for some delicious ice cream made from coconut milk. They have several flavors, but my favorite was the original coconut. My boyfriend thought it tasted like kitty litter, but he’s wrong. Try it for yourself.
After your sweet treat fix, keep going until you get to Wai’anapanapa Park a little past the 32 mile marker, home of the famous Black Sand Beach. I love this spot. You get to see waves crash on sea arches, walk into an actual lava tube, swim in a cave, and walk on the most beautiful black sand beach you’ve ever dreamed of. The combination of bright green palm trees, clear blue water and harsh black sand is one that gets a 10 out of 10 on the beauty scale in my book.
We made one last stop at the Red Sand Beach, or Kaihalulu, but couldn’t make it down to the actual beach because high tide had pretty much eliminated all of the beach. When we got to Hana, we really wanted to keep going and venture to some of the amazing spots on the back side of Haleakala, but 1) it was already late afternoon, 2) the Seven Sacred Pools, one of the best spots on the back road, was closed due to the government shutdown, 3) I didn’t want to screw up anything on our rental car on the partially unpaved road, and 4) it was pouring when we got to Hana and looked like it didn’t plan on letting up for quite some time. Who knows if we made the right decision, but I do know we will be back to explore this lesser known, less visited side of the island soon.
And in Summary…
Also, just so you know, I drove the whole Road to Hana, there and back, by myself (pats self on back) without any issues. I have driven much worse roads than this and only gasped three total times during the trip. Hooray! I found it to be a really fun drive and one I definitely wouldn’t mind doing again. When my Mom visits us in Maui next month, I will be taking her to all of these spots (minus the fruit fly infested one, most likely) and plan on staying the night in Hana so that we can see more sights along the back road the following day. Plus, after something like 600 turns and a full day of adventuring, I’m sure it’s nice to relax with a cocktail (or three) without having to drive all the way back. For those of you who get car sick or are nervous about driving it yourself, you can certainly take a guided tour. We liked having the freedom to stop where we wanted for as long as we wanted, personally, but relax and do what you want to do.
It’s all about the trip, after all, not the destination.