Hawaii Notebook 2: 12 stops along Maui’s Road to Hana

Road to Hana

Second in a series of blog posts about Hawaii.

Visiting outdoorsy Maui, you might not think sitting in a car would be that much fun.

But driving the heart-stopping Road to Hana, or Hana Highway, is a different story. It’s one of the world’s most scenic drives.

The serpentine Road to Han is in the wettest part of of Maui. Most of the road sits on the windward side of the Haleakala volcano. (abbs johnson via Upsplash)

With 620 curves and 59 bridges, most of which are one lane, the 64-mile highway is not for wimps. The reward is beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, waterfalls, swimming holes and stunning vistas along Maui’s eastern coast.

A typical start of the drive is from the town of Pa’ia on Maui’s northeastern coast. Drive clockwise for 53 miles on Highways 36 and 360 to the town of Hana, but it’s worth continuing for 11 more miles to remote Kaupo. From there, you can continue on the Piilani Highway (Highways 31 and 37) for a loop through Maui’s interior. The paved road turns to dirt with potholes, but I’ve driven the entire loop and it’s not that bad.

You can drive the Road to Hana in one day, returning the same way, or you can stay overnight in Hana or another town and drive back the next day. You also can book a tour and let someone else drive.

The Road to Hana is teeming with waterfalls; I only mention a couple below. Parking is tough at many of the falls, so you may have to settle for drive-by views. You can stop at many other fun spots — from beaches to hikes to local fruit stands — and it’s a beautiful drive even if you never leave the car.

Map of Road to Hana

Starting in Pa’ia, many visitors drive clockwise to Hana and back the same route. You also can loop through Maui’s eastern interior. (Sheryl Jean with Google Maps)

Here are some of my favorite spots along the Road to Hana:

1. Ke’anae Aboretum: It’s worth a walk through this small state-owned park to see some of the 150 varieties of exotic flora, such as bananas, ginger and rainbow eucalyptus. Look for remnants of an historical lo’i, traditional terraces for planting taro. It’s free.

2. Wailua Valley State Wayside: This little park offers views of the Ke’anae Valley, Ko’olau Gap, Wailua village and the rim of Haleakala.

3. Hana Lava Tube and Kahanu Garden: After a volcanic eruption, the outer layers of molten lava flows cooled first, hardening into tunnels to form Maui’s largest lava tube. To reach Hana Lava Tube, take a left on Ula’ino Road around mile marker 31 and drive about four miles. Don’t forget a flashlight. Farther down Ula’ino Road is Kahanu Garden, run by the nonprofit National Tropical Botanical Gardens. There, you can see Pi’ilanihale Heiau, a lava-rock temple that’s the largest in Hawaii. Both places charge a fee.

Road to Hana
The black-sand beach at Wai’anapanapa State Park is a must-stop along the Road to Hana. (Sheryl Jean)

4. Waiʻānapanapa State Park: This is a must-stop around mile marker 32 before Hana town. It’s an easy walk to the park’s highlight: the dazzling Pailoa black-sand, crescent beach framed by green naupaka shrubs and the azure ocean. The park has many other natural wonders, including Hawaii’s largest wild hala tree grove; freshwater caves; seabird colonies; a lava tube; natural stone arches; and blowholes. Ke Ala Loa O Maui/Piilani Trail (3 miles round trip) starts beyond Pa’iloa and traverses lava-rock fields and hala trees to the cliff shoreline at Pailoa Bay. Along with spectacular views of the coast and Haleakala’s slopes, you may see gravesites, low stone walls and a temple inland. Stop at the boulder beach and return the same way, or continue along to Hana Bay. Plan ahead to camp here.

5. Hana: You can eat or stay overnight in this coastal town. Visit the Hana Cultural Center & Museum to learn about the history of Hana and East Maui. For more action, head for the shallow waters of black-sand Hana Bay for snorkeling, especially for beginners.

6. Hamoa Beach: South of Hana just past mile marker 51, turn on Haneoo Road to find calm waters at this beach that’s consistently named one of best in the world. (Skip the first beach, Koki Beach, which has strong rip tides.)

7. Wailua Falls: Named Maui’s “most photographed waterfall,” it plunges 80 feet down a cliff into a green pool. The falls are inland, along a bridge about 5 miles after Hamoa Beach. Park past the bridge.

8. Kīpahulu: The remote Kīpahulu District of Haleakalā National Park 12 miles past Hana is home to ‘Ohe’o Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools), the Pipiwai Trail and Waimoku Falls (hike two miles to the falls). When water levels are safe at ‘Ohe’o, you can swim in many of the pools. The area is rich in history, with ruins and ancient sites. Check the National Park Service calendar for activities, including guided walks and ranger talks. There’s a visitor center and camping.

If weather permits, you can swim in one of the sacred pools at ‘Ohe’o Gulch along Hana Highway. (Sheryl Jean)

9. Palapala Ho’omau Church: This 1857 limestone coral church is better known as the burial site of aviator Charles Lindbergh. He moved to the Kīpahulu area in 1968.

10. Kaupo: Lush rainforests give way to drier and rockier land when you reach this remote ranching area. Under the shadow of the Haleakala, you can take a challenging hike up (or down) the steep Kaupo Trail and Kaupo Gap to the crater with panoramic views of the Big Island. Stop at Kaupo General Store for a trip back in time and to stock up on supplies.

This inland view is near Kaupo Gap off Hana Highway. (Sheryl Jean)

11. Alii Kula Lavendar Farm: This 13-acre farm and store in Kula is home to about 55,000 lavender plants and 25 varieties. Entry is $3, or $12 for a 30-minute walking tour.

12. Maui Wine: Yes, even outback Maui has wine. This winery on Ulupalakua Ranch makes pineapple, sparkling and small-production estate wines. It offers two tours and tastings daily for $12 or $16 in the King’s Cottage, which was built in the 1870s for Hawaii’s King Kalākaua. It also offers a $40 reservation-only tasting in its historic “Old Jail,” the former office of pioneer planter Captain James Makee. Maui Wine offers cheese and charcuterie boards or grab lunch at the nearby Ulupalakua Ranch Store & Grill.

While driving, follow the Road to Hana Code of Conduct to be a responsible visitor. Last month, I wrote about new tourist restrictions in Hawaii, including Maui. Next, look for my post on Maui’s best snorkeling beaches .

Note: The featured photo at top is by Monica Bourgeau via Upsplash.