Maui & Kauai Day 4: The Road to Hana

Sunday, August 13, 2017

I had never heard of the “Road to Hana” until a few weeks before our trip, a co-worker mentioned that they done this activity on their visit. Their only regret was not staying overnight in Hana because it was such a long drive with lots of attractions along the way and they didn’t really get to spend much time at each attraction.

Even after being told this advice, I still didn’t do much research about the Road to Hana, but shortly into our trip, this did seem like the one big activity that you had to do if you went to Maui. Everything they mention in guide books is pretty much along this road. So Sunday morning, hubby, my brother, and I all set out to do this much talked about road trip!

There are many companies on the island that offer tours of this activity where they where they will do all the driving, but we decided to do this trip by ourselves for three reasons:

  • The cost; vacationing in Hawaii is expensive enough; I didn’t want to shell out “unnecessary” money for something we could do ourselves at no cost.
  • Hubby likes driving and the trip didn’t even seem that long to the point where it would be a big deal if he had to drive going out and coming back; Google maps said it would take about 2.5 hours to drive to Hana; even with stops included, this didn’t seem like a long time since we often drive hours and hours across the state of Colorado for weekend getaways.
  • The local girl driving the shuttle to our car rental place said so; and if a local recommended to drive it without the tour company, that was reason enough for me!

Apparently there are a couple of “official” written and audio guide books of this activity and it might have been smart to have purchased one these, but we hadn’t planned ahead with that brilliant touristy idea, so we used an abbreviated guide from a free magazine we picked up at the airport and figured that was good enough! We’ll never know if it wasn’t because I’d rather not know what we might have missed out on. Plus, I felt like we got in just enough stops to make it all the way along the journey in one day and still make it back to Lahaina in time for happy hour and mai tais at Duke’s, which is pretty important.

One important thing we did learn without the guide books was that it was a good idea to leave early for the trip. Well, duh! But it wasn’t just so you could get back in time for happy hour mai tais at Duke’s. It was to try to beat some of the hoards of people. Apparently we weren’t the only ones that wanted to drive the Road to Hana and several bus loads of tour groups equals VERY crowded attractions and there’s nothing more I hate than a million derpy tourists photo-bombing my cute photos. Like, not cool!

We set out on the road at 6 A.M. with the sun barely breaking the horizon as we made our way around the curvy roads out of Lahaina. Only 50+ miles to Hana!

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Our stops on the Road to Hana

The first stop along the Road to Hana was the town of Pa’ia, where I told hubby that we needed to pull over for a caffeine fix at a popular coffee shop called Honolulu Coffee. I grabbed a Hawaiian Latte, which I found out was the drink that must have been made for me because 1) lattes are my go-to coffee drink and 2) the Hawaiian Latte contains coconut flavoring, which is only my favorite flavor on Earth! Hubby and I also picked up some banana bread, which we heard was amazing on any of the Hawaiian islands and definitely didn’t disappoint at this coffee shop.

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The magazine guide and online website I had handy to tell us where to stop along the Road to Hana mentioned stops at specific mileage points, so the moment we reached our first stop, the town of Pa’ia, hubby diligently restarted the mileage on the odometer and we continued on to our next stop, which was supposedly only two miles away.

Except it wasn’t.

We drove a brief two miles expecting to see an obvious parking lot with tons of cars and we saw nothing! Had we already screwed up our mileage for the Road to Hana and slept through the first stop? Did we need to go back for more coffee?

We didn’t want to go back and screw up the mileage on our odometer even more since we were sure we had missed an obvious location to stop at, but we were utterly confused. We kept driving several miles until someone in the car finally figured out that the guide was mentioning stops in mile markers, not in terms of mileage. As it turns out, the mile markers on the Road to Hana start over about eight miles after the town of Pa’ia.

We kept driving, so proud of how brilliant and alert we were at 7 o’clock in the morning, and soon after, finally reached our “real” first stop at mile marker 2, Twin Falls.

This attraction had several waterfalls, with the first waterfall being a very short and easy hike. But from my brief research in the car, I found out that the prettiest of the waterfalls, the one tempting us in all the guidebooks, wasn’t even the one that’s easiest to get to. It figures there had to be a catch!

The third waterfall, called Caveman Falls was supposedly a somewhat longer walk past a gate and a river crossing. There wasn’t much information on how long the hike was; just the fact that it was closed sometimes due to flash floods from rain. It was tough to make judgement calls on what we should and should not have taken time to do along the Road to Hana since we hadn’t really looked ahead to see how many stops we would want to take and we had no idea how much time we would want to spend at other stops.

We decided to keep hiking to the third waterfall anyway and it probably took us about 20 minutes hiking on an easy dirt trail that is actually a road for the local residents that live down the gorgeous path. The river crossing ended up being not too bad, but we could definitely see how rainfall and flash floods could make that crossing really dangerous.

Caveman Falls was definitely worth the hike! I had already decided before we reached the waterfall that it was time Mingo came out to play and see the wonderful sights, too. I had him deflated and hiding in my backpack and got to work right away to re-inflate him. I can’t imagine that hubby and my brother were surprised one bit to see that I had toted a large flamingo deep into the forest on a hike. That’s just how I roll.

This is where it had paid off to get up early to start the Road to Hana. With the exception of one other couple, we were the only ones at this waterfall when we arrived. I jumped in the water with Mingo and demanded hubby take a million pictures of Mingo and me and then it was time to go. The water was so wonderful and I was sad to have to leave, but we ended up leaving just in time for hoards of people to start showing up anyway.

Upon returning to the parking lot, we realized just how early our start of the day had been. When we had arrived, there were only a handful of cars in the parking lot and the farm stand at the entrance gate had not yet opened, but by this time, the parking lot was jam packed! This meant that all the other tourists were already catching up to us and our drive was no longer just us on the road.

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When we started our road trip to Hana, an approximate 50-mile journey from the first stop in the town of Pa’ia to the end stop of the town of Hana, we weren’t quite sure why the journey would take us 2+ hours, but we quickly found out.

It wasn’t just all the cars on the road (although that was the biggest factor); it was because the Road to Hana was a narrow and curvy one! What was considered a two-way road by Maui’s standards was factually enough room for one car with no center stripe and no shoulder. Add to that, the fact that half of the vehicles weren’t even cars and were tour buses, and you had yourself a slow mess!

On that same note, we also found out that these were the reasons why most people chose to fork over the money to have a tourist company do the driving! Fortunately, hubby didn’t mind the stressful driving and the bulk of the traffic was headed in the same direction most of the time, but I still anxiously commented the entire day, “How are two cars supposed to fit on this section of the road?!”

We passed a few suggested stops along our drive because some didn’t seem worth the time; some we missed or didn’t know where to park; and some didn’t have enough parking already. In any case, we found ourselves all the way at mile marker 16 for our next stop at the Ke’anae Arboretum.

The Ke’Anae Arboretum stop was nothing more than a rocky coastline with teal blue water and swaying palm trees. Okay… I made that sound like it was boring, but it was just that we didn’t need to drive the Road to Hana to see this kind of thing, but it was beautiful! The water was too rough to swim in and the day was already getting hot, so we snapped some photos and we were on our way.

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We, again, might have skipped a few stops continuing on our drive, but it was okay because the drive itself was picturesque enough. We crossed bridges with small waterfalls and even saw waterfalls right beside the road. And of course there were gorgeous trees and flowers all along the way.

Our next stop was all the way at mile marker 29. It was only a little after 11 o’clock when we arrived, but it was already time for some grub at the Nahiku Market Place. We felt like we were making good time to get back at a reasonable hour and we were also happy to pass some of the crowds, so we didn’t mind the early lunch. There were a handful of food stands at this lunch stop, all with about the same food options. Hubby ordered a fish taco and I ordered the famous kalua pork taco.

After lunch, we were on the road a short distance before we arrived at our next stop at mile marker 32, Wai’anapanapa State Park. This ended up being one of my favorite sights to visit on the whole island, even though it was perhaps the most crowded! Wai’anapanapa State Park boasted of black sand and pebble beaches. A short walk up the lava rock past the throngs of people and through the hala trees and other bright green landscapes rewarded us with even more gorgeous views. The color palette of the views was amazing!

Along the rocky trail, someone told us there was a blowhole not far away, so we were convinced to keep walking after the trail disappeared into lava rocks, but we never found it. Clouds began rolling in halfway through our hodge podge hike, but it was still boiling hot and humid out, so we headed back after spending a good amount of time at this spot.

I took Mingo along thinking we could inflate him up again and take a fun photo of our sexy, pink flamingo contrasted again the black sand beach, but the surf seemed too rough to enjoy or float around in. We ended up carrying around a half-inflated flamingo the entire time like fools, but he at least made it in the last rainy photo we took before we hurried back to the car.

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Shortly after Wai’anapanapa State Park at mile marker 34 was the famous town of Hana, but I must have been sleepy or unimpressed with this attraction because we took no pictures nor stopped at what should have been the climax of our road trip. I can’t say that I would have really enjoyed staying overnight here, since we didn’t get out and soak in the sights or culture of this town, but I’m glad that we kept driving and eventually knocked out this trip in one day.

It wasn’t long after passing the town of Hana that hubby pulled over at a random spot along the road and got out. I thought that he was going to take a bathroom break, but instead, he decided he was done hearing my back seat driving tips and wanted me to drive. I told him he had to be kidding if he trusted my driving skills along this narrow, curvy road… but he wasn’t. Hubby had been driving all morning since 6 A.M., so he was obviously tired and ready for another driver to take over.

I hopped in the driver seat, more nervous than I had ever been in my entire life to be behind the wheel. It was just my luck that no more than five minutes into my turn driving that a large truck came from the opposite direction during a very narrow section of the road. Needless to say, I panicked and pretty much just stopped where I was and let the truck pass me. It was very tricky keeping an eye on my side of the car to make sure I wasn’t running into the vehicle coming the opposite way and at the same time trying to keep an eye on the other side of the car to make sure I wasn’t driving off the road or into something like a rocky cliff.

I continued on slowly, hoping to not run into that situation again and luckily didn’t.

Oddly enough, the “Road to Hana” road trip doesn’t actually stop at the town of Hana. There are still several recommended stops after the town, including the Kipahulu Haleakala National Park at mile marker 42. Originally, I had really wanted to stop at this national park because there were several beautiful waterfalls and hikes in this park, but I hadn’t done any prior planning and research to note exactly which trails we should tackle and didn’t know if we would have time for anything good with a late start, so we kept driving on. If I could redo the Road to Hana, I would actually skip all of the Road to Hana stops and go straight to this national park, as I believe we would have experienced much more wonderful sights in the park than anything we saw along the way to Hana.

After Hana, we ended up only stopping one more time at mile marker 45 for Wailua Falls. Although we felt like we had seen plenty of waterfalls at this point and we were quite tired, it was only a one-minute walk on a paved walkway to check out this waterfall.

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Besides some beaches around mile markers 50 and 51, we had pretty much reached the end of the Road to Hana after the last waterfall… except our roadtrip still didn’t end there.

We had decided that instead of turning back the way we came on the Road to Hana, we would continue driving on the non-recommended route along the remote south side of the island. The abbreviated guide in our cheesy, free airport magazine said that some rental car companies don’t allow people to drive this route, but it didn’t really say why other than the fact that some sections were unpaved.

Earlier during our drive, after much online digging, I finally found an article where a guy said he had done the drive in a Mustang (a popular vehicle rented on the island). Hubby and I had done some pretty crazy driving in Costa Rica, which we survived just fine, so how bad could it be?

Furthermore, if our option was to drive on a narrow, remote dirt rode that might be slightly bumpy or to drive back on the narrow, crowded road going against a bunch of traffic still headed to Hana, I think option #1 sounded just fine! Onward we continued!

Eventually the road got slightly less curvy, but at the same time, the lush green road side scenery quickly turned into steep valleys featuring dry brush and dirt for miles on end. I didn’t care for this scenery much, but it was very interesting to see the two very different appearances of the island. As uninhabitable as the south side of the island was, we still spotted several goats and even a horse standing randomly in the middle of the road.

For as quickly as the lush green jungle turned to dirt, about an hour later, without much warning, it again seemed to quickly turn back to a lush green landscape. Thank goodness!

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Before heading back to our condo on our drive back, we decided to celebrate our successful completion of the Road to Hana (and then some) with happy hour at Duke’s. This restaurant had the cutest and most delicious mai tai drinks that could not be passed up. Hubby had a boring beer.

We returned to the condo just in time to watch the sunset and drink another mai tai.

Next up: We see Maui from the clouds and get lei’d.

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