“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare”-William Henry Davies
These opening lines of W.H. Davies’ famous poem “Leisure” are the perfect way to describe the 21st century lifestyle where speed and efficiency are the name of the game and time is the most precious currency, with nary a moment to be wasted in idyll thought. What we sacrifice at the altar of this modern lifestyle that can put a cruising boeing jet to shame is some time for our selves, some precious time to sit back, relax and unwind, some personal moments of rumination and contemplation and finally, some time to reflect upon this journey of life itself and how it is unfolding for us. So consumed are we by the lure of the destination, that we completely forget to enjoy this journey of life, this fantastic opportunity that we get once in a lifetime to enjoy in human form. So if you truly believe in the power of YOLO (you only live once for those living under a rock) and are also a big believer in stopping and smelling the roses, then do yourself a favor, hop in your rented car and make that drive to Hana, a small town in eastern Maui if your travel brings you to this island.
Hana is a nondescript little town on the other end of the island, east of Haleakala mountain (dormant volcano) and is blessed with lush greenery thanks to being kissed by almost 300 inch of rainfall every year, making it one of the wettest regions on earth. The drive to Hana, along Hana highway, is about 68 miles, with 600 curves and 58 one lane bridges, thereby making the drive challenging and strenuous. Add to it a good chance of rain that you might encounter the more you travel towards the east. But the drive is all about the journey and not the destination and as its beauty unfolds via several stops revealing gorgeous waterfalls, beaches and scenic lookout points, you will find that it is totally worthwhile to make that painful drive. Best of all, you will not have to do it alone if you download the awesome Gypsy guide app (a great suggestion by my friend) for $4.99, where a Jeff Bridges like voice guides you through the road and provides in-depth commentary and suggestions on all the different stops that you can make on your way there. Seriously, download this app cause it is DOPE and will take away the headache of tons of pre-planning because most attractions do not have clear signs besides mile markers on the highway. The app works on GPS system and so it works like a charm even if you lose signal on your phone. The downside to it is that GPS drains the phone battery pretty fast and so you need to have a charger handy to resuscitate your dying phone.
Before I move on to the different landmarks that we stopped for, here are a few important things to note as you embark upon this amazing travel journey. These tips are as follows:
Travel tip 1:
First and foremost, it is highly recommended that you book an overnight stay in Hana because the road trip is a whole day’s affair if you want to hit even the fewest of must do stops (and there are about five of them). Even if you start at the crack of dawn, it will take a good 4-5 hours for you to get to the last stop on the highway which is the Oheo Gulch and sacred pools, and by that time you will be dead tired. A return journey, in the dark, is not something that you would want to undertake at that point, specially when the road ahead is full of several scary bends and one lane narrow bridges that can be extremely challenging to navigate in low light. So, please do yourself a favor and book a place to stay in Hana for at least a night and do so well in advance because that tiny dot of a town has very few accommodation options.
Travel tip 2:
Second, follow all posted signs and driving etiquette on the road trip and yield to oncoming cars whenever you see the yield sign, most likely at the beginning of the one lane bridges.
Travel tip 3:
Third, it is a good idea to pack some lunch with you on this trip but in case you do not have time or lack a cooler, there are quite a few options along the way as well which I will be talking about later in the post.
Travel tip 4:
Fourth and this is important, you do not have to worry yourself sick about not answering nature’s call on this trip. Although there are no rest areas as such on the highway, there are some porter potties as well as several state parks equipped with restrooms for you to relieve yourself, so go ahead and gulp down as much of fresh sugarcane or coconut juice as you want from the roadside fruit stands!
Travel tip 5:
Finally, wear sturdy shoes since there will be places accessible by hiking through rocky terrain but bring flip flops and swimsuits if you plan to take a splash in one of the beaches or water holes in the way. I will provide some more tips and suggestions towards the end of the post when I talk about our stay at Hana. So without further ado, let’s get started on this epic journey!
TRAVEL STOP # 1. Ho’okipa Beach Park
Hana highway starts around Paia, the small town past the Kahului airport (Maui’s main airport) and the first of the many notable stops lies here. I am talking about Ho’okipa Beach Park and lookout point which is home to crazy surfing action, thanks to the waves that are just the right size and speed for surfers to show off their skills. Ironically, we made this our very last stop on our return journey and enjoyed an amazing view from the lookout point. A small, but steep trail goes all the way down from the look out point to an overhanging ledge from where you can see the surfers even better. For best results, just chill at the beach for the soft sand and some up close surfing action.
TRAVEL STOP # 2. Twin Falls
Next, come the twin falls which are two tiny, yet gorgeous falls in close proximity, that are accessible via private property after you park at a neighboring parking pullout. Make sure that your valuables are either stowed away from sight in your car or better still, take them with you since that spot is notorious for frequent car break-ins (this is actually true for most scenic spots in Maui and along the Hana highway). There is a juice/fruit stand with a bold sign saying “twin falls” that serves as a good marker as well. A short walk through a serene bamboo forest leads you to the falls. We got some succulent cut pineapple pieces at the fruit stand for the way which served the twin purpose of food and thirst quencher. Since this is one of the early spots on the trip and you will not chance upon practically any road side stand for a long time, I highly recommend getting some food from either here or at the Huleo lookout point.
TRAVEL STOP # 3. Huelo lookout
The chatty gypsy guide gave this stop a miss and honestly there is nothing much of a scenic view unfolding from this lookout as the view is pretty much marred by dense vegetation, but this is a great place to get some yummy coconut water or sugarcane juice or smoothie at the Huelo lookout fruit stand by the road or an acai bowl or crepe at another small stand a few steps down. Also, there is a very sombre looking cat/unofficial coconut protector whose feline charms will catch you unawares!
TRAVEL STOP # 4 Kaumahina State Wayside
This state wayside is an excellent spot to stretch your legs or grab a picnic table to gulp down your packed lunch or better yet, to get an excellent view of the Maui coastline and what lies ahead on the road.
TRAVEL STOP # 5 Ke’anae arboretum
You might want to give the Garden of Eden arboretum (a paid facility) a miss and zip straight to this state owned park filled with native Hawaiian vegetation to catch a glimpse of the giant Eucalyptus with colorful barks. Lush greenery and bamboo forests envelope the hiking trail, but once you get your fill of the crazy beautiful painted gum barks, make your exit fast since this place is a mosquito haven and will you end up with painful, itchy bites.
TRAVEL STOP # 6 Ke’anae peninsula and lookout point
A quick detour along Ke’anae road is a must at this point to enter the Ke’anae peninsula which has a tiny, yet beautiful beach with waves crashing in full force on the gigantic volcanic rocks, the white foam forming an excellent contrast to the back somberness of the volcanic stones. All this crazy action happens right next to the Ke’anae church standing serenely on a field nearby. We spend some time sitting on the rocks and marveling the beauty of the ocean. This, undoubtedly, was one of my favorite stops on the road. Once you pull out and reach the Ke’anae lookout point, be sure to stop your car and take in the beauty of the green peninsula jutting out into the ocean with its beautiful palm and coconut trees.
TRAVEL STOP # 7 Halfway to Hana mark and the Bear claw falls
A cheerful, bright red sign past the Ke’anae peninsula informed us weary travelers that we were half way there and that the app notified us duly of the many attractions that lay ahead, one of them being the upper Waikani falls aka bear claw falls, so named because of the three adjacent streams that created a “claw” like impression. You can theoretically get all the way down to the falls for a swim as we saw a few people do, but since S and I are strictly comfortable on land, we decided to snap a few photos (you have to park on the other side of the bridge and them come back on the bridge to do so) and move on. The sight of the falls was a big consolation since we somehow missed the Lower Puohokamoa Falls owing to its hidden location (the upper Puohokamoa falls is reached via private property and the property owner does not allow visitors to pass through his land anymore). We also found some golden color coated pineapples (perhaps a ode to Maui’s famous gold bond pineapples) stacked neatly on a ledge somewhere here.
TRAVEL STOP # 8 Nahiku marketplace
Nahiku marketplace is the answer to your rumbling tummies once you are past the halfway mark. Lots of food stands selling fish tacos, thai food, smoothies, coconut candy and local merchandise will greet you as you pull into the adjacent parking spot. Fuel up here and say hi to the resident canine Louie!
TRAVEL STOP # 9 Waianapanapa State Park
Waianapanapa State Park is another must visit stop as a detour from the Hana highway for its famous water caves and the ridiculously beautiful black sand beach! The sand is black due to the volcanic soil and rocks, polished into small pebbles by seawater. A good place to stop or bathe or venture out to get dramatic ocean views and see the rocks jutting out from the middle of the ocean. This area also has several blowholes, but none of them were spouting sea water when we arrived. Also, a good place to get a bathroom break.
TRAVEL Stop # 10 HANA and beyond
Black sand beach is the last major stop prior to Hana, but that does not mean that you stop driving. A quick pit stop to get some ice lollies (local) near the Hana ranch store and you get back behind the steering wheel for the remaining attractions awaiting you down the highway.
You cannot and should not ignore Jeff Bridge’s assuring voice to make your detour for a quick visit to the two adjacent beaches of Koki and Hamoa and it’s a good thing that we did give in because these are gorgeous stretches of sand. At Koki beach, you can see a large hill with a single coconut tree jutting out from its peak. This is Ka Iwi o Pele (literally translates to “the bones of Pele”) which is believed to be the remains of the Volcanic goddess Pele after a violent battle with her sister, as per Hawaiian mythology. We zipped past Hamoa beach, did not stop by the fish ponds and instead continued with fervor towards the third waterfall.
TRAVEL Stop # 12 Wailua Falls
This stunning waterfall is extremely popular with all road to Hana drivers but the rain Gods had not yet bestowed their blessing on Maui and as a result we only saw a sad trickle of water caressing down the jagged rocks. So better luck to those who can make it this far in the rainy season and here is a photo of me smiling to mask my bitter disappointment.
TRAVEL Stop # 13 Oheo Gulch and the seven sacred pools
This is the final, and the most famous attraction of them all, which lies towards the end of Hana highway in Kipahulu. Much like the Crazy 88 from Kill Bill, the number “seven” is misleading as there are clearly not that many pools here (we literally saw the waterfall plunging into one big pool). Also, the Oheo Gulch and the pools are in the Haleakala national park and you have to pay the vehicle entry fee unless you are visiting within three days of watching the sunrise from the summit (read all about it on my previous post) and still have the receipt with you which is good for 3 days. The park has a short hiking trail (Kuloa trail/ 20 min roundtrip) to the lower waterfall and the pools, that are presently closed off due to sliding and falling rocks. There is a longer two mile Pipiwai trail that leads to the majestic Waimoku falls. With the sun beating down on us and the urgency to check into our Hana residence before 6 PM, we decided to take the short trail to this breathtaking view.
Post the gulch, the Hana highway ends somewhere near Kipahulu and then continues into volcanic back country as Pilani highway right into the region of Kaupo. Although there are a few attractions (notable is Charles Lindbergh’s grave in the Palapala Ho’omau Church Cemetery ) here as touted by enthusiastic folks on Trip advisor, you are advised not to venture out here, specially in a rented vehicle because the roads though navigable, still represent rough terrain. Furthermore, most rental companies bar you from visiting this part and if you try to navigate these unpaved roads, you will most likely be violating rental car agreements. We decided to take the app’s sage advice and turned back towards Hana.
Hana is a tiny town with very limited overnight stay options and unless you book in advance, the highly expensive Travasaa Hana resort might be your only remaining option. I prudently got a room in the friendly Heavenly Hana paradise cottage via Booking.com where we got a beautiful, homely room and an equally nice personal restroom in the cottage doubling up as a personal property of its friendly owner Dave. We had dinner at the nearby Hana ranch restaurant (be mindful of the fact that everything closes by 8:30 PM and there are only a few restaurants out there) and breakfast at the local’s favorite Barefoot cafe overlooking the beautiful Hana Bay, before heading out to the airport.
This brings me to the end of this post, which I hope is of use to you with information and suggestions as you embark on your drive to Hana. Remember, it is all about enjoying the journey and letting the road take you on a beautiful, serene ride in the lap of nature, something you will not find anywhere except in Maui. So no matter what the naysayers say, do not miss this trip for the world! Be careful, plan ahead, download the app and book an overnight stay in Hana. Do share with me your trip experience and thank you so much for stopping by!