The Road to Hana is a famous one. Full of twists and turns – over 600 curves in all – and 54 one-lane bridges, the Hana Highway was once an activity only for the intrepid driver. More and more, visitors to Maui are looking to escape the tourist mania of West Maui and think that driving this crazy road is a good way to do it. The outcome, of course, is dangerous driving conditions, crowded roadside stops, and a slew of cassettes and CD guides to the Hana Highway.
This said, the coast that the road follows is a beautiful one. Although I don’t think it is any more or less impressive than other coastal drives. Many say that a trip to Hana is more about the journey than the destination, but I disagree. In my humble opinion, the stressful drive is only worth it if one plans to spend some time in peaceful Hana. My Lonely Planet guidebook says that "you won’t have to save too much time for sleepy Hana, since there’s not much there at the end of the road." Read my Heavenly Hana and Where to Get Wet in Hana journals to find out why LP is wrong on this one!
To drive the Road to Hana, drive east out of Kahului on Highway 36. After going through the funky town of Pa’ia (good place to pick up last minute snacks and information), the road goes past the famous windsurfing beach Ho’okipa. Farther east the road turns into road 360 and stays rural until Hana.
I recommend an early start on the Hana Highway to beat the crowds. But others seem to be following this same advice, so even the early morning hours can be busy along the road. The drive takes about two hours without stops, but there are some worthy sights along the way:
Mile Markers 9 to 11 – this stretch of road has a number of stop to look at small waterfalls. Choose which one to stop at by your ability to safely park.
Mile Marker 14 – Honomanu Bay. Take the small dirt road just after crossing the bridge. Not safe to swim, but very scenic.
Mile Marker 17 – Keanae Peninsula Lookout. The Keanae Peninsula is large and flat, and is primarily a quiet farming area. Keanae village does not have much in the way of tourist attractions, but the lookout gives great views of taro patches and animal pastures.
Mile Marker 22.5 – Puaa Kaa State Wayside Park. Waterfalls, swimming hole, restrooms, telephone, picnic tables.
Mile Marker 29 – Nahiku Ti Gallery & Café. Actually, it is the barbeque stand next to the gallery which is a must. Make sure to try a fish kabob (very yummy!) and some taro or breadfruit. The fruit stand has good selection, but somewhat expensive.
From this point, you are just about in Hana, where you will best spend your time at Kahanu Gardens, Waianapanapa State Park, Hana Cultural Center, and Hamoa Beach. See my other Hana journals for details.
It is possible to continue on past Hana to Kipahulu area of Haleakala National Park and on even further in a loop back to West Maui. Most car rental agencies forbid driving past Kipahulu, as the road is gravel and sometimes washes out. Four-wheel drive is best for this, but I have seen passenger cars make the drive. I would say that it is a bit ambitious to try to include Kipahulu in a day trip to the east side. If you want to see this area, it is best to book a night or two in Hana and take your time rather than trying to rush.
Please, drive slowly and carefully on the Hana Highway. If you see local vehicles, please let them pass and let them cross one-lane bridges first. Gaining 10 minutes is not worth compromising safety. And no matter how safe you drive, there will plenty of others on the road who will scare you. Finally, take snacks and beverages with you, as there are not many places to stop along the way.