The Road to Hana

July 7, 2016

The Road to Hana ranks as one of our top three activities we have ever done if only for the beautiful views and uniqueness. But first a few quick notes.

Time. Many people drive the Road to Hana for only a portion of the way or go in a single day to and from Hana. However, this does not do justice to just how beautiful the sights beyond Hana are – where a day-trip will not leave you much time (or any time). If you have to do a day trip, we have highlighted the best stops but recommend considering spending two nights in Hana as it will be well worth it.

Early Start. If you stayed in Paia, you have the added advantage of leaving before the crowds. If not, arrive early if you can, starting the drive around 7:30.

Driving. Please note, there are over 500 turns on the Road to Hana (many hairpin or blind corners) and over 60 one-lane bridges. We did not find it that harrowing but you want to be sure you have a confident driver. There will be times when you are less than an inch from another car and there will be rain (more on that later).

Crime. There are often reports of small crimes (broken car windows, stolen items, etc.) Nothing serious but valuables should be hidden and doors should be locked at all stops. We did not have any issues at all. However, one of the first stops is Twin Falls. Given what we had read about small crimes, we had an odd experience at this first stop. Several visitors seemed to be waiting in their cars. It was unnerving, so we came back without making the hike. It could have been nothing, but it would make sense to have more crime at this stop as it is close to town and not too far down the road. And you will see so many waterfalls on this trip, it’s not necessarily a must stop anyway.

Maps or Apps. There are books and maps available all requiring you to flip through instructions, watch mile markers (which go up and down repeatedly) and probably involve some yelling at each other as you miss turns. Therefore, we recommend the “GyPSy Guide – Road to Hana” app. The GyPSy guide uses your phone’s GPS signal to tell you every turnout and option as you drive. Even better, it does not matter if you have a cell signal. Your phone always maintains a GPS position so it can find the next tower – so even without a signal, the app keeps you on track the entire way. We even began to refer to the narrator as “The Dude” in reference to a cross between Sam Elliott and Jeff Bridges in the Big Lebowski. You can also use the Guide to tell you more about Hawaii as you travel the island if you get the full Maui app. We enjoyed it as it had fun items such as explaining how to speak Hawaiian (pronouncing every vowel without blending them) and the history of Hawaii and King Kamehameha.

As for the trip itself, our children were quite disappointed to hear all we were doing was driving to Hana. Yet by the end of the day, they were jumping in and out of the car at every stop. As our youngest explained it, “it’s like a scavenger hunt!”

We won’t go into every stop as there are just too many, but we did list our top stops in the chart below in Blue and then secondary stops in Bold. If you did only the Blue items, you would still have an amazing trip. These are all covered in the app but with an extra day, you can really enjoy spending time at the various beaches and trails – and get the experience of Old Hawaii.

Our first big stop was Garden Of Eden Arboretum. It costs $20 per adult if I remember correctly and is a great way to see all of Hawaii’s plant life in one setting, as well as the view of the large rock island featured at the beginning of Jurassic Park.

Aunty Sandy’s is our next must stop. It is a small storefront which specializes in banana bread. My husband asked for butter and they told him they use so much butter in the recipe they don’t need it. And they were right. They are small loaves so we purchased three extras for breakfast in the mornings or as snacks, along with Melon Shave Ice and fresh pineapple slices. They also serve lunch and we would recommend eating lunch here as well. (The next best option for lunch is Nahiku MarketPlace further down the road. There are good reviews of the BBQ stand but it is only open certain days and it took well over an hour to get fish and chips and fried rice from another stand which was not particularly great.)

The Ke’anae Peninsula right down from Aunt Sandy’s is spectacular with sky blue water crashing upon black volcanic rock on all sides erupting ten or twenty feet into the air above you. With the Ke’anae Congregational Church right behind you made entirely of rock and coral, it is all very surreal.

Wai’anapanapa State Park is a black sand beach. It can be a bit rough on the feet and hands but the kids will love playing in the large crashing blue waves surrounded by jet black sand and rocks. Please note, the currents and riptides can be very strong so swimming is an at risk endeavor. But we would recommend planning to spend at least an hour here.

After all of the stops, you have a chance to visit Hamoa Beach in the afternoon for swimming. It is consistently rated as one of the top beaches in the world. Yet, it is so remote it is not busy. The waves are immense – often taller than our kids (and one is quite tall) but at the same time made body surfing and boogie boarding very easy. We liked it so much we spent the following afternoon there as well.

The Travaasa hotel is a bit of an experience as well. After a long day of driving, we were greeted by a nice gentleman who helped with our bags. He had to be at least 50 years old and explained he was the third generation of his family to work at the hotel. The hotel is beautiful yet retains a rustic feel. There is no air conditioning so rooms are set up with window screens to allow the breeze to blow through the room in the evenings. And there are no TV’s so you have to spend time enjoying the pools, table tennis and grounds. There is also a lively bar area with live music on some nights frequented by locals and guests from other hotels. And there is no tipping (other than food) which they inform you at check in.

If you do stay at the Travaasa Hana, they also have boogie boards you can take to Hamoa beach the next day (and shuttles if you would like) as well as a beach station for water; private bathrooms; changing areas and chairs/umbrellas.

Dining in Hana is let’s say – very difficult. This is not a destination for fine dining or foodies. We ordered room service the first night and had banana bread the next day for breakfast.

But being in Hana allows you to leave early the next morning to see Wailua Falls with almost no one around along the road. And then over to the Oheo Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools) and Pipiwai Trail when it is still cool and the parking lot is empty. You can sometimes swim in the pools but the water was high when we visited, so we could not on this particular day. It only takes a few minutes to tour the area and see the series of falls coming down into various pools.

The Pipiwai Trail is perfect in the morning as there are only a few other people on the trail. It is a four mile round trip (up and back) which starts in grassy trails and then through an immense bamboo forest boardwalk and finally out to the Wailua Falls – which will be the most amazing waterfalls you will see on the entire journey. It is also a rain forest so it is hot and humid. Think of Houston plus New Orleans – so we highly recommend taking a lot of water.

Another advantage of arriving early is you will be there before the helicopters began to arrive flying passengers over the falls. They create a lot of noise – so an early morning hike is the best way to see them quietly and without the crowds.

This left us a second afternoon in Hana. Most dining in Hana is composed of food trucks so we stopped for lunch at Braddah Hutts BBQ Grill for kalua pork and chicken tacos. However, another dining option is Troy’s at Kiko Beach which comes highly rated. After lunch there is time to shop in town and make your way back to Hamoa Beach to relax in the afternoon. In the evening, you can swim in the hotel pool overlooking the ocean and have dinner at the Hana Ranch Restaurant.

The next morning we had breakfast at the Surfin Burro food truck with breakfast tacos and bagels and cream cheese (a nice touch of Texas). And then we were able to head back to the Waiʻanapanapa State Park well before the Road to Hana crowds arrived to explore the beach, blow-hole and Lava Tubes by ourselves.

If you like photography, you should also take a slight detour further down the road and visit the Kahanu Garden and Pi’ilanihale Heiau which is the largest Polynesian Temple on the islands.

And then it was back through Paia and on to Wailea to the dry side of the island.

The north side of Maui gets twelve feet of rain per year (yes, twelve feet not inches) as the clouds run into the volcano and build up storm systems. This means the south side of the island gets almost no rain and can feel almost desert-like with the occasional cactus. This is why many of the bigger hotels are located in Wailea with sunnier days and large outdoor pools.

And for more details on surrounding areas see our full itinerary for Maui or destination notes for Paia, Wailea or Kapalua.

Ho’okipa lookout MM9 – Quick and Easy.  Worth Stopping to watch the surfers for a few minutes.
Eucalyptus Trees MM7 – Skip – Very crowded and you are trespassing.  You can see these later at the Ke’anae Arboretum.
Waikamoi Ridge Trail MM 9.5 – Worth a few minutes if you want a short, quick hike up to a view of waterfalls and first views of rain forest.
Garden Of Eden Arboretum  MM 10 – Bit expensive ($20 per adult if I recall) but worth your time if you have it to see all the various types of plants and trees on the island.  Gardens and views below of the small island in the opening sequence of Jurassic Park.
Kaumahina State Wayside Park MM 12 – Skip
Honomanu Bay MM 14 – Skip unless you just want a quick photo.
Ke’anae Arboretum MM 16 – Good stop.  Free and not as big as Garden of Eden but worth spending some time seeing the rainbow eucalyptus trees, moss-covered walls and trees and exotic plants – as well as stretching your legs.
Aunty Sandy’s, Ke’anae Peninsula Detour North of the main road.  Must Stop.  Amazing banana bread, shaved ice and pineapple slices.  Head to the end of the road to see amazing views of black volcanic rocks with blue waves crashing against them, as well as the Keanae Congregational Church made entirely of rocks and coral.  You’ll spend some time on this point just enjoying the views.
Wailua Valley State Wayside MM 18 – Skip
Upper Waikani Falls MM 19 – Three Bears Falls.  Tough parking but worth the effort to stop and see on the side of road.
Pua’a Kaa State Wayside Park MM 22 – Great stop for the kids to swim if the water is not too high.  By this time they’ll want to get in some water.
Hanawai Falls MM 24 – Skip
Nahiku Ti Gallery and Coffee Shop MM 27 – 28 – Debatable.  Takes a REALLY long time to get food (think well over an hour).  If we had to do again, we’d skip eating here and eat at lunch at Aunt Sandy’s.
Nahiku MarketPlace MM 29 – Skip unless you want to try coconut candy which is quite interesting.
Hana Lava Tube MM 31 – Skip.  You can see Lava tubes at the Wai’anapanapa State Park.  They are smaller so this is only worth it if you want to go down into one.
Kahanu Garden MM 31 – Good stop if you like taking photos.  Beautiful area and Polynesian Temple.
Wai’anapanapa State Park MM 32 – A highlight of the tour.  Black sand beaches.  You could spend well over an hour here with kids.
Hana Town MM 34
Hamoa Beach MM 50 – Rated one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Koki Beach MM 51 – Skip.  This is a surfer beach with very strong currents not recommended for casual swimmers.
Wailua Falls MM 45
Oheo Gulch, Pipiwai Trail MM 42 – Seven sacred pools and Pipiwai trail leading to Waimoku Falls.  Amazing but you won’t have time for the hike if you are only doing a day trip and stopping along the way.
Palapala Ho’omau Church MM 41 – Peaceful and good photos so we enjoyed it but not a must stop.



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