Over a million people visit Maui each year. Many choose to stay on the west or south end of the island and never adventure far from their resort area. But don’t overlook the famed Road to Hana. Depending on your adventure meter, it could be your greatest life adventure.
There is a reason it is called the “road” to Hana. The journey to Hana and beyond is all about the road, the single lane bridges, and the many hikes, waterfalls and trails on the journey. Hana town is just one of many stops along the way to the Haleakala National Park and beyond. The “7 Sacred Pools” that most visitors hear about is beyond Hana and the pools themselves are beautiful but rarely accessible.
If you are considering taking the Road to Hana challenge, use this article as a starting point to educate yourself about the whole journey. Know what sights you want to see along the way. In addition to this article, buy a couple other books on Maui or Hana, take notes and make a list of what you think sounds interesting. I have done this trip numerous times as a young single traveler, as a mom and wife with husband and three kids in tow, and as a girlfriend getaway. There is truly something for everyone. You just have to be willing to get a little muddy, deal with the potential for carsick kids and know that a stop at a Starbucks or Chick-fil-A, will not be an option.
If you are thinking of only going for one day on the Road to Hana, either don’t do it, or only do the first half. I usually recommend a minimum of two nights, but three to four is my recommendation to fully enjoy the experience. Don’t underestimate the potential for motion sickness. But don’t let the thought deter you, just take it seriously. My tips will include view stops, hikes, and areas to get out of the car to break this trip into many little adventures, so hopefully you won’t even have time to think about being sick.
RECOMMENDED TRAVEL GUIDES:
GyPsy Guide Maui FIT app, – I used this on my most recent trip and it was worth every penny. The GPS guide worked well even with limited cell service. You’ll especially love it if you’re a history nut. It does a great job of telling you about upcoming stops and what to look for to find the trailhead or waterfall.
Hana Highway Mile by Mile (HHMBM) – This is a must purchase guidebook. You will find it to be detailed and accurate. Use this book to keep all your notes because it’s small and lightweight and easy to carry with you.
ROUTE STARTING POINTS
So let’s get going on this journey! You have a few options. The first option is to make Hana your first stop, stay a few nights and then make your way to a resort on the west or south side with the mindset you have earned a few days at the pool with cocktail in hand. In this case, you should land in Kahului, collect your baggage, rental car and make a stop at a grocery store for food and water. You will also want to pack your bags so that you are ready to make some stops on your way to your lodging. Have your suits and other essentials ready for your stops. I would put any valuables in your backpack and take them with you when you leave your car. I have never experienced theft on Maui, but I do know others who have. I didn’t pack an iPad or computer on my last trip knowing we would be carrying all valuables and honestly I didn’t miss them!
The second option is to fly in and do your resort stop first, then get up early for your trip to Hana. I have done it both ways and would probably recommend this option. You will be more likely to do more stops and hike without the long flight prior to the drive.
ROAD TO HANA HIGHLIGHTS
In general, I haven’t provided detailed information about how to find each stop unless I have more information to add to Hana Highway Mile By Mile’s descriptions.
I am going to start my recommendations after Paia, Hookpia Beach, and Twin Falls. All of those are within a pretty easy drive.
Day 1 – Stop 1: Garden of Eden Botanical Arboretum (mile marker 10). By now, you’ve been on the road for a while and you will likely need to get out and stretch your legs and use the bathroom. There is an entrance fee of $15.00 per person. I think you will agree that this is the perfect first stop. The flowers and trees are stunning and all marked with names so you will actually feel better informed of the flowers you will be seeing during the rest of your stay. The various lookout points are impressive and expansive. The Jurassic Park rock view is a garden highlight. You might want to have a packed lunch ready so after a good walk through the grounds you can take a break at one of the picnic tables. Warning: you might have to fight off a few peacocks. Save a piece of bread to throw to the ducks to get them out of your way on the way out.
Day 1 Stop 2: Ke’anae Peninsula (mile marker 16). Follow the road down to the tip of the peninsula. There is parking near a local park that also has bathrooms. Be sure to take a moment to read about the interesting and sad history that has taken place here. The highlight is the crashing surf and view up the coastline. There is a church that borders the park that is sadly in at state of disrepair. They could use your donation.
Day 1 Stop 3: The Sapphire Pools, AKA Ching’s Pond, just beyond the Ke’anae Peninsula (mile marker 16). You can read the description offered in “Hana Highway Mile by Mile” and I will add that as you approach the bridge, park on the right side of the road on the turnout. You will need your suit, towel, water shoes and camera for this stop. The bridge will be 15 yards in front of you. Park safely, then walk across the street and look for the break in the rail guard. People have put stickers on the rail guard where you enter the trail. Hike a short way down a somewhat steep trail and you soon arrive at the edge of the stream and pond. The rock ledge up on the right below the bridge is where you can jump into the pool. Be sure to know about flash flooding in the area before you go. The threat is real. Search “Maui flash flood” on YouTube.com. It may scare you from ever going near one of the waterfalls or streams, but I suggest you read the weather reports and keep your adventure meter on high and go enjoy a cool swim! This is a great stop to cool down in the water before you head back onto the highway.
Day 1 Stop 4: Three Bears Falls (mile marker 19). Beautiful view of the falls from the bridge and great photo op for the family! It’s a short hike down to the falls. It looks like the ocean (Makai) side of the bridge was the easiest route to the falls.
That concludes day one! Next stop is your place of lodging! We normally have stayed right in the center of Hana during our vacations. There are only a few options listed on Expedia or like websites. Be sure to look at VRBO.com options. I found a great VRBO spot during our last visit. It’s called Hana by the Bay. It’s a two bedroom, two bathroom flat that is the lower level of a private home. Just a small peek-a-boo view of the ocean, but well stocked, clean and the hostess was fantastic. That is just one of many we considered. We have also stayed at the Hana Kai Maui, in a privately owned condo on the ocean. We enjoyed leaving the windows open and sleeping to the sounds of the ocean. The Travassa Hotel is the obvious nicest hotel in town. Even if you stay elsewhere (why wouldn’t you when you will be out on adventures all day?) go to the Travassa restaurant or bar for a beautiful setting and excellent food. If you need a six-pack of cold beer or bottle of wine, cheese and crackers, stop by the Hasegawa Store. Be sure to also grab your “I survived the road to Hana” t-shirt and one of the locally made coconut, macadamia bars. Wow, what a pick-you-up after a long hike.
Day 2- Stop 1: Get up early! Be the first to arrive! Make the drive out to the Haleakala National Park (mile marker 42) for your viewing of the Ohe’o Pools (7 Sacred Pools). Hopefully you will have the option to swim in the pools. The last two visits I have made the falls and pools were closed to swimming due to high rainfall, or because the water meters upcountry were not functioning properly.
But the real highlight of this stop is the Pipiwai Trail! Get your daypack ready with walking stick, water, food, water shoes and camera. This is a four-mile round trip hike. It took us roughly 2.5 hours RT at a pretty leisurely steady pace, with many stops for pictures and a 30-minute break at the waterfall for a snack and foot soak in the stream. The first half of the trail is gorgeous, but when you get to the bamboo forest you have reached the most interesting portion of the trail. DON’T turn back before the bamboo forest. As you walk through the bamboo forest, stop and listen to the sounds of the bamboo poles hitting each other. I hope the wind is blowing for you. Waimoku Falls is the final destination and the height of the falls is impressive! Upon your return is the time to see if the Ohe’o pools are open for swimming. A perfect way to cool down and clean the mud off your legs.
Day 2 Stop 2: From this point, you have a choice to continue on to Lindbergh’s gravesite (HHMBM gives it a 3 star, I agree). Interesting stop, but if you are looking for more adventure, skip this one. My next recommended stop is on the way back to Hana: Venus Pool (mile marker 48). This stop many books disagree about and strangely enough even our family has strong opinions one way or the other. But I find this one a must see! Read all the guide remarks about this stop and then knowing in 2016, at the time of the blog, the property owners have no problem with you walking through the pasture on the way to the pool. The Venus Pool is at the end of a stream that is lined with large round boulders. At times the stream has had a lot of rain and the pool is full and basically blends right into the ocean, and at times the pool is separated from the ocean with a small beach area. This is how we found it when we arrived. After a short walk we arrived at the Venus Pool and two family members hiked down and around the pool to the ocean and three of us hiked to the ledge where you can jump into the pool and swim across. Our family rule: feet first! I have seen some crazy videos of locals doing some wild dives into the pool and on a clear water day if you can see the bottom this might be in order, but for us the water was not clear and we were unsure of the depth, so we jumped off a rock and swam across to the ocean. The ocean was crashing onto the shore and the pool was a protected millpond. There is also a stunning view up the coastline. We then swam back across and hiked up stream and finally back to the car. You can make this about an hour’s stop or longer if you have some jumpers.
Day 2 Stop 3: Hamoa Beach. End day two at Hamoa Beach. I love this crescent shaped sandy beach. It has some good body surfing. The bottom is pretty shallow and sandy and so you will either enjoy playing in the surf or enjoying watching others in the surf. This is when you pull out your ice chest of cold drinks and spend the rest of the day relaxing in true paradise. Consider grabbing some Braddah Hutts BBQ Grill to eat at the beach with a cold Bikini Blonde ale, if so, you are speaking my language.
Day 3 Stop 1: Get up early! To be in the car and ready to go by 9:00 am is good enough. I can’t stress this enough, beat the crowd each day and be the first to the beach for the afternoon sun. First Stop: Wai’anapanapa State Park (mile marker 32). We are heading back towards Kahului this morning, but only a 10-minute drive from Hana. The beauty of this State Park is beyond words. Take the time to see all it has to offer and do one of the suggested hikes along the shoreline. I suggest going early because then you will have the black sand beach all to yourselves, or the viewing of the blowhole with no one else in your picture frame. This is a photographer’s dream location.
Day 3 Stop 1: The Red Sand Beach, in Hana Town. Follow the directions in HHMBM, park on the street facing the correct direction. You should be parked facing the community center with a grass field on your right. Look across the grass field and you will notice light poles along the right side of the field. Walk toward the 2nd light pole there you will see the trail to the beach. There is an upper and a lower trail, stay toward the lower trail along the beach. The trail will take you along the beach and then it starts to climb up and around the hill. As you come around the corner the trail is narrow and the view starts to open to the Red Sand Beach. This is a spectacular sight! The turquoise blue washing up on the red sand beach is breathtaking! You do have to be careful swimming here. The surf can be very large and dangerous but it is worth the effort to get out to this beach, it’s unlike anything we had ever seen on Maui.
From here you can do the drive all the way along the backside of the island and come through Upcountry back to the resort areas of Maui, or make the trip back the way you came through Kahului. The highway around the back is much less curvy, and the ocean views are stunning. You may make your choice which direction to travel by whether or not you made Hana your first stop or at the end of your visit to Maui.
These are my Hana highway highlights. I have yet to visit all points of interest mentioned in the guidebooks, but I plan to. Use these as a starting point, and remember to do your own research and planning and add to or delete as your interests guide you. Aloha!
WHAT TO PACK
In addition to your basic food and water supplies bring bug spray, a collapsible walking stick, lightweight backpack, shoes for hiking, shoes for water and a cheap lightweight beach towel. Also, think about a GoPro or waterproof camera and underwater flashlight. I mentioned shoes for water because the trails can be wet and muddy and you may need to cross a stream or make your way into one of the pools below a waterfall.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julie Roy Larsen
I lived on Maui in 1989 having just graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in English, with a writing concentration. My dream job was as a travel writer, but to date I have only written many travel suggestions for friends and family and many a personal travel journal. I enjoyed my year on Maui but the real world called and I returned to Washington State knowing I would visit Maui as often as possible. After marrying and traveling to many parts of the world with my husband, we fulfilled our dream of owning on Maui and purchased a vacation rental, www.vrbo.com/245066. Maui has become my passion. Seeking new adventures on the island with my husband and three children has become my favorite pastime. As the manager of our vacation rental I offer advice and suggestions to all our guests in hopes that they too will seek adventures on Maui.