The Ultimate Guide: Driving the Road to Hana
Some of the best times in my life have started on a whim and with a bottle of wine.
And my trip to Maui was no exception. . .
Hawaii began with a boozy casual phone conversation between 2 best friends from preschool. Basically, Jake and I needed to take a “bestie” trip but we had absolutely no idea where on earth to go. We just knew we wanted to hit the friendly skies together.
And having almost froze my a**, toes and fingers off (#reallife) in Iceland (which was ah-maaaaaazing), I quickly came to the realization of 1 very important thing . . .
I am not built for the cold (period).
Soooooooo, we had to go somewhere warm. This was non-negotiable.
A quick internet search of warm weather places with reasonably priced plane tickets later, we were headed to Maui, Hawaii (OGG) . . . aka paradise.
Truth is, as long as I can remember, I’ve always been captivated by the beauty and awesomely good vibes of our 50th state, Hawaii. And looking back now, I’m pretty sure Elvis, the Brady Bunch, Saved by the Bell, Magnum P.I. and any other movie or tv special filmed in paradise further contributed to my low-key obsession with Hawaii.
Before we knew anything else about our trip (I.e. where to stay, what to eat, how to get around), we knew that driving the Road to Hana was an absolute can’t miss and a must do when in Maui. And we were so down.
And because sharing is caring, I’m excited to share with you my complete route for driving the Road to Hana with all of our stops along the way, my tricks for beating all the traffic, tips for packing and more. My hope is that you fall in love with Maui and the Road to Hana as much as I have (if not more).
So without further ado . . .
This Guide Will Include:
- What is The Road to Hana?
- Things to Know Before You Go
- 2 Secrets to Beating Traffic When Driving the Road to Hana
- My Complete Itinerary
- Day 1
- Day 2
- Packing List for Driving the Road to Hana
What is the Road to Hana?
Without question, driving the Road to Hana is an absolute “must do”when visiting Hawaii’s island of Maui.
But . . .
Q. What exactly is the Road to Hana?
A. Hana is a small town nestled in the tropical mountains of Maui. And “the road” (aka. Hana Highway), is a narrow winding route leading you to/from Kahului to Hana town. When you combine the 2, the result is a gorgeous and breathtaking drive to Hana town. Along the way, you’ll see waterfalls, forests of bamboo, black sand beaches and more.
Are you ready to drive the Road to Hana?
Important Things to Know Before Driving the Road to Hana
- The Road to Hana is only 52 miles long, but it will take about 2-3 hours to drive straight through with no stops. Why? Because there are approximately 620 curves and 59 bridges twisting and turning up and down through mountainous terrain. So to say the Road to Hana is a bit curvy is an understatement. Which leads me to . . .
- Drive the speed limit. Trust me on this one. The average speed limit is 25 mph or less for a vast majority of the drive. While the thought of driving 15 mph for an extended period of time makes even the most patient of person uncontrollably anxious, consider navigating the countless blind curves and 1-lane 1-car bridges while endlessly winding up, down and around a mountain. Honestly, at times, 25 mph felt a bit swift.
- I strongly suggest breaking this drive down into 2 day trips. Honestly, the drive could be broken down into 3 days but we found 2 days to be ideal for our experience.
- To beat the traffic and the tour buses, start driving the Road to Hana early in the morning . . . like 7:30-8:00 am (depending upon when the sunrises). Yes, it’s early. BUT you’ll thank me later. *BONUS: The route below will help you beat the traffic even more!
- Be cognizant of the time when it gets dark each day. Unfortunately, the road to Hana doesn’t have any street lights. So when the sun goes down, it’s pitch black.
- As tempting as it might be, DO NOT drive the “backside” of the road to Hana. The backside is considered “unauthorized road” and is in violation of most rental car agreements. Meaning if you become stranded on one of the backside’s many unpaved, mudslide prone roads, you will be fully responsible for the cost of any rescue and repairs incurred. YIKES!
- Microclimates are real. They are not a myth and this is not a drill. Be prepared. During our drive, we experienced rain, cold, sun, heat and more all within the mere 54 mile stretch. So be prepared with an umbrella, sweater and a jacket.
- Everything is better in a Jeep. No seriously. There’s a reason why Hawaii is the land of Jeeps. There’s nothing like removing the top and driving the Road to Hana. It just makes the adventure that much more special. But be prepared . . . Jeep rentals aren’t cheap. Here’s how we saved over 70% on our Jeep rental.
- Please don’t be “that person” holding up traffic. Did you see a beautiful overlook or waterfall that is absolutely picture worthy? Be a courteous driver and pull over to capture that magic moment.
- Fill up your gas tank before you set out. If you are a quarter-of-a-tank-driving-with-the-gas-light-on warrior, now is not the time. The road to Hana is essentially rural and uninhabited for about 80% of the journey. So, gas stations are very very few far and in between. Don’t take any chances, gas up before you go.
- Don’t trespass. Although the beauty and thrill of discovering something off the beaten path may be tempting, please be respectful of the land and the people. Do not trespass.
- Pack water and snacks.
- Mosquito repellent . . . it’s not a suggestion. Pack it
- LOCK your vehicle and keep any valuables out of sight when you leave to explore some of the sights when driving the Road to Hana. You are on vacation, but criminals are not. Believe me, it happens. Unfortunately, we witnessed the aftermath of a fellow traveler who had their car broken into.
BONUS: Beware of chickens. What??!!! Yes, beware of wild and stray chickens. They are everywhere. In fact, they were responsible for causing a power outage while we were visiting. After traveling to Maui, I’m pretty convinced that this is where the “why did the chicken cross the road . . .” jokes all originated.
2 Secrets to Beating Traffic When Driving the Road to Hana
Because the Road to Hana is such a popular drive, traffic (sometimes gridlocked YIKES!) can become and issue. And don’t forgot the swarms of tour buses too. But who can blame them, the stops along the Road to Hana are such a must see.
If being stuck in traffic causes your anxiety to wanna come out and play, no worries because you are not alone. Have no fear because I’ve got some tips for you how we successfully beat the traffic. Keep reading . . .
- Start your journey early!!!! – It’s true, the early bird always gets the worm. This is by far my best piece of advice when sightseeing anywhere. Find out when the sun comes up and base your leaving time for sightseeing around this. I know it’s vacation but this is one of the only times, you’ll get to see sights virtually unobstructed and some of the best pictures are taken during the light of golden hour (within 1 hour of sunrise).
- Start your route in reverse order. – This is so important!!! Our human instinct is to drive to the closest sights first and work our way farther away from our starting location. This leads to ending up in traffic. So, what I’ve found is that driving to the farthest sight first and working your way back towards your starting location avoids most of the traffic.
My Complete Itinerary
This is the exact route we used each day for exploring the Road to Hana. Because cell phone reception is pretty spotty when driving the Road to Hana, I would strongly suggest downloading, screen shot-ing and/or possibly printing (old school style) a copy of these routes.
Along with the interactive Google maps (links below), I’ve also included GPS coordinates and mile markers too just to make triple sure you find the exact location.
Worth Noting: the mile markers when driving the Road to Hana are well . . . screwy. Meaning, they randomly start over somewhere around mile marker #16. Then after the town of Hana, they randomly jump to #51 and proceed to go backwards. So crazy. So in other words, don’t depend on the mile markers. Stick with the interactive Google maps (links above) and GPS coordinates I’ve provided as well.
Day 1 Map: http://bit.ly/2G8RPPt
Day 2 Map: http://bit.ly/2S72hgO
Rise and shine!
Carpe Diem and Let’s go!
A. Start: Kahului, HI
B. Each day we began our journey in Kahului, Maui and then ventured out from there. First stop, Nahiku Marketplace (20.7941° N, 156.0520° W; mile marker #29; found on your lefthand side). Nahiku Marketplace is a cute little roadside mini village of local vendors. Stop by for a cup of Hawaiian coffee, delicious locally grown fresh fruit or spit roasted chicken.
Insider Tip: there are no public restrooms available at Nahiku Marketplace just port-a-potties. So it’s a good idea to keep hand sanitizer and bathroom tissue on deck if you need to use their facilities.
C. Next up, Wailua Falls (20.6834° N, 156.0305° W) You know when you’ve reached this majestic waterfall as it can be seen from the road. Honestly, it’s easy to see why this waterfall is one of the most photographed in the world. A few parking spaces can be found across the street from the bridge and waterfall.
Insider Tip: The Wailua Falls waterfall is actually pretty easy to access; however, finding the entrance to the path can be a little tricky. The path can be accessed next to the yellow street sign (see picture). If you are going to get up close and personal with the waterfall (which I highly suggest), make sure to wear shoes with good traction (I did not) as the path could get a little muddy.
D. Drive just a little bit past Koki Beach (no worries, we are gonna stop at Koki Beach too) is Hamoa Beach (20.7195° N, 155.9876° W). Hamoa Beach with it’s salt and pepper colored sand has been selected at one of “Maui’s Best Beaches”.
E. Have you seen red sand before??? Koki Beach (20.7284° N, 155.9858° W; mile marker #51) is one of the most uniquely beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen because of its red sand. Imagine the red dirt of Oklahoma or Arizona in sand form. Crazy, right? Before visiting Koki Beach, I had no idea that red sand even existed. As beautiful as the beach is here, do not swim here. The rip tips are no joke. And if you need further confirmation, there are several signs posted warning visitors not to swim here as well.
Insider Tip: If you look off in the distance, towards the ocean, you’ll notice a mountain-like island with a few lone palm trees waving from its peak. This is ‘Ālau Island. Legend has it that Alau Island was formed after the gods pulled the islands from the sea to create Hawaii.
Photo Tip: Besides the unique red sands of Koki Beach, there are so many places to take pictures here. Here’s how to find 2 of my favorite places: In the parking lot (facing the beach), to the right is a grassy knoll. 1. In front of the grassy knoll (by the water) are massive lava rocks. This is a great place to take a picture with the waves crashing behind you annnnnnnnnd a great way to get a shot of ‘Ālau Island in the background. Boom! 2. To the direct right of the grassy knoll is a creek/stream area with awesome backlighting (depending upon the time of day) when standing in the stream.
F. Town of Hana (20.7575° N, 155.9884° W) Also known as “Heavenly Hana”. You’ve made it to Hana. Now check your gas tank and get some gas (if needed). Sit a spell, grab lunch, enjoy a local beer and just feel the breeze. But don’t get too comfortable because there’s one more stop on our journey today to see.
G. We just saw red sand at Koki Beach and now it’s time for black sand at Wai’anapnapa State Park (20.7865° N, 156.0027° W; 32). Never ever have I seen sand this deep deep shade of jet black before. It’s simply beautiful. Just make sure to wear flip flops or some sort of shoe because the black sand attracts heat and gets hot hot hot!
Insider Tip: Parking is a little far from the beach but trust me, the scenic walk up, down and around the path is so worth it. Just don’t forget to capture the view with a panoramic picture. When you get down to beach level, to the immediate right is a cave/hole. Don’t be afraid. As creepy and ill-advised as it sounds, go on in (if the tide is low). The view of the ocean in the sea cave plus the sky light is magical. Also, a little further down the beach, to the left, is a walking path. This walking path will take you to the top of the cliff to oversee the whole beach. The walk is fairly easy and the view is spectacular.
Let’s Go! Let’s Go!
. . . And don’t forget to bring your appetite.
A. Start: Kahului, HI
B. First stop, Mana Foods (20.9155° N, 156.3800° W; 49 Baldwin Ave, Paia, HI 96779) in Paia, HI. Let’s eat! Grab some great local foods, snacks, smoothies or a breakfast bowl at Mana Foods before your journey. I had a bowl of the homemade organic chicken chili and it was perfect way to start my day.
C. Moment of honesty here, after getting up close and personal with Wailua Falls, I wasn’t too thrilled about Pua’a Ka’a Falls (20.8167° N, 156.1258° W; mile marker #22). Pua’a Ka’a Falls is visible from the road and at first glance looks like the kiddie version of the mega rollercoaster at an amusement park buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut boy was I so so wrong. In fact, Pua’a Ka’a Falls are probably my favorite waterfalls (both the upper and lower falls) to frolic in. The upper falls will take a little bit of balance and careful foot placement to get across the stream. Listen, once you make it across you are home free.
Insider Tip: As soon as you cross the stream of the upper falls, there’s a path to take you to the top of the waterfall, IF you’d like to jump. I personally did not because, well . . . that’s not my thing. Also, don’t sleep on the lower waterfall as well. If you want to get up close and personal with the lower waterfall, head to the left towards the lagoon. There will be visible rocks underwater that you can use for a pathway.
D. Let’s eat (again) at Halfway to Hana (20.8536° N, 156.1424° W) Halfway to Hana is a cute little stand offering snacks, hotdogs, batteries and Hawaiian shaved ice. That’s fine and all but don’t get distracted from the real MVP, the banana bread.
Insider Tip: DO NOT (I repeat) DO NOT SKIP the banana bread sundae. It’s pretty much life changing and I’m confident you’ll thank me later. Worth Mentioning: They only take cash; however, there is an onsite ATM if needed.
E. Ke’anae Arboretum (20.8575° N, 156.1493° W; mile marker #17) This place was eerie and magical all at the same time . . . if you can find it. Please use the GPS coordinates and mile markers listed above. There really isn’t an official sign announcing you are at Ke’anae Arboretum, just a farm-looking gate and a small sign directly across from 4-6 parking spaces. Quite frankly it it hadn’t have been for the other cars parked and people leaving and entering the gated area, I legit would’ve thought we were trespassing. And in writing this now, I’m totally kicking myself because I should’ve taken a picture of the gate for y’all. SORRY!
When you find the entrance (and I believe in you and know you can), you’ll be greeted by a long tree lined pathway. Once you’ve entered the arboretum, be prepared to see blocks of bamboo, a beautiful stream and tall unbelievable rainbow bark eucalyptus trees. If you can catch the rainbow eucalyptus trees at the right time, here’s how amazing they can look.
Insider Tip: DO NOT forget to apply bug spray before leaving your car annnnnnnnnnnd DO NOT forget to lock your car and hide all of your belongings. Unfortunately, this is the site where we witnessed the aftermath of a fellow traveler who had their car broken into.
F. Ke’anae Penisula (20.8647° N, 156.1489° W; mile marker #16) is a great way to see “old Hawaii”. Beautiful blue blue ocean waters, lava rock, taro fields and a stone church round out this traditional peaceful Hawaiian village.
G. Just Remember: Calories don’t count on vacation. Huelo Lookout (20.9003° N, 156.2208° W; between mile marker #4-5) and Thank God because the homemade coconut candy was sooooooooo good. In fact, the coconut candy was just that good that I don’t have a picture of the candy or with it because well, I ate it all (#notembarrassed not at all).
Insider Tip: From smoothies to fresh fruit and coconuts, practically anything you order here is going to be good. Just don’t forget to grab a bag (or 2 or 3) or coconut candy for me. Thanks!
Thanks so much for stopping by and reading. I truly enjoyed Maui and I hope you will too. Feel free to leave comments below on your experience, your tips, tricks and any stops you recommend when driving the Road to Hana. Or just to say “hi”, I don’t bite (as long as I’m properly fed).
And if you found value in what I shared, share it with a friend, save it, or pin it. I greatly appreciate the love and as always, sharing is caring.
-XOXO (as always)
Photography by: Jake Palenske (yup, that’s my bestie) & Me
Photo Editing by: Yours Truly