DRIVING IN MAUI AND THE ROAD TO HANA
Getting to the airport, security lines, layovers and feverishly counted hours on a plane and you’ve finally made it to Maui.
Now you can relax. Except now there are so many things to see and do. Exploring in a car in Maui actually has it’s own level of stress. The narrow roads often have little or hard to understand signage. Intermittent wifi and cell reception mingle with the often chaotic traffic. Locals commuting to and from work coupled with thousands of lost visitors can make driving in Maui stressful. Luckily the best thing about driving in Maui is that it’s beautiful wherever you go and rarely is it difficult to find a beach or park to pull into when you’ve decided you’ve gone far enough.
Having lived in Maui for close to two decades I can tell you that the roads have improved a lot over the last few years. The divided four lane expansion of Mokulele Highway running between Kahului and Kihei was completed 2008 and in 2012 Maui’s first roundabout was built in Kihei. These are much needed upgrades for sure, but the best advice I could give you about driving in Maui is to leave early, be patient, slow down and use the “Shaka”. For the residents this “hang loose” hand symbol is waved for everything from lane mergers to stop signs. Be sincere and use it generously. You may find traffic, and your vacation, suddenly running smoothly.
Depending on where you’re from you may also find that driving in Maui is quite pleasantly different. It can be quite adventurous with amazing views. I especially enjoy the roads in the upcountry area which includes Haleakala Highway, Kula Highway, Olinda Road and Piiholo Road.
Highway 30 running from Kahului to Lahaina is well kept and widened in recent years. It is best to avoid being on this road during the two daily rush hours of approximately 8-9am and 3-5pm weekdays. Aside from the rare road closure due to brush fires or car accidents this road has plenty of beauty with fantastic scenery. The Papawai Scenic Lookout is a parking area along the Pali. It sits high on a cliff and overlooks two neighbor islands plus the slopes of Haleakala. The sunsets and whale watching from here are excellent. There are also plenty of surf spots up and down this coastline because of the shallow reef. Snorkeling here is great too but whether you snorkel or surf be careful… this shallow reef is fragile and very sharp!
Of course one of the most famous and adventurous drives on the planet, much less the island of Maui, is the Road to Hana. Without compare it can be the highlight of any Hawaiʻi vacation. However, with over 600 hairpin turns and some 50 plus one lane bridges, it is not for the squeamish. Those who live here know that the road to Hana is not just a road with great views. The road to Hana is a road trip back to the ways of old Hawai’i; it’s a lifestyle that is centuries old yet it has fairly modern attributes if you know where to look. For all of us who live on the island Hana is a heavenly place to recharge and relax, but few wish to drive it themselves.
That’s why we go in groups. I know I’m always looking for someone to do the driving on the road to Hana so I can take pictures and enjoy the scenery along the way.
If you’re visiting on vacation the road to Hana can feel more like the road to !#%*. This white knuckled road of blind corners narrows to one lane along steep cliffs and can feel like you’re playing chicken on every one lane bridge (who goes next, you or me?). Add to this all the other visitors not sure where there going or stopping in the middle of the road or bridges for pictures and it can become a real mess of a road trip. If you do drive it your own it’s helpful to learn some road to Hana etiquette – like keeping in mind to always let the residential traffic pass. This road is the lifeline for the community out here so just pull over and show some Aloha to the hard working people who live in Hana.
Another challenge with this road is with so much to see it’s hard to know the timing of stops. “Should we stop at this waterfall/wayside/overlook/fruit stand, or keep going to the next one?” Sure, you can get a map, GPS, guide book and the audio CD, but then you could easily get distracted by all that stuff. How? Well when the wi-fi doesn’t work, the mile marker is missing and the guidebook sends you down a road that’s been gated you may start to use the term “road to !#%*”.
Until you’ve done the road to Hana a few times, it’s difficult to know where to stop and how much time to allow for a particular stop. If the timing is off you could end up driving back on this winding jungle road in the dark. It really does take some planning. Or you could just book a Hana tour and be done with it.
I highly recommend considering a road to Hana tour. Having a professional guide do the driving plus share stories of
life and culture of the whole island is worth every penny. What you will learn about the history and lifestyle of Maui can be compared to reading 5 or 6 books about the island, all in one day! This truly is the best way to get your bearings about Maui and the road to Hana in a safe and comfortable environment.
Either way you owe it to yourself to get out on the road to Hana however you can. This is one of the top 5 scenic drives in the WORLD and should not be missed!
Aloha Nui Loa