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a rocky beach next to a body of water

Road To Hana Tips To Fill Your Journey With Aloha

It wasn’t the Hawaiʻi tourism industry that introduced the world to the concept of Aloha, it was the ancient Hawaiians. The word Aloha has been romanticized into a commercial punchline for enticing visitors to this incredibly beautiful place. People all around the world know that this word  represents Hawai’i and means hello or goodby. But this word means so much more to the Hawaiian people and their culture.

In regards to visitors driving the road to Hana the kettle is starting to boil over with residents who live along this road and see an estimate 400,000 people per year traveling the Hana Highway. We want to provide some helpful road to Hana travel tips for visitors that you can use to help show your Aloha for the residents who live in this incredibly beautiful part of Maui.

a sign on the side of a road

Almost every year the Maui visitor market has seen a record number of visitors and this trend is expected to continue. The residents who feel “lucky we live Maui” have plenty of Aloha for visitors, but with larger numbers of arrivals it can begin to feel frustrating. A half hour commute becomes two hours. Traffic snarls, lines form in stores, beaches are crowded and the residents quiet island lifestyle starts to feel threatened. It is even more so for the residents who live or grew up on the remote and quiet Hana side.

Recently many Hana residents have been frustrated with the sheer volume of visitors. They understand that people pay a lot of money to come here and feel as though they should be able to do as they please. But that’s no reason to disrespect the people who live here with crazy mainland driving and attitude. Leave that stuff at home – that’s why you’re on vacation right?…to “get away” from the rat race!

a car parked on the side of a road

Of course there is good and bad in everyone and if you come to the island with a calm respect for the people and take some time to learn about the culture of Maui, you can and will experience some real Aloha. But if you come with a google map and an app on your phone thinking you’ve read the best guidebook and facebooked fellow travelers enough to know where you’re going and what to do…think again.

a close up of a street sign with trees in the background

I’ve been traveling and photographing the road to Hana for over 20 years. I was recently able to stay 4 days on a wonderful property in Hana. The house was classic Hana style 3 bedroom with a screened in porch all on the 2nd floor. It’s one of the best ways to experience the lifestyle and culture of old Hawai’i.

a fire hydrant next to a palm tree

To spend a full day and night, much less two or three nights in Hana is an immersion into the culture. The crazy turns of this Highway and all the people who drive it every day melts away into a quiet, peaceful place….

a group of palm trees on a beach near a body of water

…until the madness rolls in again. What is this madness? Disrespectful visitors. You may not even know you’re one of them. Let’s face it, you’ve probably never seen or driven anything like this road in your life. The number of stops and things to see, including the black sand beach at Waianapanapa, which means “glistening waters”, can be confusing because of the diversity and size of the area. Even though you may have read plenty of online reviews and advice it still may not prepare you for the realities of driving it with all the other visitors who are on this crazy twisting road.

a truck that is driving down the street

A 20 ton dump truck on a blind corner. People stopped in the most ridiculous places in and along the road. Residents in lifted trucks honking and flashing their lights at you to let them by. It’s a challenging road to drive even without these distractions, but you have to keep in mind that this road is the lifeline of the Hana community. They have much Aloha for the visitors who are willing to learn about the culture and show respect for those living in this often times harsh environment.

a car parked in a parking lot

I’ve seen the many ways people drive this road change over the years and I would like to offer some tips about how to navigate this incredible road trip. If you wish to be akamai (smart, intelligent) about learning the culture of Hana your best bet is to take a tour (it would eliminate having to deal with the any of the humbug). Here’s a summary of some road to Hana etiquette & tips that those who live here practice every time we drive the road to Hana…

Respect the residents – PULL OVER AND LET THEM PASS!

a truck that is driving down the street

I’m sure it’s similar where you live. People visiting not sure where they’re going. Except on the road to Hana there is nowhere to pass. All the corners are blind and no straight aways. If you were a resident just trying to get to work, or maybe even a doctors appointment, wouldn’t you appreciate someone letting you pass? If there is anything that every person should know about the road to Hana it is this; Pull over for residential traffic every time, all the time! You’ll bring good juju to your Hana day and possibly a friendly wave from the residents, which leads us to…

Wave if someone gives you right of way

a close up of a car

With over 60 one lane bridges (depending on how far you go) and dozens of one lane areas, you’ll be yielding for people all day long…. and they will be yielding for you. Show some real Aloha and wave, or if you’re really akamai, throw out a shaka when someone lets you pass – even if they don’t wave back. Pay it forward and it comes back around fast. Such is the way of real Aloha. The more Aloha you give the more you receive…

Never stop on a bridge

a train crossing a bridge over a river

Seems logical anyplace else. Would you stop on a bridge in the middle of the road in your home town? Well out here on the road to Hana it goes double. That’s because the flow of traffic is fully dependent on people getting across all the one lane bridges. You wana get some real feel good Aloha from fellow travelers and resients? Then stop (most bridges have areas for this) before or after crossing a bridge to check out waterfalls, not while you’re on the bridge in your car.

Not all pull outs are scenic

a path with trees on the side of a road

Throughout the day you will see pullouts, many of which fit only 1 to 2 cars. Having spent many days exploring out here I was amazed at where people were stopping. All day long people pull up to me (a guy with a camera and driving a non-rental car) asking questions. Visitor: “Is this were so and so waterfall is”? Me: “Yup. It’s a one mile hike uphill through jungle to get there. Should take you about 1 ½ hours round trip – and a visitor broke his back here last month jumping off the waterfall”. They say “ok” and drive away. Just because Google Maps is showing you there’s something to see down this or that trail doesn’t mean it’s easy, close or safe.

a body of water with trees in the background

Also people who live in Maui despise the book Maui Revealed. This guidebooks suggestions have resulted in the closure of some of the most beautiful spots in Hana. The kind of places that in the past you had to know somebody to learn about. Now for fear of liability issues or just plain too many people showing up, gates have been installed or Kapu (keep out) signs have been put up on these private lands. It’s not just that people trespass, they also get into life threatening situations. A Hana resident who lives near Hana town told me he sees rescue helicopters over spots along the Hana coast every week! As he said, “I know this is heaven on earth, but no need go heaven while you’re here”!

a train sitting on the side of a river

When you’re on a Hana van tour you’ll be taken care of in more ways than you may realize. Not only is it much safer than driving on your own you’ll be able to see and learn about the culture while having a local guide who will share stories and knowledge about island life all day long. It is also better for the environment. A van of 12 people (6 couples) eliminates 6 cars that would have been on the road adding to the emissions and traffic congestion.

Leave the sports car driving at home

a car parked on the side of a road

So you rented that Hemi Camaro or Mustang convertible because it’s your dream car. Plus convertibles are great for sight seeing road trips, right? Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but the road to Hana may not be for you. At 25 MPH tops you’ll be a very frustrated sports car driver. Plus the first place you hit rain (it’s a rainforest. It rains every day) the top goes up and now your visibility is half what a regular car is…and if you take a tour? Big windows, plenty of legroom and no frustrations. It’s called “Hanging Loose” in Hawaiʻi for a reason!

Forget about tailgating – you’ll never have a chance to pass so give it up

a bridge over a body of water

Oh and BTW “race car driver”, it is of no use to tailgate. There are no places to pass unless someone pulls over (see Tip #1). You will probably see bumper stickers around the island that say “Slow Down – This ain’t the Mainland”. It applies to the whole island, not just the road to Hana. If you have a hard time going with the flow of slow traffic and being courteous to other drivers, do not drive the road to Hana. In fact, Maui may not be a good destination for you at all!

Be aware when standing in the road

a truck that is sitting on a bench

Again, seems logical. But apparently many people think they are back at the resort strolling along a walkway. This is a real road, even though at times it may seem like little more than a paved path. There are some places that you must walk in the road to see anything, and everyone knows this (like at Wailua falls) but still – keep an eye out for traffic and move to the side so they can get through. This goes double on a bridge. Recently a visitor was photographing on a Hana bridge and while looking through the viewfinder backed up and tripped over the edge…and fell to his death! Please try to stay aware of your surroundings…

Do not leave your car in the road

a person drinking out of a body of water

Again…logic. Unfortunately I saw this happen at least 3 times in two days. What people are thinking I don’t know, but if you feel the urge to get out of your running car and a take a look over that guardrail for a quick photo, don’t! Do like I do…and anyone else who is akamai (intelligent) go to the next pull out and walk back. If you’re in a tour van you can get those shots from you seat. These vans sit higher off the road so you can see over the railings and foliage. I get great photos out of the large tour van windows that I couldn’t get from a car, including a convertible.

a group of people riding on the back of a waterfall

Lolo means “crazy” or stupid so if you hear a local say something like this to you along the road to Hana you’ll know you didn’t take the time to learn the ways and etiquette of this road or the culture. If a Hana resident gives you advice, like “Hey, (family with towels in their hands) I wouldn’t go in that water right now. It’s muddy and that means it’s flooding up above on the mountain.” Listen and heed their warning. Again I’m sure you feel you payed a lot to get here and swim under that waterfall, but why endanger your family with being swept away by floodwaters or contract a nasty bacterial illness from brown flood water runoff. Save your enchanted swimming experience for safe locations or a unique black sand beach when weather and safety allows. It’s really not worth the risk if a resident is warning you about it. The residents know the real dangers and if they’re warning you it’s because of Hana’s real Aloha. The same things they are mentioning to you they teach to their own children to keep them safe!

Drive Akamai

Akamai means smart or educated. Slow down, pull over for resident traffic, wave when someone lets you cross the bridge or narrow single lane, don’t stop on bridges or in the road, don’t stand in the road looking at your “no service” cell phone signal and respect the people and culture of this amazing place by not going where you’re not invited. BTW – if you are invited somewhere by a resident, bring a gift (food, beer, ect ). It’s another way of showing your Aloha!

This ain’t the mainland

Remember the bumper sticker I mentioned: “Slow down, this ain’t the mainland”. Well, truth be told, the younger resients, just like most places, are often the ones driving too fast. Another reason to let them through on the road to Hana. Also you’ll be lucky to go the speed limit on any of Maui’s roads, so just accept that you’re now on Maui and try to get on “Maui Time” as best you can. Leave early, relax and enjoy the scenery! Oh, and rejoice if you ever get somewhere early. That’s what the residents do! Contrary to the “island time” myth, resident Hawaiians are never late for an event. Someone might need their help setting up for the beach picnic or luau…plus it’s seen as showing respect to the host to show up early.

Staying a few days on the Hana side

a large lawn in front of a house

When you live in Maui, Hana is where you go to recharge. The frantic journey you see as a visitor is not the resident’s experience. In reality that madness only happens during midday hours, though it may last longer during busier times of the year. The rest of the time Hana has a peaceful beauty with little cell phone reception and lots of great food…perfect for experiencing one of the last “old Hawaiian” places! You should pack a cooler loaded up in town (Kahului or a grocery store near you) to save a little money. Hasagawa’s General Store and the Hana Ranch Store also have lots of great provisions. The amazing fruit stands, food trucks and fishermen (if you know who to ask) fill in the remaining needs. I’ve camped, stayed in Hotel Hana bungalows, rented condos, small vacation cottages and more recently a 3 bedroom house in Hana. Immerse yourself into the culture if possible. Visit the local Hana businesses and “talk story” with them. Learn the language and be humble.

a close up of a cage

The owner of our rental house is a Portuguese descendant who’s great great grandfather was a ship captain who arrived in Maui in the 1830’s. This property was on several acres and he recently built a Hawaiian thatched roof hale (House) which was a large 2 story structure yet completely hidden by hedges. The house I stayed in had artifacts throughout and huge trees in an expansive yard filled with everything from flowers to fruit.

a large tree in a park

Conversely the Hana side of Maui has a history rooted in defending itself from invasion. It was considered the focal point of power in the ancient Hawaiian chain of islands and it was invaded dozens of times in known history with the last last being King Kamehameha. He actually failed several times to conquer Hana until an American frigate was captured, giving him the use of it’s canons and muskets.

a group of people standing in front of a body of water

The ancient story of Hana is about survival and the Aloha the people have for each other and the land. It assured that the community of Hana in ancient times, as well as today, would have enough for all to prosper. This is also part of the reason why the word “Hana” means work. To live and thrive out here is hard work. A large part of that work is driving the road to Hana with safety and Aloha. Real Aloha has always sustained this land, and it does so today. Please learn the things to do when visiting Maui that shows respect for the host culture.

Learn The Language

a sign on a rock

This trip to Hana has been all about immersing myself into the culture and not just to get a lot of pretty photos. The residents in Hana are wonderful people and will share their Aloha if you respect their culture enough to learn about it. This is the tough part though. I have lived in Maui for over 20 years and I’m just now beginning to know enough to be considered akamai. Again, they feel invaded by people who will leave tomorrow and have never taken the time to learn about the culture or even how to pronounce a few Hawaiian words properly. It’s about respect. After all we wouldn’t even know what Aloha is if it wasn’t for them and their ancestors!

a car parked in front of a bus

When I asked people out in Hana what would they like the visitor to know about the road to Hana before they get to the island the answer was unanimous; Pull over for local traffic, slow down and enjoy yourself and try to find some spiritual healing out here in this amazing part of Maui. This is what Aloha means to them – showing respect and honor for the land and the ways of it’s people. This is what the people of Hana do every day…and they hope and pray that you learn and embrace some real Aloha during your Maui vacation!

Aloha Nui Loa

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