Ways to Explore the Road to Hana
When you read about driving this road online it seems like a daunting task. Close to 60 one lane bridges. Over 600 hairpin turns and, many of them are blind corners. A road with many cliff edge traverses narrowing to one lane, often with only 20 ft of sight distance. This 64+ mile long road (Kahului to Kalepa) includes another 44 miles to go all the way around which can take a lot out of you, but it’s something you’ve got to see….if you made it this far there is no reason to miss the road to Hana because it is…
The scenic drive of a lifetime!
It’s not easy trying figure out what to do once you’ve decided on a Maui vacation and this includes how and when to travel the road to Hana. As an example a google search will show you over 566,000 pages about this road…reviews and top 10’s abound! It’s easy to understand that people can become frustrated with limited time restraints while on a Maui vacation. It happens to everyone including folks who try to jam in a couple of different Hawaiian island visits into their 10-14 day vacation. However, there are plenty of other reasons you may have time restraints and it’s important to know how much time the road to Hana can take.
Maui is not a small island. Even though I’ve lived on this island for over 20 years as a professional photographer I still cannot say I’ve experienced everything. I’ve come pretty close though and I’m still working on it as I’m constantly building up my photo/video archive of Maui. One thing I hear often when people are contemplating a Maui vacation is whether they should do the road to Hana. I’ve traveled this road in every condition and in almost every way possible, including by helicopter, so hopefully I can share a few useful things I’ve seen and learned about traveling this road. It’s one of the top 5 scenic drives in the world making it a busy place.
Driving this road requires some research. Because it is the only way in and out of Hana it is the life line of the residents who live along this road. You can check out our Ways of Spreading Aloha story and our island etiquette things to do info for ways to respect the residents while traveling this incredible scenic drive.
The road to Hana will use up a full 10 to 12 hours of your day and is an exhausting drive. If you do all the driving and try to fit in a luau that same evening, you may find yourself face down asleep in coconut pudding by 8pm! Don’t plan on anything else after this full day adventure.
Driving myself out to Hana is not my optimum day trip. I would much rather have someone else drive so I can focus on create images. As a photographer driving myself, pulling over to get my tripod out alongside the road is like firing off a burning “stop here” flare so everybody can pull over too. Sometimes I’m just photographing flowers or rainforest trees. After realizing the photo guy is not at a scenic overlook people quickly jump back in their car looking slightly dejected and it’s back to the races – top speed… 20 mph. Not knowing where to stop or for how long is a big challenge out along the Hana Highway and adds to the stress of the day’s non stop hairpin turns. I often notice that visitors are in a hurry…I get it, they are used to mainland driving. But keep in mind this road is the lifeline of the Hana community and things like speeding or trying to overtake other cars just makes it dangerous for everyone on the road. If you do drive yourself please learn some road to Hana etiquette & tips. For me I try to make sure someone else is doing the driving out on the road to Hana….and that they’ve driven it before and know what their doing! It’s really about being aware of what’s going on ahead of you by looking across gulches and valleys.
That being said you do have some various options for traveling this amazing road. The Hana Highway begins in Kahului (where the airport is) so all times shown below are based on this as a starting point. Keep in mind these times do not include stopping times. Again this is why many people run out of time out on the road to Hana and have to turn around and drive back in the dark. Doing a van tour eliminates this problem.
Here are some Hana highway driving options:
Drive to Ke’anae Peninsula and turn around – 2. 5 hours one way. 7 to 9 hours round trip from Kahului depending on stops.
Drive to Hana and back – 10 to 12 hours depending on stops and finding a place for lunch or a picnic.
Drive all the way around (do the loop) – 10-12 hours with more stops but less time at them.
Book a Hana van tour – 10-12 hours with a guide who knows where to stop and for how long. All food, gas, experienced driving and “talk story” is included. A guide allows you the opportunity to learn about Hana’s modern and ancient history and the Hawaiian culture.
Everyone is always looking at the best way to see the road to Hana with the least amount of inconvenience and the best use of their vacation time. Below is brief breakdown of several scenarios and what you may encounter with each. Keep in mind that this road circumnavigates the dormant Haleakala volcano at sea level which includes over half of the island. There is more than can be seen in one day…or even in multiple trips!
Why only go half way?
It’s difficult to get more than just a glimpse of Maui in a short time frame. However I understand that plenty of people visit Hawaiʻi in this way. Best advice is to see the road to Hana however you can…. it’s worth it! Here are some questions to ask yourself about doing small portions of this road:
Are you traveling with children?
Only you know how well your kids travel. The 12 yr old might be good with a full day adventure. The 3 yr old? – not so much. Going half way might be a good fit for families with small children.
Are you traveling with a senior citizen?
Walking rocky terrain or steep trails in the hot tropical heat may not be grandma’s dream day. Unless grandma is a tri-athlete (I know many of you are) this day could be better spent at places along the road like the Garden of Eden Arboretum, Ke’anae Peninsula or even Iao Valley in central Maui.
Are you on a Cruise ship and thinking of driving it yourself ?
It’s not easy to rent a car for a shore excursion…especially for a 10 to 12 hour drive! Many road to Hana tours can pick you up at the ship. Just be sure to call the tour company directly…it can save you quite a bit of money!
Are you prone to car sickness?
Maybe you have already had a bad experience of motion sickness on that snorkel boat yesterday. It’s understandable that you may be fearful of encountering motion sickness on this winding road also. Driving yourself adds to the stress too. Just be sure to make lots of stops if this is an issue for you. Tour guides know this and make frequent stops which helps tremendously. Plus Hana tour vans are much more stable on the road to Hana than a car. Ginger candy and pineapple are also good to have as they are soothing to the tummy.
Are you visiting Maui for only a few days?
As mentioned earlier you may be traveling from island to island
Day 1 – Fly in, get a car, check into your hotel/condo, have a bite to eat and catch the sunset.
Day 2 – Snorkel boat in the morning (early), spend some time at the beach, luau in the evening.
Day 3 – Haleakala sunrise, explore upcountry Maui.
Day 4 – Road to Hana… nope. Get back on the plane…
See what I mean? Even if you substitute Haleakala for the road to Hana, you will be exhausted for that plane ride! Always try to do the road to Hana as one of your first activities so you can recover with some relaxing beach time…
Here’s some more options for experiencing the road to Hana
Driving to Hana and back
It’s a long & beautiful day either way, but driving to Hana and back can work for some (though you’ll be back tracking) because you can stop at the places you missed on the way out. Also you can go back to that amazing banana bread stand and get 5 more loaves because the first loaves you bought are already gone…trust me.
Driving all the way around
The road beyond Hana is the best part in my opinion. In fact even though Ke’anae Peninsula is considered to be the halfway point it’s really only a ¼ of the total distance of the Hana Highway. Doing the full “loop” will bring you beyond Hana to Haleakala National Park at Kipahulu (known as “The Pools of Oheo”) and through the dry Kaupo side of the island all the way to the lush green slopes of ʻUlupalakua and Maui’s upcountry areas. Upcountry, like Paʻia and the north shore beaches, really deserve some time of their own. After a full day on the road to Hana you will be exhausted if you’re driving it yourself. It’s best to make a quick stop somewhere along the highway or leave upcountry for a special trip that can include Haleakala, Makawao, Kula and/or the winery.
Reason to book a van tour
Road to Hana tour companies have condo/hotel pick up and drop off. Breakfast and lunch are often included, no need to load up a cooler or wait in line somewhere along the road for food. Some tours stop at venues in Hana for lunch so check on what’s included when shopping for a van tour to find the best fit for you. A tour will also pick you up early which ensures you’ll have time to see more than you might have otherwise when driving yourself. It can be difficult to get everything you’ll need for this long day loaded up in the car by 6:30am. Also the tour vans sit up higher than cars which allows for a much better view. Add in the knowledge of a local guide and you can relax and enjoy the day because everything is taken care of for you…
Banana bread hunting on the road to Hana
The banana bread along the road to Hana is amazing! That’s because the varieties that grow out here are some of the most delicious bananas anywhere in the world. It is worth trying several kinds as there is much debate about who has the best. If you’re only going halfway to Hana there are really only a couple chances to try some.
Auntie Sandy’s Banana Bread – If you’ve been hunting for the best banana bread on the island, Auntie Sandy’s at Ke’anae Landing has been reviewed as one of the best. You’ll have to turn left off of Hana Highway between mile marker 10 and 11 (look for the Ke’anae sign) but it’s a short drive down to the peninsula. Get several for later or you’ll be bummed when the 1st loaf is gone!
Halfway To Hana Stand – Another excellent stop for banana bread and refreshments. The shave ice is wonderful on a hot tropical day in the rainforest!
Halfway to Hana stops
Here is a quick rundown of what you will find as you travel along this halfway route. I’ll provide links when available or you can check Tripadvisor for reviews of these stops also.
Paʻia Town – 15 to 20 minutes from Kahului non stop. Interesting souvenir, clothing, art and surfer shops abound amid quaint restaurants and a wonderful health food store. I think this town is best experienced as a special trip on it’s own. A morning or afternoon jaunt to Paʻia for some relaxed exploring is much better than trying to squeeze it into a road to Hana trip. The beaches along this side of the island are stunning too!
Ho’okipa Lookout – 25 minutes from Kahului non stop. Overlooking the Ho’okipa Bay and ocean waves. Great place to watch surfers and windsurfers do their thing. Look for Honu (Sea Turtles) lounging about below on the beach amongst the locals and their beach towels. I wouldn’t bother driving down to the beach. It’s a rough and rocky shoreline and the waters are best left for the locals and experienced surfers.
Twin Falls – 40 to 50 minutes from Kahului non stop. – The farm stand here creates excellent smoothies made with freshly squeezed sugar cane juice. The waterfalls are nothing big here but swimming is nice in the lower waterfall pools. The upper falls can be treacherous especially if it’s raining. The farm stand here is wonderful and the fresh squeezed cane juice smoothies are something you will never forget!
Garden of Eden – 50 minutes to 1 hr from Kahului non stop. $15 admission – This arboretum is big (26 acres) and the tropical plants here (the brochure says 500 different kinds) are labeled. It’s a self guided tour with an easy walking path and a waterfall overlook.
Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees – 1hr from Kahului non stop. Located along side of the road these trees are not easy to find unless you have a guide or a map.The narrow off road parking is tricky with minimal room for more than a couple of cars so you may not be able to stop. (Side Note – GPS and cell phone signal is either weak or spotty at best out here)
Kaumahina State Wayside Park – 1 hr 15 minutes from Kahului non stop. Bathrooms and overlook of Ke’anae Peninsula is beautiful but not much else going on here.
Honomanu Bay Overlook – 1 hr 25 minutes from Kahului. One of the most iconic views of the road to Hana. Don’t bother trying to get down to the beach. 4×4 vehicles only and not much sand – it’s mostly rocky beach. You may see the locals surfing here when the conditions are right but it’s not for beginners for sure. Best to leave this spot to the experienced surfers.
Ke’anae Arboretum – 1 hr 15 minutes from Kahului. Moderate hike along a rainforest trail. Terraced landscape built hundreds of years ago by ancient Hawaiians for taro cultivation. Self guided and labeled plants and trees. Elderly may choose to stay in the car.
Ke’anae Peninsula – 1hr 30 minutes from Kahului non stop. If you’re only going halfway this can be one of the turnaround points and the most spectacular stop of this short route. The shoreline is rugged and often the crashing waves are quite a show. This is NOT a place to swim. In fact some have lost their lives here venturing out into the tide pools only to be blindsided by rogue waves. Please be safe! When in doubt, don’t go out…
If I only go halfway what will I miss? Here is a brief overview of the other stops you will see continuing along the road to Hana.
Continuing Past Ke’anae Peninsula to Hana
Wailua Valley – This is mostly an over look of the tiny town of Wailua with a short trail leading to the top of a hill on the other side of the road. Waterfalls can be seen from here but there close to a mile away.
Pua’a Ka’a Park & Falls – A small park with a pool, small waterfall, picnic tables and public bathrooms.
Hanawai Falls and pump house – Small waterfall viewed from a bridge. It is also an interesting part of the canal system that transport water from east Maui to the sugarcane fields of central Maui.
Nahiku Marketplace – Several open air restaurants and a cafes are here along with a hand made souvenir shop. The coconut candy is some of the best anywhere. Grabbing lunch here and heading back afterwards could be another “halfway” plan.
Wai’anapanapa State Park – Hana’s Black Sand Beach. This stunning beach is known throughout the world as one of the most beautiful places in all Hawaiʻi. The Hawaiian culture is alive here and you can feel the “Mana” as you stroll through the park. Free admission
Kahanu Garden – Location of the largest Heiau (Hawaiian Temple) in all of Polynesia. Turning off the highway it is about a 5 minute drive to this amazing area of Hana. Self guided tour – $10 admission. Guided tour – $25
Hana Bay – Beautiful beach and boat dock. There is a snack bar here with covered pavilions and picnic tables. Locals gather here on the weekends and Hana’s outrigger canoe club can be seen paddling in this bay training for the canoe regattas in the spring and summer. Be prepared to stand in line for snack bar food.<
Hana Cultural Center & Museum – Located within walking distance from Hana Bay. Cultural history of Hana town with old photographs, artifacts and a traditional Hawaiian hale (house). It’s a small but beautiful museum.
The journey continues beyond Hana and some of my favorite stops are along this part of the road.
Full “loop” stops past Hana
Hamoa & Koki Beaches – These two beaches sit on either side of a small peninsula which is a short drive off the highway. Koki beach is on the left as you enter and Hamoa beach is on the other side as you exit. There are some vacation rentals here plus a great Thai restaurant. Koki Beach has an amazing view of the small offshore island of Alau. The beach is large but the waters are rough. Hamoa Beach is much better for swimming but parking is minimal and the walk down to the beach is a steep trail.
Large Waterfalls – Past Hamoa the road gets narrow (and you thought you were already on a narrow road!) as it winds through the jungle. Wailua Falls is the iconic road to Hana waterfall and one of the largest along the road. Local vendors have set up here with handmade gifts and some amazing banana bread too! Many people stop here to get a photo of this beautiful waterfall.
Pools of Oheo – Entrance fee into this National Park is $10 per vehicle. There are 2 trails. One is short and circles around the falls and pools that lead to the ocean. The other is much longer and follows the Oheo stream up into the mountains through a bamboo forest and to a large waterfall at the end of the valley. This trail is at least an hour to 1 ½ hr hike round trip without stopping. If you’ve arrived near dark (5pm or later) – don’t do it! This trail is treacherous and spooky in the dark. It’s best to do the lower trail and maybe do a little swimming. Leave the upper trail for a day when you can arrive early.
Palapala Ho’omau Church – Charles Lindbergh is buried here which is interesting – the church itself is a beautiful building from old Hawaiʻi days with thick coral and lava rock walls. There is a small park here towards the back of the property with picnic tables. It’s not easy to find but worth a look around.
Kaupo area – This dry barren side of Maui is the result of Haleakala’s rain shadow. It is in stark contrast to the lush rainforest of Hana. Rental car companies don’t like people drive this part and may have you sign a waiver. If you have car troubles on this rough road is may cost you hundreds of dollars to have a tow truck come to the rescue. A tour van is your best bet to see this part of the road.
Upcountry area – This area of Maui is one of the richest growing regions in Hawaiʻi. This expansive area is along the western slopes of Haleakala with stunning views of the ocean below. You may wish to make a quick stop if it’s not too dark already. Views are amazing from here but you will be tired after this long day. It’s best to leave this area for a short day trip.
Spending time on the “Hana side” is what you do when you live on Maui. Sure, we go to the beach as often as we can but Hana is our recharge – a sanctuary if you will. This feeling of relaxation and recharge is because we go out to STAY a night or two. Also locals go in groups – It’s more fun to “talk story” (share stories) with others while driving, split the gas and food costs and help as a spotter with the traffic congestion on this busy road…you never know what’s coming down the road…from big trucks to zippy locals headed to work…yes, people live on the Hana side and commute this road to work every day!
It’s always hard to judge how long travel times are on the road to Hana. It all depends on how many stops you make and for how long. This is really the trick to getting the most out of a road to Hana day. A tour guide has this all figured out. Taking a tour is really the best way to see this road in my opinion, especially if you’re only on island for a few days.
Below are the approximate driving times for road to Hana stops. They apply whether you’re driving yourself or taking a tour. Everyone averages about 25 mph or less on this incredible winding road.
Kihei to Kahului – 15 minutes
Kihei to Hana – 2hr 55 minutes
Lahaina to Kahului – 40 minutes
Lahaina to Hana – 3hr 40 minutes (non stop)
Kahului to Hana – 2hr 45 minutes (non stop)
Kahului to Ke’anae – 1hr 30 minutes 33 miles (non stop)
Kahului to Paʻia – 15 to 20 minutes
Kahului to Hana – approx 53 miles
Hana to Pools of Oheo at Kipahulu – approx 8 miles
Kipahulu to Kahului – approx 44 miles
One account I read on bucketlist.net was posted by a guy who drove his family of 4 from Paʻia (where they were staying) to Hana’s black sand beach and back. He chronicled 17 stops (5 of which he would not do again) which including stopping for lunch and the entire trip took 9 hours. I think this is a good indication of how much time this road can take with stops included.
Road to Hana Cost Comparison Based on 2 People Traveling
Car Rental – Approximately $85 per day (depending on car type) plus insurance.
Gas – $3.50 to $4 gal – $50 to $60 per tank (takes about ¾ of a tank) so figure around $45
Food & beverages all day – $40-$50 each (x2 = $90 average)
Time – 10 to 12 hours
Total cost for 2 people- Approximately $220
Road to Hana Van Tour
All inclusive – $145 per person (Valley Isle Excursions)
Time – 10 to 12 hours
Total cost for 2 people – $290
So there you have it. It’s a long day traveling the road to Hana but it can easily be the best part of your Maui vacation! Do whatever you have to do to see this part of the island because the road to Hana is a Maui must do!
Aloha Nui Loa