Top Road To Hana Stops & Things To Do
Journey Into Old Hawai’i
This is why Maui has one of the highest return rates in the destination travel industry.
The road to Hana on Maui’s lushly rugged east side is a stunning yet white knuckled road trip into the heart of what most people dream about when they think of Hawaiʻi: tropical waterfalls, remote beaches with fruit and flowers hanging everywhere in the rainforest. The road to Hana is definitely all of these and more. It does take some planning though, and unless you’re on a tour van where everything is taken care of you could end up feeling stressed out. That’s the opposite of what a Hawai’i vacation is supposed to be.
The road to Hana is an all day journey whether you go all the way around or not. This is because there is only one road going around this entire side of the island. Returning visitors often go to Hana many times as there is always something new to be discovered. New flowers, new views, new hikes, new waterfalls, new roads, new fruit stands, new seasons and constantly changing weather. At the same time there are many things that do not change. The ancient landscape of waterfalls, peninsulas, farms, flowers, and forests have coexisted in this rugged jungle environment with the residents, many of whom who’s families have lived out here for centuries. Having spent just over a decade traveling and photographing the road to Hana I have developed a list of my tried and true favorites.
As a professional photographer who has lived in Maui for over 18 years, I have been blessed to work with many of Maui’s tour businesses. Over the years I have photographed tours on boats, helicopters, bicycles, horseback, paragliding, zip-line courses, golf courses and even submarines, but my all time favorite location in Maui to photograph is the road to Hana. I have traveled the road in every way imaginable and there are some differences between taking a tour and driving yourself, so I’ll try and address these differences as I go. Just remember if you go on your own, learn the etiquette of driving the road to Hana, leave early, pick several stops that look the most interesting and try spending a little more time at them and less driving around hoping something will catch your eye. Consequently you may have to bypass some of the not so interesting stops, but in my opinion you can’t see it all in one day anyways. If that’s you’re goal, take a tour.
Once you’ve gone through the town of Paʻia and past Ho’okipa Bay the road starts to get narrow and winding. For the most part the view is mostly rock walls and dense rainforest gulches sprinkled with an occasional view of the ocean. That’s why I like to stop within the first 30 to 45 minutes of the drive just to get out and see the trees and forest up close. There are not a lot of parking or hiking trails along this road and for good reason… one wrong step and it can be hundreds of feet free fall to the ocean. If you’re on a tour van this is not an issue as a guide knows where all the safe stops are. I like stopping at the painted eucalyptus trees for a couple of quick photos and a nice leg stretch to start the day.
This is a great place to stop and get a feel for how wild and raw the Hana coastline really is. The view looking back from where you just traveled is stunning. This is also a bathroom stop and the banana bread stand at Aunty Sandy’s Keanae Landing is excellent. Be careful of the ocean waves and lava rocks along this coastline. The tide pools are fascinating but rogue waves can show up at anytime here. Several people have been injured or lost their lives at this location from these waves. A tour guide can show you where the big waves hit and share some history about the old stone church that sits a few yards from the bathrooms.
Wai’anapanapa State Park is an amazing place where you’ll not only get to walk on Maui’s black sand beach but there are interesting paths, trails, lava tubes and fresh water caves to explore. Walk the path along the coast and you’ll discover a blow hole, ocean cliffs and lava sea arches. There are camping spots here which are first come first serve and several rustic cabins that must be reserved in advance. Staying the night in Hana is really one of the best ways to see and experience this side of the island but if you only have a day this is a fantastic place to spend some time. If you’re on a tour this is a good 45 to 60 minute stop with the added benefit of local stories and history thrown in.
The number and variety of farmers markets have increased in Maui over the last few years but the fruit stands throughout the Hana area have been around for many decades. They are well known for having some of the best variety and flavors of fresh fruit anywhere in Hawai’i. Many of these stands have smoothies made with fresh sugar cane juice, which is my favorite. I usually stop at several fruit stands because I’m always on the lookout for my favorites like apple bananas, Tahitian lilikoi and the big prize… monster avocados! Whatever you may find I recommend getting a little more than you think you can eat. By the time you get back to your hotel or condo you’ll wish you had more. Tour guides can help with this because they know what’s ripening when and who has the best trees and thus, the tastiest fruit.
This reddish gold sand beach is on the other side of Hamoa beach. Hamoa beach is well known having been voted “best beach” many times but it is quite small and can be difficult to find parking and requires going down a steep path. Koki beach is a bit more accessible and beautiful in my opinion since Alau Island can be seen just off shore from here. I wouldn’t swim here though as the waves are treacherous and some have been injured on the unseen lava rocks. The red cinder cone behind this beach has a great ancient Hawaiian legend I learned about from a tour guide. Always something new….
Since this road is a 10 to 12 hour drive you should have a plan for lunch. You can bring your own food and supplement it with fresh Hana fruits and banana bread, or you can grab a burger or sandwich at Hana Ranch Restaurant, Hotel Hana or choose one of several food truck type spots in and around Hana town. Hasagawa General store has groceries also including some unique Hana items and souvenirs. If you’re on a van tour food is usually provided but be sure to ask what kind of food. Hana van tours have various food choices. They can often range from a simple sandwich and chips to a stop at a Hana restaurant or a full picnic meal with beverages all day. Whatever you do be sure to have your food and beverages together when traveling this road. There are choices for food along the way but because this road is busy some roadside food stands can sell out and close by the early afternoon.
The road to Hana has many waterfalls of various sizes and configurations, but the iconic waterfall most photographed is West Wailua. Located between Hana town and the Pools of Oheo, this waterfall is one of the largest seen along the road. Here you’ll find some decent parking (by Hana road standards) and various residents selling handmade items of all kinds. It’s a beautiful “quick stop” for a photo and a plumeria flower hair clip and other hand made items. You can also hike down and take a dip in this waterfall pool, but be careful as flash floods are common. The next stop a short distance down the road is much better for swimming, weather permitting of course.
Located about 15 minutes down the road from Wailua Falls is Haleakala National Park’s Kipahulu area that includes the Pools of Oheo. After you buy a pass at the gate there is multi level parking, a visitor center and a wonderful trail system. The trail down towards the ocean takes you in a loop all the way around to the pools and back. The trail heading uphill leads across the road and up into Oheo gulch, which is an epic hike through bamboo forest and jungle streams to the incredible 400’ Waimoku Falls. It’s about an hour long hike mostly uphill. Since most people arrive at the pools late in the day, this hike is best left for a morning adventure after an overnight stay in Hana or while camping at Kipahulu, in my opinion. It is an amazing place in the morning light and I love camping here, but I’ve seen dozens of people scrambling up this trail as I was coming down at sunset thinking they can squeeze this hike in. I tell them there is not much to see in the dark! If you’re on a tour this should be a good hour long stop. This is plenty of time to find out how cold the water is and hike the 1 mile loop trail around the pools.
Known in Maui as “the backside” Kaupo is a landscape of stunning contrast to the winding rainforest roads of Hana. This area is where Haleakala laid down a steep but flowing mountainside that is the shortest distance from ocean to the 10,000’ summit on the island. Stark and somewhat barren it is none the less breathtaking in it’s scope and vastness. It is also some of the roughest road you’ll find in Maui. Not a problem for a tour van built for the road, but some rental cars may give you quite a jostling. Some of the canyons seen along this side of the island are enormous and speak to an ancient past when this was the wet side of the island instead of the dry side it is today. It is also the location of Maui’s newest wind farm because of the strong winds that get funneled between islands here. This barren landscape also hold the ruins of many intact ancient Hawaiian buildings and temple sites since it has remained undeveloped since western discovery. A guide can share all of this amazing history with you on a tour.
The history of the ʻUlupalakua ranch lands here in what is known as Upcountry Maui dates back to 1845 and includes visits by Hawaii’s last king. Wine grapes were first planted here in the early 1970’s and while waiting the several years it takes for the vines to mature it was decided to try making wine with something readily available – pineapples. It turned out to be popular and thus started the Tedeschi Winery venture. Today the wines are superb with varieties for most palates including their well known pineapple wine. I don’t really care for sweet wines but the Plantation Red is excellent! Walking throughout this property is one of my favorite things to photograph in Maui. If you’re planning on a tour be sure to ask if wine tasting at Tedeschi winery is on the list. It’s a great way to finish off a spectacular adventure like the road to Hana!
Aloha Nui Loa