This post is part of a series of stories from our 2019 Spring Break adventure in Hawaii.
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Driving The Road to Hana was one of the first things I put on our list for Maui. It’s a road trip around the island speckled with incredible Hawaiian eye candy and funky food and drink options. And it’s almost entirely free. Yes! It reminded me a little of the Golden Circle road trip Jenni and I did last summer in Iceland — a concentrated taste of some of the most beautiful sights on the island.
It’s Always Best to Start at the Beginning
It’s called The Road TO HANA, because the traditional route begins in a town called Paia and ends in Hana.
Many people even keep traveling south of Hana to visit a few other spots — namely the alternate entrance to Haleakalā National Park at Kīpahulu. That north to south route is the traditional Road to Hana road trip, and after reading one too many travel blogs about how crowded it can be on busy days… I began to wonder if there was an alternative. And soon we were weighing the pros and cons of driving The Road to Hana – in reverse.
Most people start in Paia, drive to Hana, then backtrack to Paia when they’re done — hoping to do it all before they have to navigate the twists and turns and one-lane bridges in the dark. But we’d rather see a bit more of the island than backtrack — so we mapped a route from our condo in Kihei to the south end of the trail.
And as it turns out — there is a VERY good reason that’s the least popular way to do it. The alternate route along the southern coast was ROUGH.
Well, rough – and gorgeous.
We stopped for gas before we left town and kept our fingers crossed for pockets of cell service. And then we just enjoyed the view.
And after about an hour, the road started to get sketchier. Listen, the traditional road from Paia to Hana may be windy and narrow and dotted with single-lane bridges, but at least it’s A ROAD. There were entire sections of our route that were little more than a dirt path, complete with grazing cattle.
And then it really got dicey. The last stretch before the entrance to Haleakalā hugs the coast — and it hugs the cliffs. Single lane, dirt road, blind curves, signs warning of falling rocks, narrow bridges.
Several times I made a mental note to remind anyone I talk to they should request a rental car with the highest clearance and the narrowest width. And to have realistic expectations of the alternate route. There were several spots that made me a white-knuckled, nervous wreck — but I’m still glad we took the road less traveled.
Haleakalā National Park, Kīpahulu District
Haleakalā (holly-AW-ku-lah) is split into two districts: The Summit and Kīpahulu. Many visitors to Maui only get to The Summit district because it’s much easier to access. Even inside the park, Kīpahulu isn’t accessible from the Summit area. So we were thrilled we made it there!
We felt like we’d been adventuring all day just GETTING THERE, but this was officially our first stop on The Road to Hana.
We grabbed our hiking/swimming gear and hit the trail. I’d hoped to cover both trails but we decided to choose one in the interest of time so we headed down the Kuloa Point Trail in search of the Seven Sacred Pools of Ohe’o.
And we didn’t waste any time heading down for a dip.
These two goofballs. My sister Becky joined us on our Hawaiian Spring Break adventure — Colt and Bec Bec are such buddies, I love it.
After a quick dip to cool off, it was time to move on. We could’ve stayed longer — and I think Colt could’ve stayed all day. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous spot.
The Surfin’ Burro
After our adventurous morning, we were more than ready for some lunch. We chose The Surfin’ Burro on the basis of funny name and funky curb appeal — and had ourselves a snack. The Surfin’ Burro will also be remembered by the insanely steep grade of the driveway that my little rental car almost couldn’t handle. (Oops.)
Black Sand Beach at Waianapanapa State Park
This stop was a must for us — a beautiful view and another chance for Colt to play in the water.
After a short walk through one of Hawaii’s state parks, the path opened up to an incredible black sand beach. It was striking.
The effects of volcanic activity are inescapable in Hawaii — the islands themselves are the result of volcanoes! — and this beach was a beautiful reminder of that.
The waves were really choppy so we opted out of swimming. I was shocked – but not – at how many people were letting young kids play in those waves. We played on the beach and stayed out of the surf… with one exception…
Colt was all too happy to “accidentally” get soaked in the waves while he played so by the time this happened he was barely phased. What a beautiful spot!
Hana Lava Tube
Ok, this might have been our favorite stop on The Road to Hana. We had it on our list of potential stops (there are WAY too many options along the drive to truly stop at all of them) and decided to give it a try — I’m so glad we did!
The Hana Lava Tube was incredible. We followed the signs to turn off the road and found a small parking lot and check-in booth. We picked up flashlights and walked down the path on our self-guided tour through the lava tube cave. And WHOA. Lava tubes are formed when lava flow cools on top and forms a crust — but lava continues to flow underneath. There are tubes in different places in Hawaii, but this one is the largest and most accessible lava tube in Maui — it’s nearly 1000 years old.
There were railings and posted informational signs throughout the cave and we were able to explore about 1/3 of a mile before having to backtrack to the entrance. It was unreal. Very similar to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico yet completely different.
So cool. This was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and unique to volcanic areas like Hawaii so I’m glad we made time for this little hike.
Halfway to Hana – Banana Bread and Shaved Ice
Another snack break at an adorable little food stand. I’m not sure you visited Maui if you didn’t snack on shaved ice and banana bread.
Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees
One of my favorite things about traveling new places — especially islands — is the chance to see plants and animals you can’t see just anywhere. Sometimes unique species are native to a place and sometimes they’re there because irresponsible humans introduced them and they stuck. Regardless, I love it. And I wasn’t leaving Maui without seeing a Rainbow Eucalyptus Tree.
I’d researched a few different places to see them along The Road to Hana — arboretums, nature trails. But we spotted these on the side of the road and couldn’t believe it but there was JUST enough shoulder to pull over and get a closer look.
The bark sheds in patches each year revealing different colors underneath. And these trees are HUGE. We were in a small grove of them and they were giants. Wow.
As our day was winding down, we made one final stop at Twin Falls. A quick (and muddy!) hike to the falls and our crew was getting hungry for dinner and ready to get to town. I didn’t realize until later we didn’t hike far enough to see another, even more beautiful waterfall! If you make it to Twin Falls, don’t be in a hurry! There’s a lot more to enjoy than immediately meets the eye.
Finally! After our day-long road trip FROM Hana, we reached the town of Paia and found some dinner. While we waited, we wandered around the cute little downtown area and stumbled upon some beautiful artwork. I just love this bronze statue — To teach is to Love. To learn is to Respect.
Ready to Drive The Road to (from!) Hana?
Everything we read about it being windy and narrow was true. If you struggle with motion sickness, this is probably not the day trip for you. We didn’t find the road traffic to be too bad, and while there were plenty of people at most of the stops we made — we expected it and I didn’t think anything was crazy crowded. If you’re up for an adventure — brace yourself for the alternate route but rent a Jeep. And bring extra clothes, swimsuits, towels, and water shoes for everyone — The Road to Hana is best experienced with your toes in the sand and a little mud on your hands. Aloha!