The Road to Hana is a legendary stretch of road through the northeast coast of Maui, through lush tropical forests and along the jagged, rocky coast of the island. It is probably one of the most beautiful roads in the world. While only about 50 miles from Kahalui, it takes about three hours to make it to the town of Hana, because of the many twists and turns and 46 one-lane bridges you have to cross to get there. Count in carloads of tourists stopping to take photos every mile or so, and you have yourself a day trip.
On our trip to Maui, we decided to explore this famous highway, and see what we could find at the end of the road. We had some Dramamine along for our motion-sickness prone boy, and for the first half of the trip, he was just fine.
The highway is probably one of the greenest roads I've ever been on. In parts where a light tropical rain was falling, it looked almost neon. We slowed down in a stretch of bamboo forest that seemed like it could glow in the dark. I half expected Po from Kung Fu Panda to come bounding down the mountainside, snacking on some delectible bamboo treats (and yes, I do know there are no pandas in Hawaii, kung fu masters or not).
When the warm tropical rain started to fall, all I could see out my window was a soft, green blur. In some parts, we hugged the mountainside and could see the ocean stretched out below us, like a misty blue blanket. When the rain cleared, we found ourselves looking out over a green valley and some gorgeous blue water below.
There are not many shops along the road, but there is one notable stop that lets you know that you are halfway there. The Halfway to Hana snack shop is located about 18 miles from Hana, and lets you know that there isn't much else until you get to Hana. Serving up local favorites like banana bread and shave ice, it's a good point to get out, stretch your legs and get a snack.
We picked up sandwiches and drinks before we started out, so we didn't need to stop for refreshments, fruit, or film along the way. It was good to know there was someone there to look out for us, in case we needed anything.
After a few miles, Alex's mood (and his stomach) turned sour, and he started feeling the effects of the numerous hairpin turns on the road, even though Frank was going slow and letting cars pass whenever he could. The Dramamine failed to do its job, so we had to pull over to try to find a plastic bag and let Alex get out and walk it off. He managed not to hurl in the car, and we made it to Hana. We stopped at Hana Beach Park for our picnic, a chilly stretch of sand just outside the town of Hana proper. Alex was able to splash in the water a little, along with some local kids, and started feeling better.
On the road to Hana, it seemed as though there was a one lane bridge to cross every half mile or so, and anywhere the water was flowing, there was a small crowd of tourists taking pictures of every trickle. I was expect many, many waterfalls to be punctuating the forest, but instead, we saw a great number of dry creek beds and boulders. Occasionally, we would hear the sound of rushing water and se a particularly large group of tourists snapping pictures, so we stopped to see what we could see.
It wasn't until after we passed through Hana that we finally saw a road-side waterfall. Off through the verdant island foliage was a waterfall tucked away from the road, with a stream running under the bridge. Both sides of the bridge were lined with cars, and we stood among visitors from all over the world enjoying the view.
Of course, where there is water, there is plant life in abundance. At this stop, we saw a number of varieties of orchids, tropical flowers, and ferns. I have seen exotic, gorgeous heliconia flowers in paintings and in flower shops, but never growing freely in the wild. I spotted one peeking out from under the brush. I have to say, I was more thrilled by this discovery than by the waterfall. Having been to Iguazu Falls, a waterfall has to be more than what I could produce with a garden hose to impress me. Show me an orchid or a cousin of the Bird of Paradise growing wild, and color me impressed.
Hana wasn't actually our final destination on this scenic drive. We were trying to get to a spot Frank had read about that was a few miles past Hana called O'heo, or the Seven Sacred Pools. To get to the Seven Sacred Pools, you have to park in a well-maintained parking lot just past Hana at Mile Marker 42, and then walk about a half mile to the pools. The pools are a series of stone gulleys fed by several waterfalls and lead out into the ocean.
The day we were there, the place was crowded with tourists and locals. A few brave souls risked all to jump from a 20-foot high cliff into the cool waters below, despite numerous warning signs not to. I perched on a rock facing the crashing waves of the Pacific, while Frank and Alex went further upstream to swim under waterfalls. It's a glorious spot, and everyone seemed to be having a good time splashing in the water.
I think I could have sat on a rock and stared at ocean all day long, but the cliff jumpers kept startling me out of my reverie.
We decided to take the back road out of Hana, rather than double back on the highway. We thought it might be easier on Alex's delicate stomach than going through the twisty road again, but we were wrong. The first few miles were much straighter and paved, but after that, the road turned to dirt and gravel and was incredibly bumpy. This stretch of road is sometimes closed to traffic due to weather, so if you want to try it for yourself, check to make sure it is open.
As if the curves, bumps, and narrow bridges were not enough, when it got dark, we encountered a number of cows sauntering down the middle of the road. One of them appeared in our headlights like a bovine refugee from the Blair Witch Project, just a giant, sad cow face that suddenly appeared outside my window. I think I jumped and yelled "Look out!" just as Frank swerved to miss Bessie and her friends in their nighttime ramble.
Luckily, this was on a paved portion of the road, so we didn't blow a tire. I can gladly say that no animals were harmed in the making of this vacation.
Tips for Exploring the Road to Hana:
- Plan for a full day trip.
- If you or your kids are prone to motion sickness, take something before you go, or wear motion sickness wristbands. When I was pregnant with Alex, I couldn't get in a car without wearing a pressure-point wristband to help with car sickness. These don't seem to work on Alex, so we use Dramamine for him, with mixed results.
- Pack a picnic lunch and snacks for the car, along with water and drinks.
- Be patient. Expect frequent stops.
- If you take the back road back, check your rental car contract to make sure you are still covered.
- Take your swimsuit and sunscreen for a dip in the Seven Sacred Pools.
- Take time to stop and smell the orchids. It's one of the most beautiful roads in the world, and you may never pass this way again, so enjoy!