Seemingly isolated from the rest of Maui is the remote and rugged region of Hana, along the island’s eastern shore. Those who venture down the Road to Hana through this vastly undeveloped, extremely picturesque tropical paradise will experience a coastal rainforest, black sand beaches, spectacular 400 foot high waterfalls, and adventurous hiking trails.
As one of Maui’s top tourist attractions, the Road to Hana may be crowded at times. It is a narrow, winding road filled with hairpin turns and one-lane bridges, and not the easiest of roads to drive. But what awaits along the way makes it all worth while. Besides, who’s in a rush when you’ve got these gorgeous views to look at, these adventures to be experienced!
Here are three favorite experiences sure to fill anyone’s day along the Hana Highway.
1. Exploring Waianapanapa State Park
A very popular destination along the Road to Hana is Waianapanapa State Park. There’s a reason for that! Killer views, black sand beaches, and ancient Hawaiian remains make Waianapanapa State Park the perfect place to stop the car for an up-close experience of this wilder side of Maui.
First up is Pa’iloa Beach. This black sand beach is rimmed by beautiful swaying palm trees, lava rock cliffs, and of course, the brilliant blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Though the beach itself is not very large, the water is refreshing, and the nearby ocean cave a must-explore for incredible views of the open ocean just beyond the cave’s other end.
Kick up your feet, splash through the waves, letting the ocean cool you off. Just don’t turn your back on these rough and tumble waves, nor go too far out into the water. The waves are quite rough here, and the black lava pebbles that populate the shoreline can leave you a bit roughened up if you take a tumble.
There is so much to explore beyond the black sand beach of this lovely state park. Take a hike along an ancient Hawaiian coastal trail, where you may wander past cave shelters, a pictograph and several burial sites. This area was also once home to the ancient Hawaiians, and the park encompasses several sites of these former inhabitants.
Walk along a labyrinth of trails cutting though a hau grove. See a native hala forest. Explore a nearby freshwater cave where it’s thought that those very ancient Hawaiians may have come to clean and prepare their food.
Waianapanapa State Park is just the place to experience the beauty of Hana from beyond your vehicle. Plan to spend at least an hour here, more if you adventure further down the coastal hiking trail, where the crowds thin out and views may be all your own.
2. Hiking The Other Haleakala National Park
Many people experience only one side of Haleakala National Park. They arrive at the park’s 10,000 foot summit in the wee hours of the morning to await the sunrise. Afterwards, they linger a bit longer, taking in the summit’s lunar-like volcanic landscape in the early morning sunlight, before embarking back down the mountain.
What these sunrise-seeking visitors may not realize is that there’s another side of Haleakala, one that is wildly in contrast with the summit’s semi-barren landscape. What they may not see is a wildly divergent terrain stretching from a lava rock strewn summit, through lush tropical rainforests, and down to coastal Kipaula at the foot of the Pacific Ocean.
Haleakala’s coastal Kipaula region is a piece of Haleakala not be missed. But miss it you might, unless you venture out along the Hana Highway. That’s because these two vastly divergent regions of Haleakala National Park are not directly connected by any roads.
Those that venture past the village of Hana and on to the coastal Kipaula region are rewarded with spectacular scenery sure to please the eye. One must leave the car behind, though, to truly appreciate all that this beautiful region has to offer. Views like Makahiku Falls or Pipiwai Stream, neither of which can be seen from your car!
Perhaps most rewarding along this remote stretch of highway is the Pipiwai trail. This 4 mile hike takes it’s adventurers into the more tropical side of Haleakala National Park, past huge banyan trees just begging to be climbed, through verdant green rainforests and past stunning waterfalls like Makahiku Falls.
Pipiwai Trail weaves it’s way up through lush vegetation, and into a dense bamboo forest, where a slippery slope of stone and dirt steps carve their way through 30+ foot tall bamboo.
Emerge from the bamboo forest, and continue past streams gushing over rocks smoothed and moss covered from years of water flow. Oh the lush tropical beauty one will find along the Pipiwai Trail!
And there it is, the reason to park that car and hike the Pipiwai Trail. The spectacular, scenic Waimoku Falls, it’s water spilling over a sheer cliff 400 feet above. There’s just one last thing to do before heading back down the trail. Sit back and enjoy! Oh, and snap photos, of course.
3. Driving The Picturesque Road To Hana!
The road itself is an adventure! So what is the Road to Hana? It is a roughly 60 mile stretch of highway that cuts along Maui’s southeastern-most edges. It is also a perfect opportunity to slow things down, a day to roll down the car windows and let the warm tropical breeze flow through. It’s a day to enjoy the simpler side of life, a day to just enjoy a scenic drive to this wilder side of Maui.
What awaits those who take on the challenges of Hana Highway’s curves and cliffs weaving along the Pacific Ocean’s coastline is dramatic scenery and the opportunity for tropical adventures. Nobody is in a rush here, and for good reason!
Driving too fast could mean missing a self-serve road-side fruit stand! Take your time, enjoy the little things along the road. Pull off for a respite from the drive and experience everything this adventurous drive has to offer.
Pull over for lunch at the Hana Ranch Center, for a meal of decidedly local fare. Though the food may not be something to write home about, the views are. And who knows who might drop in for a bite? Perhaps it will be a beautiful tropical bird.
Continue past Waianapanapa State Park and Hana, past the Pipiwai Trail and on to Oheao Gulch. Soak in the stunning views that seemingly span forever. This will be a day trip well worth the twisty, curvy roads, and the sometimes need to share a view with others.
Travelers’ Tip: If you are considering driving along the back side of the Hana Highway (from Huakini Bay just past Oheo Gulch to Lelekea Bay), check your car rental contract first. Many rental agencies state this stretch of the road is unauthorized, and driving your rental car along this part is in violation of the rental contract.
Have You Driven The Hana Highway?
Though it made for a long day of adventures, our day trip along the Hana Highway was one we will long remember. Our only regret? That we did not plan enough time to spend the night in Hana! Waking up to the sunrise across the Hana coast would have made it a wake-up call to remember, and it would have allowed us to further enjoy this wilder side of Maui.
How about you? Have you experienced the Hana Highway on the island of Maui? What was your favorite experience? Did you overnight in Hana, or wish you had as we did? Do share!
Read more about our Maui, Hawaii adventures at:
- 8 Family Favorite Moments on The Island of Maui, Hawaii
- Experiencing The Scenic Coastal Drive of Kahekili Highway
All images by C.Biederman