Maui, Hawaii. The words alone evoke images of lush green valleys rimmed by the brilliant blue Pacific Ocean and sandy beaches on one side, dramatic vistas rising towards the sky on the other. It is an island full of adventures, from sun-drenched beaches to volcano hikes to scenic coastal drives. A trip to Maui isn’t complete without experiencing each of these adventures.
Ah yes. Those scenic coastal drives of Maui. Just past Wailuku, skirting the far western edges of Maui’s northern shore, begins one so adventurous, so challenging that it comes with a warning. It’s the Kahekili Highway, and it is not for the faint of heart nor the novice driver.
Ride with us as we take on this twisty, white knuckled 20+ mile drive from Wailuku to Honokohau Bay. Enjoy the view as we traverse steep cliff-side roads past incredible views and through beautiful green valleys. Strap on that seat belt because this drive is about to take some sharp turns!
Know Before You Go – Be Aware of The Drive!
Driving the Kahekili Highway is quite a driver’s challenge. At times, it takes nerves of steel to navigate its one-lane stretches as cars approach from the other side, or to drive impossibly close to cliff edges with sheer drops far below, knowing that at some point you might need to throw your car into reverse and back up on these very narrow roads.
Yes, this road is most certainly a driver’s challenge. Just look at those hair-pin turns! Not one, not two, but seemingly dozens of turns that must be navigated throughout the drive. For those who do brave this sometimes treacherous highway, there are views beyond description, and adventures that leave the crowds behind on beaches elsewhere on Maui.
It doesn’t long for the highway to morph from a classic two lane road into something a bit more rustic. Ok, perhaps rustic isn’t the best descriptor here. More like, narrow, single car stretches of road that hug the shoulders of cliff edges and ocean ledges. Stretches with blind turns where one honks their horn to let oncoming traffic know they are just around the bend.
The highway snakes it’s way around the north side of the West Maui Mountains, then back down into deep valleys where simple pole and wire fences may be all that stands between you and the nearby cliffs’ edges. There is often little room for error, and no room to pass slower moving vehicles along much of this 20+ mile stretch of road.
But there really is no reason to pass! With speed limits often 15 miles per hour or less, and stunning views to catch the eye, why would you want to pass? Just enjoy the drive and the adventures along the way. It’s all worth those twisty windy roads and the slow speeds, as well as the occasional need to back the car up to let another one pass.
The Dramatic Views Along Kahekili Highway
So why take on this challenging, difficult drive? Two words. Astounding vistas! The Kahekili Highway drives through some of the best scenic views on all of Maui. Though the road may be harrowing at time, the views by far make up for it.
Experience vistas like this lush valley rimmed by mountains. Or the isolated tiny village of Kahakuloa, where you will be left wondering how the people who live here eek out a living in this remote region of Maui. And how do they drive this road on a daily basis!
The drive is well known for its stunning Pacific Ocean vistas, where giant swells of ocean waves crash onto jagged black lava rock. Be careful! Those waves can be mighty powerful.
You won’t find many sandy beaches along the Kahekili Highway. Nor will you find crowds of people to obstruct your views. Though in that moment approaching a single lane hairpin turn with several cars waiting to navigate through, you might think it’s crowded!
Don’t miss the Kaukini Gallery, located between mile markers 13 and 14. The views here are different than those along other stretches of the Kahekili Highway, and worth pulling over for. It’s also a nice, relaxing respite along this otherwise demanding drive.
Kaukini Gallery offers a more artistic view of Maui. Check out all the beautiful Hawaii-crafted artwork, ceramics, sculptures, and jewelry pieces vying for your attention. Oh, and don’t miss those yummy chocolate covered frozen bananas.
The sign as you leave the Kaukini Gallery says it all! Whichever direction you take, more narrow roads ahead. Steel yourself for the remainder of the drive.
Finding Adventure Off Kahekili Highway
Some might say the adventure is the drive itself. And yes, this drive is quite an adventure! But it’s not the only adventure along the Kahekili Highway. One must park the car and explore off-road and on foot to truly experience this incredible, wilder side of Maui.
A hike is perfect to regroup and refresh along this drive. You won’t find posh resorts nor restaurants here. What you will find are sights, sounds and experiences that would otherwise be missed if you simply stay in the car. Who knows what you might find at trail’s end?
Maybe it’s a series of tide pools waiting to be explored, like the Olivine Tide Pools. Near mile marker 16 is a short though fairly challenging hike across lava rock that lead down to the Pacific Ocean and this series of tide pools. There is no sandy beach here. Just lava rocks to scramble past, tide pools to explore, and the serenity of your surroundings to enjoy.
Wade into a shallow tide pool in search of tiny crabs, fish and other ocean life. Keep a keen eye out for large ocean waves crashing to shore! This is one place to not turn your back on the wild ocean just beyond the tide pools.
Between mile markers 38 and 39 is the must-see Nakalele Blowhole. If time permits only one out-of-car adventure, this is the one! At less than a mile, the trail isn’t very long, but it will provide views not otherwise seen from the parking lot nor the road.
Wait for it. Wait for it. Bam! Thar she blows! It may be tempting to get close to the Nakalele Blowhole, but keeping your distance is more advisable. Besides, standing even 15 to 20 feet away, you’ll still enjoy the after-effects of a refreshing spray, or quite possibly a down pour, of water!
Is The Kahekili Highway Drive For You?
Be prepared if you plan to drive this winding, challenging section of the Kahekili Highway. Consider these tips before deciding if a Kahekili Highway drive is in your future:
- Do allow several hours for the drive, preferably with an early start.
- Do bring motion sickness medications if you have a tendency for motion sickness.
- Do stop and enjoy the various views and adventures along the way.
- Do bring or wear swimsuits and bring a towel to enjoy the water.
- Don’t drive aggressive! This isn’t the time, nor the place.
- Don’t try to pass other cars. Just not worth it. And you might miss a view!
- Don’t drive this road at night. Blind turns are tough by day, worse at night.
- Don’t park on the side of the road unless it is a designated parking area.
- Do reschedule if raining, threatening to rain, or just rained. You want the roads dry!
- Do check your rental car agreement. Some do not allow their cars along this stretch.
- Do consider the size of your vehicle. Big vans and SUV’s are more challenging to navigate along these narrow roads.
The Kahekili Highway was one of the most challenging drives we have done. Nail-biting, harrowing and narrow sections of the highway are not to be taken lightly. If you do the drive, respect the road, respect other drivers, and you will be rewarded with views beyond compare. And yes, we also had to back up once to let an oncoming car pass.
Have You Driven The Kahekili Highway?
Have you driven the Kahekili Highway along Maui’s northern shores? Did you find it as challenging as we did? Did you also have to back up once or twice to allow an on-coming car to pass through a one-lane stretch ahead of you? Do share your experiences and tips for this challenging yet beautiful drive!
Read more about our Maui, Hawaii adventures at:
- 8 Family Favorite Moments on The Island of Maui, Hawaii
- 3 Favorite Day-Trip Worthy Adventures Along The Road To Hana
Images by C.Biederman