Mastering the Hana Highway: How to do it Right
“The Road To Hana.” It’s a four-word phrase that, for many people, elicits four-letter responses. Driving this serpentine, rainforest road is one of the world’s best drives—but for those who rush, or fail to prepare, it can be a frustrating journey.
With a few simple precautions, and an idea of what you’re getting into, driving to Hana can be a journey where your cares melt faster than vegan ice cream at roadside Coconut Glen’s. It’s a place where cell phones cease to work and you actually cease to care.
To begin, clear your other plans. Don’t schedule a luau for later that night or make dinner reservations, and devote the entire day—or trip—to experiencing Hana’s beauty. Be sure to pack boardshorts, a swimsuit, and a change of clothes, so you can stop and swim at waterfalls as a way to break up the drive, or take a dip at Hamoa Beach.
If possible, plan to spend the night in Hana so you can go at a leisurely pace and enjoy the winding drive, giving you the chance to make it to spots like the Pools of Ohe’o before other visitors arrive. If you can only spare one day, set out early and stop every couple of miles so you can enjoy the island drive.
Start in funky Paia with crepes from Café des Amis, or a coffee from Anthony’s Coffee Co., where Laird Hamilton is known to hang out. Follow breakfast with a barefoot stroll down dune-lined Baldwin Beach, and then venture out on the winding journey that’s lined with waterfalls and trails. While the 54 bridges and 600 turns might sound like a recipe for nausea, frequently stopping not only helps reduce the chance you’ll get car sick, but also maximizes the number of sights you’ll see along the way.
Though Hana is the alleged destination and perceived end point of the road, thousands of visitors are befuddled each year when they pull into it and realize it’s simply a village of churches and homes. Many visitors rush the journey here, reach the sands of Hana Bay and decide there’s nothing to see. If you’re staying overnight, book at room at Travaasa Hana or a country bed and breakfast, and watch the sunrise from the black sand beach at Wai’anapanapa State Park.
During the day, stop and grab lunch at Braddah Hutt’s food truck or drinks from Hasegawa Store, and put together an impromptu picnic you can enjoy at Hamoa Beach, a utopian, white sand cove tucked away three miles past the town.
Continue the winding road to Kipahulu, where the Pools of Ohe‘o, or “Seven Sacred Pools,” spill their way down to the sea. If you arrive before 3 p.m. and you’re still seeking adventure, make the 1.5-mile trek to the 400 feet of Waimoku Falls. Accessible via the Pipiwai Trail that weaves through groves of bamboo, the waterfall is arguably one of Maui’s most mystical, magical spots.
Finally, though the rental car contract often states that the back road on this trip is 4WD, the truth is it’s well-graded dirt with bumpy, single lane zones. If the weather is nice and the road is dry—and there are still two hours of sunlight—keep the Hana adventure going by lapping around the mountain.
Kyle Ellison is on the Hawaii beat for Travel + Leisure. He divides his time between Hawaii and Asheville, N.C.