There are many resources available to help you prepare for and make the most of your journey on the Road To Hana. Our goal here is not to tell your more of the same, but to share a few thoughts from local perspectives.
Most often you hear “Start your day in Paia Town.” Paia is great. Paia is lovely. Parking in Paia is a nightmare. Consider beginning a little out of the way, but not too far that it throws in a kink. Stillwell’s Bakery in Wailuku is off the hook with its freshly baked pastries and breads. Breakfast can be full and hearty or a simple, small start, but guaranteed delicious. Coffee is piping and parking is plentiful. It’s so local that I might have to go into hiding for dishing out the 411 on our secret little tucked away gem.
This will not be a popularly accepted opinion by any guide book, but here goes anyway – Twin Falls– skip it. Traffic wise it puts you way ahead of the pack and on your way to finding an abundance of beautiful sights more worthy of your time. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a local say this I could fill my tank for a cruise to Hana!
It doesn’t take long on the Road to Hana to appreciate the ‘I Survived the Road to Hana’ T-shirts. The twists and turns keep you busy dividing your attention between the road, the scenery, and for some the nausea (see tips below!). One place you need to be on high alert is approaching mile marker 16, you are within a few short minutes of two most often overlooked treasures. Makai, or ocean side look for the road that leads down to Ke’anae Peninsula. After heading downhill you will come to where the land begins to flatten out. Park your car, lock your car, grab a camera and get out to explore the majestic rocky coast. As beautiful as it is – it is equally dangerous, so keep a safe distance from where the waves meet the rocks. Rogue waves can be strong enough to sweep you off of your feet!
Back on the main road just past Ke’anae keep your eyes Mauka, or mountain side, approximately mile marker 18.9 for a very small lot. It only holds a couple of vehicles and you will find there is a set of stairs going up on the right hand side. You definitely want to go up the stairs. Once you have ascended, the beauty you will behold is transcending! Wailua Valley and the Ko’olau Gap– the home of many distant yet spectacular waterfalls. You can also see the rim of Haleakala’s Crater. Look down the other side for a picturesque view of Ke’anae. Please note: The gated road in the parking area keeps visitors out of the privately owned valley. There are some adventurers who trespass and hike, though it is highly frowned upon to do so. Plus, you do not want to come face to face with an angry wild hog, their tusks are no joke and they are not friendly like Pumba. But, please do your best to not miss this breathtaking stop and make sure you have your camera ready.
As you travel on and feel your belly rumble for lunch, hold out for the Nahiku Marketplace. Local vendors dish up Thai food, scrumptious tacos, and my personal favorite – the yummiest coconut shrimp on island at the Island Chef stand. There is a vast array of gifts to be found, such as jewelry and unique Maui souvenirs. Inside the coffee shop you will find the most mouth watering Lilikoi (passion fruit) bars and coconut bread – this is the stuff cravings are made of. I am about to give you some of the best advice ever: call the coffee shop the morning of your journey while you still have cell phone service (808) 248-8800, ask them to hold a few bars and loaves for you and let them know you are on your way. They sell out early in the day and it is a sad, sad day to get there only to find they do not have any left.
Now, fully sated and back on the Road to Hana you are only 6 miles to town. After you visit and play at Waianapanapa (Black Sand Beach) and head into town, the Hasegawa General Store has a mish mash of many things you may have forgotten, want, or need. From cold bottled water and snacks to full on groceries, they also have tools, t-shirts, hats, cool Hana stickers for your car back home, and so much more. Stop in and browse; it supports local economy.
Many visit Hana Bay (in close proximity to Hasegawa’s) and then call it a day. They turn around and head back toward their starting point. If you aren’t staying the night in Hana and it isn’t close to getting dark, I encourage you to continue on and complete your circle around East Maui. Yes, the road can get precariously narrow in places, so please drive safely. It is worth it to witness the raw beauty that is so different from any other part of the island. Be extremely careful in choosing where to plant your feet if you are out to take pictures over cliff side. You might find there is no more but a tiny little bush between you and a very long drop down to the ocean. Feeling the earth crumble underfoot and realizing you are standing on a precipice is terrifying. Never under estimate the very dangerously disguised beauty of Hawaii!
Other great stops if time permits is a bathroom break at the little roadside Kaupo General Store. The hotdogs there are a yummy treat, too. It is a little bit of a trek from Kaupoto Ulupalakua, and has more than its share of bumps in the road for a good clip; however, it eventually turns into smooth pavement with some pretty fun rollercoaster like hills. Beware of the cattle guards that can rattle your car like a set of maracas..
Once you make it to Ulupalakua you are right in the heart of Maui’s Wine Country. I cannot fail to mention having a glass of pineapple wine, it’s crisp, it’s sweet, it is oh so Maui. The Ulupalakua General Store is very paniolo (cowboy) townish, unique and super cool with a wide variety of fixin’s and gifts.
And lastly, but never to be forgotten is Grandma’s Coffee Shop in Kula where the local coffee says POW, but the relaxed vibe of the place says chill. Serving up healthy choice wraps or downright sinful sweets, Grandma’s is a one of a kind find in world filled with coffee shops. These 3 little tips are especially good if you have decided to make your trek against the flow and start out the Road to Hana on the backside.
It’s always a good idea to do your research and have a few sights you know you don’t want to miss along the road to Hana. Hopefully you can tuck a few of these suggestions in along as you explore.
Most importantly be safe. While the following information isn’t fun, I feel it is important to mention a few things. I don’t care if you’ve never gotten sick on a carnival ride before or not, every car on the Road to Hana needs to have an anti-nausea arsenal ready!! If bonine makes you drowsy, Down to Earth in Kahului has holistic remedies. Also anything ginger.. ginger ale, ginger candy, etc… Is there anything more horrible than being stuck on a tilt-a-whirl that does not stop for hours? Don’t find out – be prepared!! ALWAYS lock your car, and never leave valuables unattended – even locked trunks are never a guarantee (this unfortunately goes for pretty much anywhere on the islands). Please drive with Aloha! If you see a string of cars behind you pull well off to the side carefully to let them pass. Local vehicles are easy to spot and they really do not want to drive slowly behind you. Please let them get around you, if you don’t they will inevitably pass you anyway. Truthfully, it puts both of you at risk for there are very few safe places for passing – the locals do not wait for the safe places. It’s always a good idea to keep your eye on the Hana weather report for the duration of your stay so you can try and pick the least wet day. It is the rainforest after all so rain is inevitable. Hard rains or days on end rains are the ones you want to avoid due to risk of mud and rock slides. Always take along a sweater or lightweight blanket, once the sun goes down travel can be quite chilly! A flashlight and paper towels in the car is a good idea too, and perfect in case you want to destroy that loaf of coconut bread on the way back. The Road to Hana is a magical place you will never forget. Be safe. Have fun. And enjoy the ride!