Maui Must-Do: Highlights of One of the Most Dangerous (and Beautiful!) Drives in the World

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Maui Must-Do: Highlights of One of the Most Dangerous (and Beautiful!) Drives in the World

Joseph HostetlerMaui Must-Do: Highlights of One of the Most Dangerous (and Beautiful!) Drives in the WorldMillion Mile Secrets Team

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The Road to Hana is a stunning drive along the north and east coasts of Maui.  It’s ~50 miles long and takes ~2.5 hours to drive.

But because there are so many things to do along the way, it will take you much longer.  After swimming at a few beaches, exploring caves, and stopping for food, my drive to the town of Hana and back took ~8 hours.

Even if you rarely leave your car, you’ll have a good time on the Road to Hana.  Breathtaking cliffs and waterfalls are RIGHT beside the road.

Maui Must Do Highlights Of One Of The Most Dangerous And Beautiful Drives In The World
Ke’anae Along the Road to Hana Is One of the Prettiest Parts of Northeast Maui

If you easily become carsick, this probably isn’t the adventure for you.  The drive is VERY curvy.  It’s the Kim Kardashian of roads.  It reminded me of an exaggerated version of the roads in Western Ireland.

The Road to Hana has tons of stops along the way.  But I’ll just touch on the ones I enjoyed the most.

Review of The Road to Hana

The Road to Hana is said to be one of the most dangerous roads in the world.  It has 600+ curves, and many of them are hairpin.  Plus, there are 59 bridges, the majority of which are only wide enough for 1 car at a time.

You’re meant to treat the bridges similar to a 4 way stop in that whichever car reaches the bridge first has the right of way.  This can cause some major backups.  But you’re there to enjoy the journey itself, so the traffic does little harm.

There’s nothing to worry about, as long as you’re paying attention.  The problem is that everything around you is so beautiful!!  Take your eyes off the road for a few seconds, and you might find yourself free falling.

It doesn’t help that the locals ride your tail if you’re going too slow.  It’s best to pull over if you look in your mirror and see a line of cars behind you.

 

What You Need Before Embarking

First, the basics.  You should bring both flip flops and hiking boots.  You’ll be body surfing in an alcove minutes after scaling volcanic cliffs.  Just wear your swimsuit the whole way.

Before going on this trip, one Million Mile Secrets reader suggested that I download the Road to Hana GyPSy Guide on my phone.  It costs $5.99, which is $5 more than I’m usually willing to pay for an app.  But I decided to go for it, and it was SO helpful!

Maui Must Do Highlights Of One Of The Most Dangerous And Beautiful Drives In The World
I Had Never Used GyPSy Before This. They Have Tours of Cool Locations All Over the World

The app tracks your location and notifies you when you’re about to pass an attraction.  It also gives historical facts during your drive, and alerts you for things like exceptionally sharp turns.  My Road to Hana experience was much improved with the Road to Hana GyPSy Guide.

Maui Must Do Highlights Of One Of The Most Dangerous And Beautiful Drives In The World
When Your Location Crosses an Arrow, Audio Will Automatically Play

1.   Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees

I have not in my life seen such beautiful trees as the rainbow eucalyptus along the Road to Hana.  They’re ~6 miles from the beginning of the road, and they are vibrant.  You can find these trees in some US states, like California and Louisiana, but this was my first experience with them.

Maui Must Do Highlights Of One Of The Most Dangerous And Beautiful Drives In The World
Rainbow Eucalyptus…the Roy G Biv Tree

The streaks of color were so unreal that I stopped again on my way back.

2.   Bamboo Forest and Waterfalls

Across the street from the rainbow eucalyptus is a bamboo forest.  It’s concealed by thick bushes along the shoulder of the road.  But if you walk along the bushes, you’ll find a hole leading into a bamboo wonderland.

The forest is pretty, but you’ll need to keep your eyes on the ground so you don’t trip.  The paths can be very rugged, and even have crevices that could do you some real damage!

Maui Must Do Highlights Of One Of The Most Dangerous And Beautiful Drives In The World
Bamboo Forest Along the Road to Hana

Much of the bamboo forest is pathed, but not all of it.  You’ll probably spot the Na’ili’ili-haele stream along the way, as well as ponds and waterfalls for swimming.

Maui Must Do Highlights Of One Of The Most Dangerous And Beautiful Drives In The World
There are LOTS of Places to Swim Along Hana Highway

3.   Honomanu Bay

This is the first available black sand beach.  The access road is a little rough, and it’s not a good idea to drive down to the shore, although it’s totally possible.

Maui Must Do Highlights Of One Of The Most Dangerous And Beautiful Drives In The World
The Road Forks at a Turn. I Parked on the Side of the Main Road and Walked ~5 Minutes to the Beach

I had never seen black sand until now, and it was very novel.  Noticeably coarser than any sand I had walked on before.

This was my favorite black sand beach along the road.  There’s a prettier one farther along, but it’s packed with tourists.  And its gruff sand is painful to walk on.

Maui Must Do Highlights Of One Of The Most Dangerous And Beautiful Drives In The World
Ungroomed Sand at the Tranquil Honomanu Bay

4.   Wai’anapanapa State Park

Wai’anapanapa State Park is the biggest bang for your stop along the route.  There’s tons to do, from hiking to swimming to spelunking.

Maui Must Do Highlights Of One Of The Most Dangerous And Beautiful Drives In The World
Head Left! That’s Where Most of the Action Is

Most of the caves were blocked off during my visit.  But there’s a neat little cave on the right side of Pailoa Bay to the left of the entrance.

The biggest draw of this stop is probably the glimmering black sand cove.

The waters are pretty rough here, and so is the sand.  It was crazy hot and felt like walking on gravel.  But very pretty to look at!

 

 

Maui Must Do Highlights Of One Of The Most Dangerous And Beautiful Drives In The World
How Big Can Sand Be Before It’s Just Rocks?

There is a hiking trail to the left of the beach, which takes you along the ocean for some stellar coastal views.  The volcanic rock clashes with the greenery in a pretty spectacular way.

Maui Must Do Highlights Of One Of The Most Dangerous And Beautiful Drives In The World
The Trail Is Very Peaceful. There Were Lots of Yoga Stone Stack Things Near the Edge of the Cliff

I walked for ~20 minutes before I decided to turn around.  I did NOT have hiking shoes, and I was destroying my flip flops.

5.   Hamoa Beach

This is one_beautiful_beach, and the best along the Road to Hana for swimming, in my opinion.  It’s also apparently a pretty excellent snorkeling spot.

Maui Must Do Highlights Of One Of The Most Dangerous And Beautiful Drives In The World
Hamoa Beach Is One of the Last Stops Along the Road

The beach gets a lot of foot traffic, but that comes with benefits like dedicated showers.  And there are pretty Plumeria flowers all over the ground from the surrounding trees.

6.   Vendors Along the Way

I stopped 4 times along the Road to Hana for things to eat.  Perhaps the magic of the road beguiled my taste buds, but everything was SO GOOD man!

I stopped once for banana bread at Aunty Sandy’s, some food stand (the name of which escapes me) for some kind of power shake, and a pickup truck for coconut water.

Maui Must Do Highlights Of One Of The Most Dangerous And Beautiful Drives In The World
A Woman Sold Coconuts Out of the Bed of Her Truck for $10, Promising to Use the Obscene Profit Margin for Her Baby Daughter’s College Fund

There were 2 restaurants I wanted to try but ended up skipping.  One is called Mama’s Fish House.  It’s very highly rated, and very expensive.  I’d have felt too awkward eating at such a fancy restaurant alone, though.

On the drive back, I pulled over at a stand called Huelo Lookout.

Maui Must Do Highlights Of One Of The Most Dangerous And Beautiful Drives In The World
Huelo Lookout Isn’t Far From the Eucalyptus Trees

One of my friends had recently been to Maui and recommended it.  It’s a juice stand that sells lots of smoothies and a few food options, too.  I had a crepe filled with honey, banana, and pineapple.

Maui Must Do Highlights Of One Of The Most Dangerous And Beautiful Drives In The World
Honey Banana Pineapple Crepe

Bottom Line

The Road to Hana is a great experience.  But it is KEY to understand that the town of Hana is not exciting at all.  There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I knew this, and still felt cheated when I arrived in Hana.  This activity is completely entirely about the drive itself, and the fun stops along the way.

Hana Highway is one of the most dangerous roads in the world.  Probably because it’s a combination of hundreds of hairpin turns and a gorgeous backdrop.  If you want to take pictures, pull over first!

Let me know if you have any tips for travelers planning the Road to Hana!

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We were on the road to Hana just last month and it was beautiful and very dangerous but we did it.We stopped at Judy’s banana bread and bought a couple and it was very good tried to save the other for our family in Washington state but ate them ourselves.We found it very difficult to see much do too all of the people that had the same idea not much room to pull over safely.We did how ever pul over at a small area that had several different small restaurant and did eat at the fish place because she was still open and the food was delicious probably the best place to eat on the Muai

Author
Joseph Hostetler

Haha! Yeah, the banana bread was amazing. You tried Mama’s Fish House? Glad to hear it lives up to its rep!

Also if it has been raining heavily for days on the island and there has been a big storm, check online HI State Highways, to make sure there are no road closures. There are often landslides on the road to Hana, sometimes involving large and scary boulders and downed trees, which may leave you stuck for hours waiting to clear road. Could have hotel concierge check for you. Some rain, however, makes the waterfalls more beautiful…

Author
Joseph Hostetler

Very comprehensive info, thanks for helping the folks!

I’ve lived and worked on Maui for 17 years. I’ve also traveled around the world to many places, and the road to Hana is not bad at all as long as you go at a comfortable pace, do curves slowly and obey right-of-way rules at bridges, AND DRIVER KEEP EYES ON ROAD, pulling over to enjoy views at safe places. Please just pull over in a safe place if locals behind you (they may need to get to work or have urgent travel, medical issue or appointment in town, or plane to catch) to avoid any friction. The Hana highway is well paved, mostly 2 lane except for bridges, well marked, and has guard rails. The Kahekili road northern coast of west Maui past Kapalua, scares the hell out of me, large sections (not just bridges) of one lane cliff face with sheer drop off and NO GUARD RAILS! Not for faint of heart. Be careful where you walk when getting out of your car in your zeal to take photos, be aware of loose and unstable edges. A local I know, once encountered a wife of a honeymooning couple screaming at roadside as her husband had lost footing and gone down part of cliff face, 2 local guys got down and held him with knotted towels several hours to prevent him falling off precipice until rescue arrived. (local did give them work business card, never even got thank you, btw). Other hazards to be aware of are flash floods swimming in pools on way and around Hana. It can be sunny and beautiful in the pool, but if you see clouds up around mountain (watch out for that) there can be a flash flood with wall of water that will send you down to ocean and drown you. To illustrate in Kipahulu (near “seven sacred pools past Hana) a couple with 2 kids was crossing stream there on a sunny day, mom and boy crossed fine, seconds later flash flood wall of water down stream washed dad and little girl down to ocean (probably to waiting sharks down there that hang where fresh water meets ocean esp if dirty/murky water, avoid swimming murky water) only found her swimsuit later, no bodies recovered. That’s how fast this can occur. The streams also have disease called Leptospirosis from wild boars peeing upstream. I am a physician and have treated cases. I love Hana but I have my kids avoid the streams and pools for this reason. Also be aware of rogue waves esp in Keanae, don’t get too close to shorebreak even locals have been taken away by waves when taking photos with back to ocean. Also don’t leave valuables in car if stop off Twin Falls on road to Hana, many break-ins to car when you go on trail and bring mosquito repellent. The road past Hana to seven sacred pools is more dicey with long stretches one lane and not too bad except if going contraflow to when many tourists are going opposite way with inches between cars and one car uncomfortably close to edge as people try to squeeze past on what is a really a one lane road, especially if like driving a minivan like I do, somewhat nerve racking. National Park rangers in Kipuhulu near seven sacred pools may advise on times to avoid driving back to Hana. If weather is good, and you are not staying in Hana, just do a circuit (and see vastly different scenery) and just continue through Kaupo and upcountry Maui and stop at Winery. Only route on Maui can see fields that last flowed about 1790. Kaupo looks like Easter Island without the statues! Enjoy Maui be be safe!