The Hawaiian island of Maui is in a league of its own. If there is such a thing as paradise on earth it can be found here. Remote wind swept beaches are a mecca for surfers from the world over. Upscale family friendly resorts, golf courses and delicious dining options abound on the western coast of Maui.
Maui’s west coast is dry and the lava strewn landscape is dotted by relatively calm beaches where snorkeling and lazing on the white/black sands is a favorite pastime of mine. But don’t be fooled by the glamor of it all. The eastern (windward) side is wilder and more exciting and boasts Maui’s best know attraction – The Hana Highway (colloquially referred to as The Road to Hana). Although only 60 odd miles long, an uninterrupted car-trip takes about 2.5 hours to drive, since the highway is very windy and narrow and passes over 59 bridges, most of which one lane only.
But why is it so special? As one drives past Kahului and through the “hippy” town of Pa’ia, you will notice a sudden change in scenery. From a dry arid landscape you suddenly emerge into a green paradise. Palms, banana and avocado plantations appear as if by magic. The eastern side of Maui is blessed with plentiful rain; so much so that it qualifies as a lush tropical rain forest by all standards.
As one continues down the ‘highway’ you will cross over dozens of bridges, and blind hairpin turns (620 in all). Many of the concrete and steel bridges date back to early 20th century built by one-handed pioneer and his often coerced team of foreign laborers. What started in 1910 as an irrigation system to harness the countless streams and waterfalls, is today the backbone of The Road to Hana.
What psyches me most about this iconic road trip? My Top 5 reasons:
1. The Flora – I never cease to be amazed by ginger plants that grip the slushy slopes and grow as tall as trees, stately Rainbow eucalyptus that line the roadside, thick bamboo forests and millions of fern species and wild fruit trees including avocados literally falling off the trees!
2. Waterfalls & hiking trails – Oheo Gulch Trail to the Seven Sacred Pools (marker #54) is a favorite place to escape to the scents and sounds of lush jungle. As a thrill seeking adventurer, the dozens of falls that dot the hillsides is a big draw for me. I always make it a point to trudge over muddy trails to find a waterfall to jump off into the chilly fresh water pool below! Not for everyone, but the 30/40 foot drops give me an adrenaline high. My favorite is Hanawi Falls (mile marker #24) – please watch this video of me taking the leap. Tip – flash floods occur frequently so be aware of the weather, paying close attention to posted signs. Heavy overcast or rainy conditions are a definite warning sign.
3. Beaches – Hamoa Beach – A postcard-perfect 100′ wide by 1000′ long crescent (marker #50), it is ranked up high with other famous beaches in the resort areas of Maui. Surrounded by cliffs, it is also a popular surf break. Bring your boogie boards and snorkeling is good especially on the left side. Kaihalulu (Red Sand) Beach is a dramatic and beautiful hidden cove unlike any other. The ocean outside the cove is almost always a deep, almost Kool-Aid blue. This crescent-shaped beach is cut deep into the Ka’uiki Head cinder cone, whose rust-red lava cinder cliffs lend the beach sands their vibrant red.Wai’anapanapa Beach is also a black sand beach (marker #32) – it offers spectacular views of a rugged shoreline, sea arches and bathrooms. The water is rough though so swimming is marginal.
4. Hidden lava tubes in the jungle – I would not have known of these except for my expert local guide Gustav. Born a Brazilian he has made Hawaii his home and knows it all. He led us through and under hidden root systems of giant banyan trees only to discover large underground lava caves and tunnels. Most visitors to Hana miss these hidden gems.
5. The Coup de Grace – is the journey beyond Hana to the back of Haleakala Volcano. Getting to Hana takes nearly an entire day, so resort hungry visitors head back to their hotels. Mistake! Drive past Hana, after a brief stop for ice cream and aromatic Kona coffee and you will be amazed by the fast changing landscape. The trees disappear, fast replaced by scrub and heather and a vast expanse that jumps up at you – the backside of the Haleakala Volcano, standing nearly 10000 ft high. But it’s not the volcano that will be your feast for the day. It’s the amazing sunset that will greet you as you scramble up hillsides to glimpse the rainbow of colors as the sun dips into the vast blue Pacific sprawled below you. Dress warm as the winds scream fiercely over the hillsides. The rewarding sight is arguably one of the best sunsets to behold!
Food & Local delicacies – every few miles food lovers take respite and must stop at the roadside stalls selling lillikoi, pineapples, bananas and mouth watering mangoes and coconuts; the freshness of them all makes my mouth water as I recap my recent trip. When I first began traveling down the Road to Hana, one had to carry a packed lunch/snack and liquids. Only fruit, banana bread and smoothies were available. Now, you can get good hot meals along the way. Note that most stalls close at 6:00 pm with some shutting even earlier at 4PM. The Road to Hana is a must do and you will be awestruck. Take my word for it. Hope I have inspired you to travel to Maui and experience this adventure. Drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on +1 732-266-0224 if you have any questions and I will be happy to help plan your Maui trip.