Our plane gracefully landed on the windy shores of Maui, Hawaii and I could barely contain my excitement. We had already spent a few days in Oahu, but the island I’ve always been drawn to is Maui.
Perhaps it’s the way the name rolls of the tongue or the fact that it’s the only “M” island, matching the first letters of my first and last name. Whatever the superficial and silly reason, it’s a place I’ve wanted to see for years. When I was younger, Maui conjured up images of the ultimate paradise that had perfect sunsets. Just saying it was fun and I could only imagine how gorgeous of a place it would be.
My childlike imagination wasn’t all that far off from the magic I found in Maui. To be fair, even with how much I built it up in my head, I didn’t really know what there was to do in Maui before I arrived. All I knew is that I wanted to go to a real luau and tackle the infamous Road to Hana.
And driving the Road to Hana ended up being my favorite experience from my time on the island.
When we originally landed we weren’t sure if the Road to Hana would even be doable this time around. I accepted this begrudlingly with our dwindling budget after Oahu and still over 2 months ahead of us, road tripping up the California coast before we found jobs again. We had no extra money to rent a car on our own.
However, we made the right choice in staying at one of the only hostels in Maui and making new friends in the process. We took part in the daily hostel activities while we were there, one of which was hiking the Haleakalā Volcano. On this all-day hike of endurance through grand vistas and some of the most stunning views I saw from my time in Hawaii, we quickly bonded with our hiking partners from the hostel.
We hit it off with two hikers in particular, Karan and McKenna. Karan is from the Bay Area and McKenna is also from California (San Diego), but has been living in Germany for years and doesn’t have any plans of coming back to the States for good.
Karan had already rented a car for her time in Maui and she was also thinking about doing the Road to Hana, but didn’t haven anyone to go with. The three of us quickly jumped on board and we had the fixings for a proper road trip. I couldn’t have been more excited to hit the road and see what was considered the most attractive part of the coast in Maui.
Let me note, the road AFTER Hana is usually mentioned on rental car contracts as a place where your policy becomes void – it’s seen as that treacherous and dangerous of a road. With that said, most people still take their rental cars on this unique local adventure past Hana, they just keep it on the down low – which is what we did.
The Road to Hana is best done in two days since it’s such a long journey, especially with the amount of stops to choose from on the Hana Highway. However, we didn’t have that much extra time with our different travel schedules, so we decided to try our bets with attempting it in one day.
It was an exhausting day to be sure, but we made it all the way past the town of Hana and beyond. We were selective with our stops due to our limited time, but we had a good variety of waterfalls, local hangouts, and famous beaches to make the day complete.
1st Stop: Twin Falls
Our first glimpse at the wonderful waterfalls on offer throughout the Hana Highway, the Twin Falls was the perfect first stop to explore. After parking, we came across a little fruit stand at the entrance selling fresh pineapple.
We passed by one swimming hole where people were jumping off the cliffs at, and it was one that we would come back to on our way out so Karan and Kendall could jump off too!
To get to the Twin Falls we had to walk on further and waddle through cold water and slippery rocks. Once we were walking underneath the falls and feeling the mist on our face, it immediately became worth it.
2nd Stop: Painted Forest – Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees
This wasn’t so much a stop as it was a cruise by. The painted forest of colorful eucalyptus trees are on the side of the highway with really nowhere convenient to stop. We almost passed by them, the rainbow colors were so faint – not at all like the photoshopped pictures we saw of them online. Even still, it was cool seeing hints of color in these eucalyptus trees.
These particular eucalyptus trees are originally from the Philippines. They get their colorful look from the many layers of different colored bark that peels back at different times of their lifespan. Over the years, the different colors create a rainbow effect.
Even though the trees weren’t as vibrant as I was expecting, I thought it was a good representation of nature’s natural beauty over time.
3rd Stop: Random Pull-Over for a Beautiful View
I honesty have no idea where we were at on the highway when we decided to pull over and take these pictures. I just remember looking behind us and realizing what a gorgeous view we had. We all decided to pullover in unison and took a bagillon photos to capture it. We spotted wildlife in the bushes and on the green leaves just on the other side of the highway barrier.
4th Stop: Upper Waikani Falls – AKA The 3 Bears
Our second round of waterfalls for the day, Upper Waikani Falls, better known as the 3 Bears, are three different sized waterfalls that, you guessed it, remind you of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
This wasn’t a planned stop, it was just another place we couldn’t resist pulling over at as we drove by. We didn’t actually hike over to the falls, but from the road they were so serene, calm, and powerful.
5th Stop: Coconut Glen’s – Homemade Vegan Ice Cream
Perhaps one of the more interesting and hilarious stops of the day, Coconut Glen’s farm on the side of the Hana Highway is the epitome of hippie living. We stopped when we saw the sign for homemade vegan ice cream, it sounded intriguing enough.
A petit woman with bright pink pigtails shortly came out as we drove up and walked over to the ice cream stand. She was the ultimate hippie girl, completely at one with nature, eco-farming, and everything vegan. She was also very feisty.
Before we were able to enjoy any ice cream, she wanted to show us the native plants around the area, and even went and picked up a huge spider to show us. McKenna, just happenes to be terrified of spiders, and as soon as this woman realized that, she wouldn’t leave McKenna alone.
She was convinced that McKenna needed to get over her fear then and there, even though it was clearly not going to happen anytime soon. She finally moved on after about 10 minutes of traumatizing our friend, and McKenna breathed a little easier as we enjoyed our coconut vegan ice cream, hoping that the woman wouldn’t come back and throw the spider down her shirt – which wouldn’t have been all that surprising.
In any case, it was a hilarious situation – at least for everyone besides McKenna. However, she quickly got over her trauma as we drove to our next destination.
Wai’anapanapa State Park & Black Sand Beach
Wai’anapanapa State Park and Black Sand Beach was the stop we took the most time at, not having set foot in the ocean in Maui yet. We explored a little bit of the park, the blowhole, and the lava tubes before heading down to the black sand.
We brought a few Kona beers to share as we relaxed, and we even discovered a secret passage through a sea cave that led to a lofty hangout on top of the rocks.
6th Stop: Hana Town
We actually didn’t really stop in tiny Hana Town, except to ask for directions on how to get to the hidden Red Sand Beach. We were running out of sunlight by this point and, to be honest, there wasn’t much in Hana Town except a few cute houses and friendly locals.
Also, you have to realize when you take on the Road to Hana, it’s really not about the destination but most definitely about the journey.
7th Stop: Kaihalulu Beach (Red Sand Beach)
Kaihalulu Beach, or Red Sand Beach, was the hardest place to get to all day. Once you park just past Hana Town, you have to find your way to the ocean and walk along the rugged shore on a slightly treacherous path to get to the hard-to-find Red Sand Beach.
After about 10-15 minutes, we walked around the corner and discovered the rust-colored cliffs and sand staring back at us. Due to the deep red colors, every other color in sight popped as well. The water took on a glossy and unique blue sheen, the greenery was more vivid and I could immediately see what the draw of this place was.
We spent a short time at the beach and it was lovely to be at an attraction on the Hana Highway that wasn’t filled with tourists. There were a few people at the beach, but it was nothing like the crowds at Twin Falls and Black Sand Beach.
8th Stop: View of Haleakalā Volcano at Sunset
After the Red Sand Beach is when the journey really got interesting. Most people turn back at Hana Town, but if you have the time, I would recommend pressing on and going past Hana on the most dangerous part of the highway.
By this time, we were quickly running out of time with the sunset and we were wondering if we would get out of that dangerous part of the drive before it became completely dark. It was not only insanely narrow, but also winding and elevated above the cliffs with just a drop off and no barrier at some parts. However, the scenery was also so incredibly beautiful it took your breath away.
After the most winding part of the road, we came across a straight path that led us right behind the Haleakalā Volcano. When we came over the ridge, the sun was at that perfect spot to give us the best view of the day. The scenery was all in the perfect golden hour, it felt surreal how stunning everything was around us. We pulled over and took a moment to breathe it in and appreciate what it was worth.
We took some timed group pictures as well, of course.
Overall, it was one of the best days I had in Maui. We weren’t able to do many hikes or see every stop along the way, but I’m still glad I was at least able to see such a unique part of Hawaii. Here are a few tips to get you ready for your own trip to Hana next time you’re in Maui!
Tips for Driving the Road to Hana
- Make sure you have a full tank of gas before you start. The only gas station you’ll find is at Hana Town, so don’t get stuck on the side of the very narrow Hana Highway with a lack of fuel.
- Bring car snacks. There are food stands sprinkled along the highway, but I would recommend bringing a packed lunch with you as well. A lot of the food stands only offer fruit or treats like homemade ice cream.
- Start as early as you can at sunrise and try to finish before sunset, or take a couple of days to explore. It’s not a good idea to be driving on the road after Hana once night set in, since this is the most treacherous part of the drive.
- Bring a change of clothes, bathing suit, a towel, bug spray, and your camera. Plan to swim in the waterfalls as it’s one of the best highlights to any trip to Hana, and a change of clothes is always nice when you have a long drive still ahead of you. Also, bug spray is always a good idea if you want to go hiking on your stops. A camera is self-explanatory, who wouldn’t want to capture an adventure like this?
- Be nice on the roads. If you’re a tourist, don’t be that dick in the fancy car running everyone off the the road or honking excessively. It’s seen as extremely rude to honk on the Hana Highway, and some of those tight passages you’ll have take turns going through. We had a couple of ponsy drivers in their expensive rented cars, who forced their way through a spot we were already in, and actually hit our mirror in the process, with no apology, of course. Don’t be that person!
- Bring a sense of adventure – some of the hikes and ways to get to the beaches are more on the adventurous side. Don’t miss the best of the Road to Hana by not being mentally prepared to take on the physical challenges or jump off that waterfall with the rest of your friends.
Have fun and enjoy the adventure!
Have you experienced the Road to Hana? What are your favorite spots in Hawaii?