If whale watching was the number one priority for Cindy on our trip to Hawaii, traveling the Road to Hana (pronounced HAW-na) had to be priority 1A. Located on the east side of Maui, the road to Hana is over 30 miles of twisty roads, one-lane bridges and enough spectacular scenery to fill up the memory of your digital camera in one day.
We had read up about the Road to Hana in a number of tourism books and web sites before we embarked on our trip. First of all, they said to budget one full day for the trip. It's very slow going with a lot of cars sharing the roads in both directions. Given that it's the only way to get to Hana by vehicle, you're also sharing the road with delivery trucks and other large vehicles. Add to this, the incredible vistas along the way and you're stopping quite a bit to get some great pictures. The top piece of advice we read and heard from some who had already taken the trek was to leave early in the day. Even though it's 32 miles from the start of the road until you end up in Hana, it can take up to 3 hours to get there.
We decided to start our morning at the breakfast buffet at the Grand Wailea. We got into the breakfast area about 7:30 a.m. and proceeded to eat a hearty breakfast. The breakfast buffet at the Grand Wailea was nice, but it wasn't what I would call outstanding. The hotel thought differently, however, as evidenced by the bill for $36.95 per person for the breakfast. That was the first and last time we had breakfast at the Grand Wailea.
The Hana Highway starts just past the airport entrance and goes around the north end of the island. Just past the small village of Pauwela, the highway goes from a nice wide road to an interesting narrow asphalt road with little to no shoulders. Vegetation comes right up to the roadway and you begin to run into tight blind curves on uphill grades. The Road to Hana isn't for the faint or timid drivers.
The weather wasn't cooperating, either. All week long while we were on Maui the wind was blowing at gale force speeds. The weather had changed from a mild sunny morning when we left the hotel to a windy, cloudy misty day on the east side of the island. Occasional on-shore showers would alternate with partly sunny skies along the route.
According to one of the guide books we took with us on the trip, there was supposed to be some general store at the start of the Road to Hana where we could get sandwiches, water and guide maps. Well, I certainly didn't see much of anything like that near the "0" mile marker. Cindy was a little miffed that we didn't stop and get something. But I told her that I was sure that we could get something to eat in Hana if we needed it.
About 10 or so miles into the trip, there's a primitive road side rest area that Cindy wanted to stop at after it took us about 35 minutes to go the initial few miles. There's a lot of stopping along the way to let cars come through the one-lane bridges (there are over 50 one-lane bridges on the road and over 600 curves - some of them are 180 degree hairpin turns), and to allow the more impatient people to pass. The top speed we got to was about 25 miles an hour.
At the rest area, there were a lot of tourists who had stopped, as well. A lot of small bus tours take groups of people along the Road to Hana, as well as a number of "rent-a-locals" that will drive you and your group on the Road to Hana. The "rent-a-locals" know the good photo opportunities and along the way and also know the road like the back of their hand. I suppose if you drive it every day of your life, you're going to know which curves are more treacherous than others.
While the Road to Hana starts out hugging the shoreline in places, it goes inland for a ways as it ribbons around the sides of small mountains that look out onto small valleys of rice paddies and pineapple trees. There were a number of turnouts and scenic overlooks on the way to Hana. This picture actually turned out pretty well considering it had just begun to pour rain on me as I was focusing for this shot. And it was a cold rain with that blustery wind, too.
Along the Road to Hana were a number of waterfalls, water pools and small streams coming out of the mountains. However, due to the drought they were experiencing on the Hawaiian Islands, a lot of the streams and waterfalls were either dried up or a trickle of water compared to what they normally are. The guide books said that the pools are so pristine and the waterfalls so intense that you can wade out into the water and stand under the falls. We brought our swimsuits and towels with us in anticipation of being able to walk into some of these pools, but for the most part it was pretty disappointing. Coupled with the cool, blustery weather, the idea of playing under waterfalls that day pretty much escaped from our heads.
We did find some nice waterfalls along the way, however. The problem is they were well off the roadway and you had to take a little bit of a hike to get to them. Or, if they were close to the road, there were "No Parking" signs all about because there was no shoulder to park on. In some cases, I'd let Cindy out of the car to get some closer pictures of some of the waterfalls, go up the road a bit, double back and pick her up.
We stopped at one spot where we read there was a nice waterfall and pool. There were a lot of cars there and there was a small roadside stand selling water and snacks. But there was a big sign that warned against leaving anything in open sight in the car if you trekked back to the waterfall. I guess local thieves pray upon the tourists along the Road to Hana.
We started to walk along this path back into some heavy vegetation, not exactly knowing where we were going or what we were going to see when we got there. A couple hundred yards into the hike, we came across a group of 20-somethings who were coming from the waterfall. Cindy asked them how far it was to the waterfall and one of the guys said, "It's about a half-mile."
One of the young ladies in the group said, "Yeah, and it's not much to see. It's a big pool, but the waterfall is hardly a waterfall. It's more of a trickle." We decided to follow them back to the parking lot and continue on our way.
One of the roadside stops on the Road to Hana is Halfway to Hana - a small building where we stopped to get some water and their famous homemade banana bread. With the stops, slow traffic and just general laziness, it took us just under two hours to get half-way to Hana. Halfway to Hana was a popular spot for both tourists and locals to stop for a morning snack and something to drink. We hung out there at a picnic table for a while as Cindy ate her piece of banana bread. I'm not big on bananas, but it did smell pretty good.
Back on the Road to Hana, we tried to make mental notes of places we wanted to stop at on our way back up the road on our return trip. The picture below was one of those places - a beautiful vista of a valley stretching out to the ocean. Dense green vegetation on the hillsides hid the fact that Maui was experiencing their worst drought in 30 years.
We finally made it to Hana just before noon - almost three hours after we first got onto the Road to Hana. We decided to go down the road even further to visit the Seven Sacred Pools in O'heo Gulch, about 10 miles past Hana. These pools are situated in the Haleakala National Park and are said to be one of the most beautiful places on the island. Actually, there's way more than seven pools as the gulch, itself, runs about two miles up into the mountains. There's a hiking trail and some great lookouts, but the main pools are located close to the shore.
As we got about four miles outside of Hana, we found this little place where an elderly Hawaiian native lady was selling some homemade jewelry and offered free restrooms to tourists along the road. My wife is sort of like a five-year-old when we travel and it seems that she has to pee every 45 minutes. But we've been together for so long now that it's normal for me to just ask her when I see a sign along the way that says, "Public Restroom".
I'm kinda glad we stopped because she had a wonderful flower garden full of yellow hibiscus. We've got a couple of hibiscus plants back home, but they certainly don't bloom like the ones did in this lady's yard.
As Cindy was using the bathroom, I was sort of looking around the porch area of this lady's house. On the outside wall of her house were two framed autographed pictures of Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre. He was pictured in his New York Yankees uniform back when he was managing that team. I said, "Huh! Joe Torre!"
The lady said, "Oh, yes, Mr. Torre has a home not far from here. He comes out here often and he comes to visit when he's here. A very nice man."
I noticed she was selling packages of macadamia nuts from Naborly Farms - a nut farm near Hana owned by entertainer/actor Jim Nabors. The lady told us, "Oh, yes, Mr. Jim Nabors owns 100 acres near here. He lives on Oahu, but comes here about once a month. A very nice man." (She thought everyone was a very nice man.)
We didn't buy any because we had already sent three or four cases of Mauna Loa macadamia nuts in cans back to Iowa. They were addicting.
Along the side of the parking area of this lady's place were these trees with orange flowers. Now, I'd noticed these trees when we were on the Big Island. They were actually sort of beautiful with these big flowers, sometimes in abundance on the trees. We asked the lady what kind of trees they were. She said, "They're African Tulip trees."
Cindy said, "Oh, they're just beautiful!"
The lady said, "We don't like 'em here. They're an invasive species. And they're messy. When they drop the petals, they get all over the place. We try to take 'em out if we can."
Oh! OK. But they were still my favorite tree to see while we were in Hawaii.
We told the lady we were going to the Seven Sacred Pools and she said, "Well, a lot of the pools are dried up and have very little water in them. It's the first time in 30 years that the pools are running dry. You can go on over, but it's not as nice as when the pools are full." Cindy and I decided to skip driving the remaining distance and decided to head back toward Hana.
We ventured back toward Hana and decided to take a side road that went a little closer to the ocean. We came across this beach - Koki Beach - that was situated in the midst of a rocky cove. The wind was just howling and the waves were crashing on the large rocks located just off shore. It was sort of beautiful and surreal at the same time. A group of young European 20-somethings were there and I helped them out by taking their picture near a solitary Hawaiian flag with a small dormant volcano in the background. Quite honestly, I don't know why anyone would want to surf at this spot.
Koki Beach is just down from Hamoa Beach - one of the most pristine beaches on Maui. Author James Michener wrote about Hamoa Beach, "Paradoxically, the only beach I have ever seen that looks like the South Pacific was in the North Pacific. Hamoa Beach on Maui Island in Hawai'i; a beach so perfectly formed that I wonder at its comparative obscurity." And, of course, we missed going there. There is no parking at Hamoa Beach and the only access is down some steps from the road. We honestly didn't know it was there until we got back home.
We got back into Hana and drove around. There's really not much to the town - a school, a couple three churches, a couple restaurants. That's about it. There are about 700 people who live in Hana and it is one of the last undeveloped areas in Hawaii. And that's probably because of the long and treacherous road to the place. There is a small commuter airport that gets people in and out of the area, but the flights are few and far between.
At one point in time in the early 20th Century, Hana was a bustling little town with as many as 3500 residents. They used to have a couple movie theaters, a number of restaurants and other places for people to go. Population began to drop off after World War II and the sugar plantations began to close. Many people moved to the other side of the island to work on sugar plantations there.
One of the more obscure facts about Hana is that famed aviator Charles Lindbergh spent his final years living near there before he passed away in 1974. Lindbergh is buried in a church cemetery near Hana along with his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
There is a nice little harbor around Hana Bay that we drove out to. There was a pier along with a black sand beach that wrapped around the south side of the bay. Just past the pier is a rocky point where people snorkel along the reefs. Given that Hana is on the windy and rainy side of Maui, I can't see where there would be all that many opportunities to enjoy the bay.
One of the more famous places to visit in Hana is the Hasegawa General Store. The store celebrates its 100th year of being run by the Hasegawa family and has survived natural disasters and a huge fire that burned down the original building a little over 10 years ago. The Hasegawa family moved the general store into one of the towns long-closed movie theaters as a temporary location, but never ended up moving after that. The Hasegawa General Store has just about one of everything - food, dairy, produce, snacks, shirts, dresses, movie rentals, make-up, first aid kits, hardware, CD's - you name it, they probably have it. The aisles are narrow and some of the things on the shelf are dusty, but it's a quaint throwback to simpler times where all you have is the general store to take care of the needs of the local residents. But I will say nothing was cheap in the place. Milk was $8.79 a gallon, a can of soup was $2.39. I bought a shirt for $22.00. Cindy bought some snacks that weren't overly cheap. But as we found out everywhere we went in Hawaii, nothing was cheap.
We took off from Hana around 1:30 and began to make our way up the road again. We took our time to stop at some of the scenic turnouts which were on our right on the way back up the road from Hana and easier to get to than on the way down. This is one little cove that had a steep rocky lane down to a pristine beach that I was chicken to try. We saw people down along the shore and knew they had to get down there somehow, but I'm guessing it was by jeep or four-wheel drive. I didn't think our rental car would be able to make it and I didn't feel like seeing if it could.
But there were numerous little turnouts that afforded some pretty beautiful views of the coastline and the ocean beyond. The weather began to get a little better as we drove up the coast from Hana and by the time we got about 10 to 15 miles north of town (which is about 17 to 25 miles of driving on the road), the clouds were beginning to break and the warm sun was coming through.
Parts of the Road to Hana tunneled through large forests of bamboo trees that hung next to and up over the roadway. At some points of the drive because of the cloudy conditions and heavy vegetation, you almost needed to use your headlights to make sure oncoming traffic would see you. Cindy was overly amazed at the amount of bamboo trees that were all over the place. The bark on bamboo would be a variety of colors from deep green to yellow to red to brown. We tried to get some pictures from the car a couple times, but they just didn't turn out. And with a lot of cars behind us, we just couldn't stop and take a picture of the colorful bamboo stalks.
As we finally got off the twisting Road to Hana and back on the Hana Highway, it was good to be able to drive more than 20 miles an hour again. Driving 55 almost seemed to fast. But it was certainly good to not be hitting the brakes and making blind hairpin turns at the crest of a hill along side a steep incline down a mountain to the ocean. As we drove along for a bit, we came across Hookipa Beach Park which is internationally known as possibly the best place in the world to kite surf. The wind is blowing in nearly everyday at gale force strength and the waves are huge. Word has it that kite surfing originated on the north shore of Maui and kite surfers from all over the world converge on Hookipa Beach to surf the big waves. Along with kite surfers, the surf off Hookipa Beach had a handful of windsurfers and traditional surfers. Cindy and I are mesmerized watching surfers where ever we go. I think we stood there for nearly an hour just decompressing from the stressful drive we had to and from Hana earlier in the day.
Yes, the Road to Hana is stressful, but the beautiful scenery along the way outweighed the difficulty of the drive. I've talked to people who have made the drive to Hana as we did and the consensus is, "I'm glad we went, but if we go back to Maui we won't do it again." I have to agree with that. It was a beautiful drive and we had been warned in guide books and by the locals that the Road to Hana was a tedious and treacherous drive. Even Cindy was wrung out and declared she could use a drink by the time we got to the restaurant that evening. Still, it's one of those things one should do at least once on a trip to Maui.