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10 Tips for Driving the Road to Hana

View of the dramatic verdant cliffs and the ocean stretching out to the horizon.
The curves of the Road to Hana offer spectacular views. Photo © Yinghai, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful—if not controversial—activities on Maui is driving the Road to Hana. Weaving its way for 52 miles around 600 curves and over 56 one-lane bridges, it’s the most loved and loathed stretch of road on the entire island. Here’s how to plan a visit to Hana that will leave you poring over a photo album instead of searching for a divorce lawyer.

1. Hana is not a destination, but a journey.

Visitors race all the way to the sleepy village of Hana and are left saying only one thing: “This is it?” With a population of around 1,800, Hana is not big. Hana is not a destination; it’s a place to get away from it all.

2. The Road to Hana doesn’t actually end at Hana.

Technically the famous Road to Hana is only 52 miles long and stretches between Kahului Airport and the town of Hana itself. But the actual road doesn’t end in Hana. Many of Hana’s natural treasures lie in the 10 miles beyond Hana town. Hamoa Beach, consistently voted as one of the top beaches in the country, is a couple of miles past Hana. So is Waioka Pond, a hidden pool on the rocky coastline. Thirty minutes beyond Hana town are the pools of ‘Ohe‘o (also known as the Seven Sacred Pools), with a series of cascading waterfalls and pools falling directly into the blue Pacific.

3. Don’t drive back the same way you came in.

Your rental car contract tells you the road around the back of the island is for four-wheel-drive vehicles only, but that’s just not true. Parts are bumpy, and a few miles are dirt road, but unless there’s torrential rain, the road is passable with a regular vehicle. Following the back road all the way around the island, you are graced with new views as your surroundings change from lush, tropical rainforest to windswept, arid lava flows.

4. Don’t make dinner reservations.

Too many people try to squeeze Hana into half a day or end up feeling rushed. Hana is a place to escape from the rush, not add to it. If you’re planning a day trip to Hana, block off the entire day, leave early (7am), and see where the day takes you.

5. Stop early, stop often.

Take a break for a morning stroll or for breakfast at a tucked-away café. Pick up some snacks and then watch the waves. Stop and swim in waterfalls, hike through bamboo forests, pull off at roadside stands for banana bread. If the guy behind you is on your tail, pull over and let him pass. Who cares? This is Hana, and there isn’t any rush.

6. Think hard before taking a van tour.

If you question your ability to drive narrow, mountainous roads, then take a guided van tour. Local guides can provide insights into Hawaiian history, culture, and personal anecdotes which add humor to the lengthy drive. The problem is that you’re on someone else’s schedule. If you decide you want to go bodysurfing, you can’t. If you see a waterfall that you want to go swim under, you can’t. You’re going to be called back to the van.

7. Bring a bathing suit and hiking shoes.

Hana is a land of adventure. Pack the necessary wardrobe and equipment for your activity of choice.

8. Kapu means keep out.

If you see a sign which says kapu, it translates to “No Trespassing” or “Keep Out.” Move along and enjoy a spot more accessible to the public.

9. Don’t stay too long.

While Hana can be tough to leave, don’t drive home in the dark—particularly if going the back way. If you think driving on narrow, one-lane roads with precipitous drop-offs is difficult during the day, try doing it at night. Leave by 4pm to ensure a well-lit journey home.

10. Stay overnight.

A day trip to Hana makes for a long day. Most locals stay overnight, either camping at the Pools of ‘Ohe‘o or staying in a bed-and-breakfast or the Travaasa Hana hotel. When you wake up, you’ll have beaches and swimming holes all to yourself before throngs of day-trippers arrive—usually around 11am. If you’ve already booked a hotel stay for the entirety of your trip, but you don’t want to rush Hana, stay at a bed-and-breakfast and forget about your hotel room on the other side of the island. It will be the best $200 you ever spend.

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