The road to Hana

I knew about the "Road to Hana" long before I even stepped foot on Maui. In fact, I knew about the road long before I even thought of visiting Maui. An article about the road appeared in a travel magazine I was reading, which described eloquently with vividly wordy imagery the travails and the wonders of the road. Cliff-hugging narrow strip of winding road, lush green rain forests, wild oceans, black sand beaches, it was far too exotic not to merit the highest compliments.

So, with much anticipation, M, R and myself embarked on our epic journey on the road to Hana (also known as the State Highway 360) one Christmas (early) morning during our visit to Maui. We perhaps read too many travel brochures about the road to Hana by then. The road was windy and long, we were warned. Be aware of possible car sickness, we were told. The speed limit is 15 mph, there are 600 odd turns, 50 odd one-lane bridges, the locals drive like maniacs, it's a drive of a lifetime, one of the best drives in the world, etc. etc. And, yes, while you are at it, buy our CD guide on the wonders of Hana. And, don't forget to pick up the picnic lunch from the place we told you about. And, did I mention the free cooler for the day? :-)

So, did the road to Hana live up to all the hype?

Like everything else in life, there is no easy answer. :-)

After watching the sunrise near Paia, our first stop was at Twin Falls, somewhere near mile marker 2, as the guide books suggested. We were greeted by a fruit shop, and a trail by the side, which leads to the falls. Walking along a few hundred feet got us near the cascading falls, if I can call it so. These were barely some ten feet high, with a trickle of water flowing over the rocks. This was an inauspicious beginning, I told myself. The so called "waterfalls" underwhelmed us no end. Apparently, there was a higher cascade some half mile ahead, but we were in no mood to go further.

The miseries piled on at the next stop. Barely a mile or so away, we stopped at a roadside shop which claimed in bold letters "Huelo Lookout". What a scam! You can see trees and more trees at a distance from the back of this shop, or the so called "lookout". It was clearly an unabashed way of getting the unsuspecting tourist to stop, and to buy something. Do me a favor, give this shop a miss.

The road started to get more and more windy, and the one-lane bridges appeared at regular intervals. It was rather easy-going, though, since there was not much traffic on the road perhaps because we were early, or because of Christmas, or both. We stopped by a tiny road-side waterfall, and made a serendipitous discovery of a lava tube. It was right by the road, only a slight bit above it, hidden partially behind foliage. That finding was, as someone put it quite eloquently, rather "cool". This brightened up the day for us, even if in a small way.

Stop again. Perhaps we are at Mile Marker 10 or so by this time. This time it was the sunlight filtering through the trees that made us stop. It was heavenly. From a nearby bend on the road, we got a good look of a peninsula, a pattern that would repeat for most of the journey. We were also quite surprised by the sight of bamboo-like roots of some trees hanging by the roadside. Like nothing we have seen before, of course. I guess things were beginning to get a little better after the initial disappointment with Twin Falls.

From a bend on the road near Kaumahina, we spied a car down by what appeared to be a black sand beach. We furiously looked for the side road that would lead there, and found it at last (unmarked, of course), having almost missed it. The drive down that unpaved road was treacherous because of the unevenness, but we reached the black sand (black rock would be a more appropriate description) beach finally. There were just two other people out there, and the beach, while beautiful in its own way, did not look particularly inviting. So, after spending a few minutes, we carefully drove up the road to join Hana Highway again. I am not sure, but this was most likely the Honomanu Bay before the 16th mile marker.

Keane Arboretum appeared all of a sudden at a bend in the road, and we found a parking close by to walk in to discover what waited for us there. The place appeared empty, but we were so badly mistaken. We were soon greeted by largely invisible mosquitoes, who quickly proceeded to collect blood samples from their unsuspecting victims. Its a pity we did not carry insect repellent with us, for the arboretum looked quite inviting in the bright sunlight, and I would have liked to have spent more time there. We hung around long enough to get a few pictures of the "Painted Eucalyptus" trees, and ran back to the car, away from the mosquitoes. (Note to myself: Avoid dappled sunlight for photography; but, more importantly, avoid mosquitoes whenever you can).

Our mood, despite the mosquito bites, begin to really look up once we took the left turn from Hana Highway into Keanae peninsula. In the glorious sunshine, the place looked idyllic. There was an amazing blue ocean, very wild, and rocky lava shores. The greens were blinding. It was picture-postcard-perfect place.

Keanae has a sad history, though. In a 1946 tsunami, the village was nearly completely destroyed. The only structure partially left standing was a 1860 church. The school was washed away, killing 20 children and 4 teachers. Standing today in beautiful Keanae in heavenly sunshine, it was difficult to imagine the disaster. Keanae peninsula was definitely the most exquisitely beautiful place I had seen in the road to Hana.

Back on the highway again. More winding miles. More one-lane bridges. A few waterfalls that have perhaps seen better days. They were not very high, nor was there much water, but they were pretty in a way.

Stopped at a chain of road-side restaurants that were closed on account of Christmas day, I suppose. Sat around for some time, contemplating the name of one of the restaurants: "Cafe Romantica". Sounded a bit too vain in a place like this. "Cafe Mosquita" ... now, that may be more appropriate. :-)

Now we were near Hana for sure; because the rain hit hard and swift. Our final destination before Hana was the Waianapanapa State Park, which has, among other things, lava sea arches, blow hole, black sand beach, lava tubes and caves etc. etc. We pulled out our raincoats, and braved out onto the lava rocks by the shore. The park was pretty, even if kind of ominous in all that cloud and rain. The blowhole failed to deliver, unfortunately. Especially after what we have seen at the Nakalele blowhole along the Kahekili Highway, this was a disappointment. However, here you could see under the blowhole, the waves that were eroding out the lava from underneath. The sea arch stretched into the ocean like a dragon's tail.

The black sand beach was, as expected, crushed black lava rocks. As sand goes, these were possibly more like tiny pebbles than sand. Anyway, going into the water here was not an option, what with jellyfish out there. Wrapped in our colorful raincoats, we climbed up the path from the beach.

We reached Hana in the middle of heavy rain at about 1:00 in the afternoon, almost seven hours after we had left Lahaina. Before we could contemplate where to stop and why, we realized we had crossed Hana. So we drove on to Kipahulu, and further on to the Piilani Highway, which was a great drive that really took our breath away. But that's another story.

So, did the road to Hana live up to all the hype?

Like everything else in life, there is no easy answer. :-)

Black sand beach near Kaumahina
Black sand beach near Kaumahina


View from Keanae Peninsula
View from Keanae Peninsula


Waterfall near Puaakaa state wayside park
Waterfall near Puaakaa state wayside park


Lava arch at Waianapanapa state park
Lava arch at Waianapanapa state park


Black sand beach at Waianapanapa state park
Black sand beach at Waianapanapa state park


The road to Hana map
The road to Hana map