Road to Hana
Through winding roads and picturesque sites, the 50 odd mile stretch between Paia and Hana showcases the diverse beauty of the Maui coastline and is an ode to the tropical rainforest the island hosts. While the western part of the island of Maui is arid and barren, the eastern part, dominated by the colossal Haleakala, receives a huge amount of rainfall being in the other side of a rain shadow. The stretch between Paia and Hana has some of the spectacular coast views, numerous waterfalls, challenging bends, narrow bridges, and to top it all, a misty rainforest. On the drive you will go in and out of the dry and wet zones and likely will encounter some random landslides and repair work.
Even though the drive is challenging, it is best to drive instead of taking a tour bus solely
because of the flexibility it offers. We trusted our tour guide app (see below) and the muscle of the rental roadster to push through the mists and fog in the rain forest, we stopped many times, even more than the stops our personal tour guide (check out the driving trip guide details) suggested. Travel sites dedicated to this scenic highway (e.g. Roadtohana) has a detailed list of places to stop, explore and take pictures along the way to Hana. Here are a few that cannot be missed:
- Town of Paia – Take a stroll and have breakfast in this quaint little town. Fill up on gas and take restroom breaks here as these two are hard to come by in the upcoming stretch to Hana. After leaving the city of Paia, there is a Kuau store right before entering the main stretch of Hwy 36, to pick up coffee and sandwiches/snacks to-go.
- Ho’okipa Lookout (Mile #9) – Along the road to Hana, you will see the coast a hundred times,
but this is the best place to catch an expansive view with windsurfers and kitesurfers scoping the massive waves.
- Kaumahina Park – Boasts a dramatic view of the northeastern coast with steep cliffs and the forest plunging in a hurry to kiss the surf.
- Ke’anae Arboretum – There is a paid attraction called Garden of Eden at Mile #10, but we suggest you avoid that and instead spend some time in the Ke’anae Arboretum. Park anywhere along the street and cross the road carefully to enter. There are no clear signs but the entrance is to the right side of the road (while traveling to Hana). Explore some of the Flora and Fauna of the rainforest here.
- Halfway to Hana – Be sure to stop here at any of the stores and park carefully. Spend 15-20 minutes to taste the fresh baked banana bread and beverages. Probably the best banana bread in the islands, so don’t miss it. Oh, and fresh fruits too. Have some fresh pineapples and green coconut if you can find them.
- Upper Waikani Falls and Hanawai Falls – Among all the waterfalls that can be seen along the route in the side of a little bridge, these two are our favorites. Parking can be difficult, but be patient. Most people will not spend more than 15 minutes at these sites. Park safely and enjoy! The main waterfalls are in the right but don’t forget to look to the left since heavy rainfall sometimes makes the trailing edge of the waterfall more beautiful than the main one.
- Nahiku Marketplace – Fun spot to pick up some gifts (but bargain first), and have a meal. Try the kahlua pork tacos.
- Wai’anapanapa State Park (Mile #32) – Gorgeous views of the rocky cliffs, black sand
beach, freshwater caves and history await as you meander through the pebbly trail. Be sure to pack your swimsuit to take a dip in the ocean or at least to soak your feet here. Black sand beaches with low surf are not that easy to come by, afterall.
- Hana – A quaint little sleepy town on the water, Hana, has probably not changed over the centuries. Home to historic battle sites, places of worship, and surrounded by legends, this town requires you to spend at least an hour to gather the pointers for your storyteller self.
- Kipahulu (Mile #42) – It is a part of the Haleakala Nat’l park and you can reuse your ticket for 7 days. This portion of the park is in the rainshadow area and therefore does not get that much rain. Spend an hour or so in the trails to explore the seven sacred pools and the Waimoku falls.
Flora, Fauna and the Environment
- Rainforest – Hawaiian islands have the only tropical rainforest in the US. The rainforest in Maui is created due to the enormous Haleakala volcano standing tall blocking the strong trade winds coming in with the moisture from the Pacific. The Haleakala National Park is itself divided into the rain shadow and the rainforest zones and visitors can explore both sides in their trip to the park. The eastern side is the rain shadow.
- Rainbow Eucalyptus birch – Commonly found in the rainforest along the way to Hana, this tree has multi-colored streaks on its trunk. It is native to Philipines and was introduced to Hawai’i in the 18th century. Due to the sturdiness and fast growth patterns, it was commonly used for construction purposes.
Essential Travel Tips
- Food/Beverages – We were a little misguided by Tripadvisor stories on the lack of food options along the highway, and packed lunch from the Kuau store in Paia. Although you can pack some light snacks in Paia, there are a lot of local restaurants and a couple of marketplaces around the middle of the highway. The joints might not have a wide range of options, but trust us, the food and snacks are delectable.
- Gas – Be sure to fill up the tank in Paia. There are no gas stations until you reach Hana.
- Restrooms are available in the scenic spots, but are scanty. So prepare accordingly.