Aside from celebrating the love and marriage of my sister and new brother in-law, Luke, the Road to Hana was hands-down my favorite experience from our trip to Maui. In fact, if we ever venture back to the island, we plan to spend at least one night in Hana so we can explore the famous highway and it’s hidden gems further. If you plan to embark on a similar adventure yourself, there’s a few things you should know.
First, you should plan to spend all day on this outing – our journey took over 14 hours but we knew that going in so it wasn’t a big deal. Second, do some research but don’t over-plan. By “over-plan” I mean that you shouldn’t over-commit to too many stopping points. The more you read about the highway the more you’ll find there is to see but if you over-commit you’ll find yourself rushing through the drive to get from destination to destination. We read blogs, websites, a highly-recommended travel book, Maui Revealed: The Ultimate Guidebook, and even downloaded the Hana Highway app, Road to Hana GyPSy Driving Tour. I’m thankful that we were armed with information but honestly, the entire highway is the destination, so don’t stress about missing anything.
DRIVE THE HIGHWAY COUNTER-CLOCKWISE (AND START EARLY)
In addition to the incredible cliffside views and feeling as though you have the road all to yourself, this route will take you directly to the Pipiwai Trail which leads to the Waimoku Falls, first. Majority of other drivers (and shuttle buses) drive the route clockwise so this trail is often the last-stop on their tour. The hike can take 2 – 5 hours, depending on how long you linger so we knew that we wanted to experience it with fresh minds and feet.
The Pipiwai Trail seems to change scenery every quarter-mile. First you’ll come to the Makahiku Falls (200 foot drop) overlook and then shortly after, a giant banyan tree with roots and branches that appear to have created doorways along the forest floor. As you continue on you’ll see numerous falls along the route and eventually cross a bridge overlooking an impressive waterfall but as you exit the bridge it feels like you’ve entered a new world. You’ll find yourself surrounded by a towering forest of bamboo. The thick walls silence the outside noise of streaming water and tourists leaving only the eerie sound of giant bamboo sticks swaying and creaking in the wind.
The bamboo forrest extends for a long portion of the trail so don’t get caught up in taking photos at the beginning. If you walk a little further, you’ll likely have the trail to yourself and endless photo opps. During our visit, the latter half of the trail was closed due to storm damage from earlier in the summer but after surviving the first half of the highway and our hike, we knew we couldn’t turn back without regretting it.
We ducked under the caution tape and ventured on – everyone slightly on edge, waiting for a park ranger to jump out from the dense bamboo walls (maybe this was just me but I’m a rule-follower by nature so I was out of my comfort zone). Alas, we didn’t come across any park rangers or any damage. In fact, the second half of the trail seemed just as intact as the first with the exception of a few points affected by minor flooding.
Eventually, we crossed a creek and rounded the corner to the glorious 400-foot Waimoku Falls.
Our my anxiety of trespassing seemed to wash away with the thunderous sound of water hitting the rocks at the bottom. The water was falling so far and so hard that it was creating a light rain-fog around the falls so we stripped down to our suits and ventured into the freezing mist for a closer look. It was invigorating and well worth feeling like a nervous-nelly for a portion of the hike.
Bonus: the counter-clockwise route will also lead you Paia at the end of your highway-experience. This is the perfect little town to grab dinner and a celebratory drink.
ONLY PICK ONE OR TWO MAJOR STOPPING POINTS
I know what you’re thinking, “Only two!?” but the best way to experience the Hana Highway is just that – to experience it. Not to rush from destination to destination but to enjoy every beauty-filled mile. Our two attractions were (1) Pipiwai Trail and Waimoku Falls, mentioned above and (2) Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach.
After leaving the Pipiwai Trailhead, we had an hour drive before making it to Hana. Knowing that the beach was just a few miles outside of Hana, we seized the moment to stop for drinks and appetizers, celebrating our adventurous spirits and lack of trespassing fines. Hana hosts few great gift shops and some quirky restaurants (there are various fruit vendors and small restaurants along the entire highway) but I would urge you to consider packing a lunch to enjoy on one of your scenic stops like we did. A turkey sandwich is a lot more enjoyable when you’re overlooking Oheo Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools).
About two miles outside of Hana is the turnoff for the black sand beach. Getting to the beach is easy as it’s right off the parking lot so we ventured down and stuck our toes in the black volcanic sand. Once you’re down there, you have access to fresh water caves and a few hiking trails with incredible overlooks. We weren’t able to spend too much time exploring because we wanted to reach the end of the highway before the sunset but it’s definitely worth a quick stop.
BRING BUG SPRAY, WATERPROOF SHOES AND SNACKS
Per usual, I am the only one in our three-car caravan that was affected by the bugs but they were fierce. I stupidly forgot bug spray and paid the itchy price the rest of the week.
I wore tennis shoes which worked out fine but most of the trails are muddy and wet so they got destroyed. If you’re cool with sacrificing a pair of shoes to the Hana Gods, then do it. If not, considering investing in waterproof hiking shoes. Additionally, I wish I would’ve remembered to bring a pair of flip flops for the rest of the drive post-hike.
We packed lunch and snacks for the drive and it ended up being our saving grace. First, munching on chips helped with the nausea from the relentless winding road and second, we found it was way more convenient to have food on-hand when we were hungry as opposed to trying to find a restaurant in the small, remote towns along the route.
All in all, it was an incredible day. Check out a short video from our adventures: