Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Road to Hana – Did we make a wrong turn?

Our third trip to Maui – Our first drive on the road to Hana. Narrow, Winding, endless drive to Hana!

I had read that the road to Hana is World famous for being one of the most scenic and beautiful drives you’ll ever take. Lush greenery, beautiful waterfalls and Maui at its best! Preparing for what we thought was a several hour drive, I packed a lunch, some water and we set off for our daily adventure.

We began our journey on Hana Hwy and at mile six we passed quickly by some “painted Eucalyptus trees”, something I had really wanted to see and photograph. There wasn’t really anywhere to stop or park and my husband assured me “I’m sure there will be more as we get farther into Hana”, so we drove on. Mile twenty and I was wondering what exactly we were supposed to be looking for and seeing on this trip? We had passed a couple small waterfalls trickling under the bridges, nothing spectacular, but nice to see. I had assumed trails or landmarks would be marked or obvious stopping points along our route. We did pass a couple areas where the tourists were piled up bumper to bumper trying to create parking space on the side of the narrow road. We were again unable to stop at what may have been a waterfall or trail along the drive. After pulling over several times to remove tailgating drivers off my rear end and driving 20mph for a couple hours, we arrived to Hana. A small City on the Eastern tip of Maui that has kept the Hawaiian culture at heart. We stopped to eat our lunch as I wondered, “Did we miss something?” “Did I make a wrong turn?” No, there is only ONE road to Hana and almost no way of getting lost.

Despite the fact that rental car companies prefer you not take the second half drive of the Hana Hwy and they will void any insurance you purchase, we did it anyways. Curious if we were missing out on what the rest of Hwy 360 has to offer, we continued on. What a Mistake! Don’t do it! Do not pass Go, do not collect $200…turn around and head back the way you came from! A couple miles in we should have gone with our gut instincts and found some way to turn around. The roads became narrower, and at some point the asphalt became dirt. We found ourselves driving past warning signs of “falling rocks” along the mountain roads we were now traveling on that barely seemed to provide enough room before we may have plunged into the ocean below to our certain death.

After getting through the mountain terrain, the Lush Greenery that we were once winding through became almost dessert like with only rocks and the ocean at one side. The coast line was a beautiful sight, but something you can admire on almost any Maui Hwy. We drove on for what felt like hours, but was really about two hours on the bumpiest, narrowest, longest road we’ve ever traveled. Around 4pm that evening the site of Makena, Kihei and the towns below were a blessing and we couldn’t wait to get back.

We went about this trip ALL WRONG!

So why wasn’t the Road to Hana the best scenic drive in the World? One thing locals seem to forget to tell tourists is that you need some sort of guide on the road to Hana. And I’m not speaking of a personal tour guide or taking a charter bus (although you can), but just a guide book or CD to take along on this trip. The roads, landmarks, and points of interest do not speak for themselves as you might see on a typical scenic Highway. Waterfalls, trails, and gardens are hidden treasures along Hwy 360. Don’t expect to see it all from your car and be prepared to take a hike or two.

You can purchase Hana Guide CD’s all over Maui (I realized AFTER the fact) and Snorkel Bob’s had one for $10, which was the best deal I found. I also found a neat looking “Hana Highway Mile by Mile” book you can buy online that would probably be most helpful.

If you’re planning the road to Hana drive, learn from my mistakes and take some guidance with you unless you’re just going for the long drive. Pack a lunch, water, sunscreen and if you’re in a convertible be ready to put the top back up at any given time for rain.

Is the Road to Hana for Kids?
I personally don’t recommend the Road to Hana for young children or anyone that gets car sick. We opted not to take this drive when we visited Maui with our children and I’m very glad we did. Older children who enjoy hiking or scenic drives may enjoy the ride, but there isn’t much to do to keep toddlers or even elementary aged children occupied.  If your lucky to have children who love car rides, this may be an ok trip for them! 


Malea said...

What an experience! Wow! I have several friends who have done this drive and all say the same thing - it makes a good story but not really worth doing... I am *very* prone to motion sickness so I already know that if I ever make it to Maui, this will NOT be on our to-do list. But, I enjoy hearing about it from others! :)

Sorry it wasn't the drive you expected, but, hey, now you have a story about it! :)

PS - found you via Twitter (I'm @maleaab).

FourJedis said...

My parents took us on the road to Hana when we were kids - they doped us up on dramamine. The ride was long and windy, and smelled of rotten mango. But once we got to the Seven Pools, it was bliss.

Looking at the picture of the second-half drive, it looks more like a road in Africa!

CascadiaKids said...

We took our kids on the Road to Hana and had a fantastic time, despite the fact that my then-2-year-old son was prone to carsickness. We just stopped a lot.

We left our West Maui rental at about 6 a.m, picked up a packed lunch at 7, were on the road by 7 :15 a.m. (we heard that this was the way to do it to avoid tourist traffic). We did get a CD and book that you could listen to on the way up, it had fun facts and history. We also stopped for a hike and picnic at the Garden of Eden ( at mile 10, a botanical garden with about a mile-long trail through dense bamboo groves, bananas, great views and crazy flowers.

We spent two nights in Hana, and it was my favorite part of the trip -- I would go back to Maui, and only go to Hana. At sunset, there's this otherworldly glow that I've never seen anywhere else in the world. Hana has a fantastic little roadside pad thai restaurant, the Hotel Hana Maui offers an amazing breakfast spread and there are lots of organic farms in the area. Hana has quite a few kid-friendly attractions, and at one organic farm, you can even ride a bike to power a smoothie blender (the farm is off the grid -- no electricity!).

When we were there, the road all the way around was closed due to a big mudslide, but I'd heard similar warnings.

So I think you should try it again!

Travelers Barista said...

@Cascadia Kids - Sounds like you did the road to Hana the RIGHT way! I wish we had the CD at the least, but I'm still unsure about a return adventure. You're one of the few that I've talked to whom seemed to have truly enjoyed and embraced the love of Hana. But I have noticed, those who did enjoy it, STAYED in Hana for at least a night to truly expeirence the area. Maybe that's the key to it!

Anonymous said...

@CascadiaKids, - we are heading to Hana next week with ur 2 year old son and staying two nights in Hana. I was getting worried about all the previous comments but yours just got me excited about our trip.
Btw, I jsut clicked on your profile and we are in Seattle so your website is also right up our alley! :)

Travelers Barista said...

@Anonymous - Have a GREAT trip! I think Stopping in Hana and spending time there is a good idea. Our quick all day drive through Hana was what made it not worth our while.

PS - Cascadia Kids is a GREAT resource for kid travel :o)

GyPSy Guide - Rick said...

Hello Traveler's Barista
Sorry I am slow to post - I only just saw a recent tweet from you.
I think your experience is very typical of many people who drive the Road to Hana. Your recommendation of taking some type of guide is very important. There are no signs, some of the mile markers are missing and many people don't know what is worth stopping for and what isn't. A bunch of rental cars parked beside a bridge doesn't mean there is something worth stopping for!
My company GyPSy Guide has been offering guided self drive tours in the Canadian Rockies for 5+ years now. We use a variation of GPS technology to make the device automatically speak to you as you drive. I went on vacation to Maui and drove the Road to Hana as well as Haleakala and pretty much everywhere else on the island. After driving the Road to Hana - I knew we had to create driving tour for Maui too!
GyPSy Guide is usually rented for a day or 2 and provides commentary as you approach places of interest, give lots of tips and advice about what's coming up and many stories about the beautiful Hawaiian culture and interesting information. Its like traveling with a local from the area.
We only just started offering GyPSy in Maui in the last few months so you may not have heard about it yet.
My advice to people traveling the Road to Hana is to expect the first hour to not be particularly interesting - all the best things are from Keanae to Kipahulu. The guide will tell what's a definite must to stop at (like Waianapanapa Park), and what it is OK to skip if you don't have a lot of time (like Twin Falls). The CDs are OK but you have to remember to turn them on and off, guide books are good for planning before your drive, but you are good chance of getting carsick if you try read as you go.
Sorry for the long post but I thought you would find the info interesting to you experience. I hate spam on blogs!
I will send the website to you in a separate email so you can decide whether to post it here or not.
Maybe if you decide to do the drive another time you can do it with a GyPSy Guide.
GyPSy Guide

ps - We don't recommend driving all the way around. You will be in violation of your car rental agreement and if anything goes wrong you will be entirely financially responsible! Its very remote and just a tow costs thousands I'm told. GyPSy Guide has completely different commentary on the drive back from Hana - so its like a whole new tour.

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