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Road To Hana Tour, The Ultimate Maui Road Trip

Town of Hana in Maui

As I reminisce about my first Hawaiian Island cruise, I remember spending hours and days researching the Hawaiian ports of call. I talked to friends who had visited the different Hawaiian Islands, and I asked for suggestions on things to do. 

Surprisingly, everyone said if I was going to Maui, I “had to do the Road to Hana Tour.” When I queried, “why?” they all said, “trust me, you just need to go.”

Curious, I scoured the internet to read reviews on the Road to Hana, and this is what I discovered. The highway to Hana is not for the faint of heart.

However, if you love to drive, the United States offers some bucket list road trips, and this is one of them. While the road from Kahului to Hana’s little town is a mere 52 miles, it can take 2-1/2 hours to make such a journey.

The extended trip results from the 620 curves and the 59 bridges, most of which are only one lane wide.

Remember the saying, “it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters?” The Road to Hana is symbolic of this famous quote and makes a nice couples’ outing.

Most who drive this winding highway make a quick trip to Hana and back to say they’ve done it. However, those who want the ultimate experience of a beautiful drive with cascading waterfalls, black and red sand beaches, and uninterrupted Pacific Ocean views make the journey by baby steps.

Getting To Hana, Ways To Travel

There are only two ways of experiencing Maui’s Road to Hana. Firstly, by tour bus and secondly, on your own by booking a rental car.

Be warned that taking a van tour is definitely out of the question if you suffer from motion sickness (as I do). With 620 curves in the road, no amount of Gravol would prevent me from losing my breakfast on the route, had I chosen a bus tour.

If you’re arriving in Maui by cruise ship as I was, Maui’s Kahului cruise port puts you closer to the Road to Hana. Lahaina Harbor on the west coast, adds another 35 minutes to the drive, one-way.

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However, driving a rental car allowed me to savor the journey more slowly and transverse those hairpin corners with ease. As I struggle with car sickness, I used my trusty motion sickness patches before I arrived at the car rental lot.

Turtles at Ho'okipa Beach Park, Maui
Turtles at Ho’okipa Beach Park, a stop on the Road to Hana, Maui

If you’re a nervous driver or prefer to leave the driving to someone else, book one of the Road to Hana guided tours.

The group tours are offered on small private buses or vans (due to the narrow road), and there are lots of companies to choose from.

The buses stop at various places along the way, giving you plenty of opportunities to enjoy the undeveloped area’s tropical scenery and snap some photos.

If you have little ones that don’t tolerate a long drive, this isn’t the journey for you or them! Not unless you like hearing, “are we there yet?” a hundred times.

A DIY Hana Highway Tour

If you are staying in Maui, the best place to rent a car is at Kahului Airport. Alternatively, rental cars are available in Lahaina, Wailea, and Kihei for daily rental.

When traveling by cruise ship and docking in Kahului (as I did), rental cars are a short distance away at Kahului Airport.

The most commonly requested vehicles are the Mustang convertible and the Jeep Cherokee. During my Road to Hana adventure, I had a red Mustang convertible.

Choosing A Day To Travel

With two days in Maui during my Hawaiian cruise, I opted to navigate Maui’s infamous road on the first day. I soon came to realize this was a huge mistake.

With thousands of passengers disembarking a cruise ship, hundreds of cruisers choose to experience the highway to Hana, and they all do it on the first day.

Trust me on this one! Long line-ups soon appeared at the car rental lot as everyone tried to attain the keys for their touring chariots.

I quickly realized this was not going to be a quiet jaunt in the country. Instead, we all headed out like camels, moving one by one as if slowly transitioning across desert terrain.

Take my advice; if you plan to take this incredible journey and not traveling by cruise ship, pick a day that the cruise ships are NOT in port. Going without the crowds will make your drive ten times more enjoyable.

Also, it’s advisable to hit the highway in the early hours before the road gets busy. The early start allows for more time to stop and enjoy the sites along the way.

The Road To Hana Route

Maui’s popular drive gathers an entourage of a whopping half a million travelers each year. With such large numbers, it surprised me that the roadway was still, in my eyes, a “country bumpkin” road.

In areas, it had no shoulders and, in some cases, no barriers on the steep embankments. After completing the highway, I now understand the difficulty of maintaining a narrow roadway that’s overly used.

During parts of the route, I was thankful to be the passenger and not the driver. On narrow sections, my knuckles were white from gripping my seat.

Driving the Road to Hana reminds me of being on a roller coaster, but for hours on end. If the narrow road and cliffs aren’t scary enough, add to that the blind corners, wide enough for only one vehicle.

Views of the ocean from the highway to Hana
Ocean views on the Road to Hana are spectacular

Hawaii is known as the rainbow state for a good reason. During the drive, the rainfall came and went several times, but these were not the showers I was used to.

The sky would turn black for a short time; the showers would fall and then disappear as quickly as they arrived, sometimes creating a rainbow.

All that rain creates a lush green rainforest and beautiful waterfalls that the Road to Hana is famous for. I quickly learned that those heavy rains cause flash floods that damage the highway.

As the rain came and went, I had to make several stops to put up the canvas top of the convertible, then put it down again. After a while, I almost wished I hadn’t rented a convertible. A lesson learned for next time, I guess.

When the showers finally stopped, I continued the rest of my Hana highway tour, enjoying Hawaii’s trade winds with the roof down and the wind in my hair.

The Waterfalls On The Hana Highway

Although it rained several times during my trip, the waterfalls were not running as fast as I had seen in pictures. In fact, some waterfalls were barely a trickle.

These incredible sites are what I came to see, and with hundreds of people driving that day, these spots of interest became a bottleneck.

Hanawi Falls, Maui
Hanawi Falls on the Hana Highway in Maui

While the highway to Hana is just 52 miles, with hundreds of cars, I felt like I was the tortoise in the “Tortoise and the hare.”

With each approaching waterfall, and there are over 15, the traffic would come to a halt as each person wanted to snap their Instagram picture.

It’s important to note that most waterfalls viewpoints do not have pull-outs or places to pull over for a photo, and those that do, have only room for one to three cars.

As a result, drivers would stop, creating a long train of traffic going nowhere.

At the fastest-running waterfall, the man behind me lost his patience with the non-moving traffic. He pulled out of the line and raced by me at an unreasonable speed, even though passing was not allowed.

As he passed, he hit a puddle of mud (did I mention it rains a lot in Hawaii?), with a little car oil. I watched as if reviewing a movie in slow motion as this wave of muddy water and oil flew over my convertible.

When the tsunami hit, I realized I had picked a bad day to wear white, all white!

Not only was the inside of the car covered in oily mud, but my white capris and cotton blouse were beyond saving. By the way, I spent my second port day cleaning the inside of the car to prevent a cleaning fee.

Stops On The Road To Hana

While there is plenty of exciting Road to Hana stops, it’s impossible to see them all on one trip and make it back the same day. Instead, pick one or two that speak to you, and add more on the return drive if the time allows.

Ho’okipa Lookout – Mile 9

The Ho’okipa Lookout is 9 miles into the drive on the left-hand side. The windy beach and massive waves provide the perfect environment for windsurfers and kite surfers.

However, due to the giant waves and strong currents, it’s not advisable to swim here. Should you be hitting this beach on the return trip to Hana, it’s an ideal place to watch a magical Hawaiian sunset.

If you’ll lucky, you may even see some Hawaiian green turtles basking in the sunshine on the sandy beach.

Ho'okipa Beach on the Hana Highway, Maui
Ho’okipa Beach on the Hana Highway, Maui

Honomanu Bay – Mile 14

Honomanu Bay’s black sand beach is a popular stopping point along Maui’s famous road because most have never seen black sand. There are a couple of viewpoints from the road down to the beach.

However, if you want to get to the beach, you need to hike down a rough, unpaved road to the bay. The way is unmarked, and it’s inadvisable to drive down the peddled path.

It’s also important to note; that rental car companies do not allow drivers to take their vehicles “off-road.” If you have never seen a black sand beach, the better stop is at Wa’anapanapa State Park at Mile 32.

Ke’anae Arboretum – Mile 16

Rainbow eucalyptus trees seen on the Road to Hana
Rainbow eucalyptus trees

If you need a break from the road or want to experience a lush rainforest, Ke’anae Arboretum provides the perfect stopping point. While there aren’t many parking spots, this roadside attraction is free.

While the Arboretum has an excellent variety of flora, the ultimate treasure is the captivating rainbow eucalyptus trees everyone comes to see.

Halfway To Hana Stand – Mile 17

The halfway to Hana stand offers good banana bread, amazing pineapple smoothies, and delicious shave ice.

While it’s a bit pricey, this is after all, Hawaii. Make sure you have cash, as most fruit stands can’t take credit.

Keanae Landing, Aunt Sandy’s Banana Bread – Mile 17

While some drive this stretch of highway for the experience and the waterfall sightings, others take the journey for the world-famous banana bread!

Banana bread is to Maui as goulash is to Hungary. There are plenty of vendors selling banana bread during the drive, but none are as superb as Aunt Sandy’s.

If it’s your first time in Hawaii, trust me when I say you need to stop here. Located on the Keanae Peninsula, Aunt Sandy’s banana bread will tease your palette as it’s made from real butter and the best-tasting bananas, which are grown locally.

A family-run business for 30 years, it’s advisable to get there early as the stand closes at 3 pm or earlier if they run out of banana bread.

I’ve known many travelers who bought a single loaf on the way to Hana and another five loaves on the return trip.

What better way to learn about the Hana region than munching on some warm, tasty banana bread? Also, it makes a great Aloha souvenir for family and friends who will beg you for more.

Upper Waikani Falls – Mile 19

Upper Waikani Falls on the Road to Hana
Upper Waikani Falls (Three Bears Falls) is a popular stop on the Road to Hana

While this day tour has plenty of waterfalls for viewing, Upper Waikani Falls, also known as Three Bears Falls, is one of the better ones. Most visitors take photos from the road and don’t realize there’s a route down to the trio of waterfalls.

Like most of the stops, parking is minimal. It’s best to drive by the waterfall and find a place to pull over further up and walk back. The trail down to the bottom of the waterfall is slippery and steep, so exercise some caution.

The short hike will reward you with amazing cascading water surrounded by the beautiful green hues of a lush rainforest.

Hana Lava Tube – Mile 31

A trip to Hawaii isn’t complete without walking through at least one lava tube, and this one is 960 years old! Lava tubes are the result of lava flowing underground, hardening, and causing a crust.

The molten lava continues to flow out to the ocean, eventually leaving the tunnel empty. The lava tubes are scattered all over the Hawaiian Islands and vary in size and length.

The entrance fee is USD 12.50, and I was given a flashlight for my self-guided tour. This impressive lava tube is the largest on Maui and the 18th largest lava tube in the world.

Wa’anapanapa State Park – Mile 32

With a black sandy beach, a blowhole, freshwater caves, and sea arches, what’s not to love about this popular stop on the Hana highway? If you’re limited in time on your self-driving tour, make this stop your priority.

With stunning panoramic views of the rugged Maui coastline, this was a place I could experience the inner beauty of Maui’s landscape. While it’s off the beaten path, isn’t that what makes it so desirable?

Please take my advice and wear some water shoes. Since the sun is blistering in Hawaii, the black sand absorbs the heat and makes it unbearable to stand on. The use of water shoes will prevent burns to your feet.

Hana Town

The Road to Hana is not about “heavenly Hana” or the destination itself; it’s about the journey. After all, Hana is a tiny rural town with no “larger-than-life” features or attractions.

In fact, driving the route reminded me of a travel quote by Martin Buber,All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.’ 

Beyond Hana, the road continues into the Kipahulu District, which is part of Haleakala National Park.

Should you have a rental car, most rental agencies do not permit driving past the Kipahulu region. This part of the road is unpaved.

Preparing For The Road To Hana

Should you decide to conquer the highway to Hana, follow these tips to prepare for the long drive.

●  Make sure the gas tank is full as there are few gas stations along the way.

●  Bring water shoes if you plan to take a dip in one of the waterfalls and good hiking shoes should you plan to hike.

●  Bring cash for banana bread, smoothies, fresh coconut, and snacks, as most vendors can’t process credit cards. Make sure to have small bills.

●  Pack a towel, a bathing suit, and a Rashguard t-shirt if you plan to swim.

●  Bring reef-safe sunscreen because it’s always HOT in Hawaii.

●  Pack some snacks or picnic lunch just in case parking spots are full and you can’t stop at vendors.

●  Take motion sickness remedies or use a patch if needed.

●  Bring bottled water or energy drinks.

●  Use mosquito repellant.

●  Mentally prepare yourself for a full day because the Road to Hana is not a quick drive.

●  Let’s not forget a GoPro, camera, and waterproof pouch.


Whether you visit Oahu, Kauai, or Maui, each one has its own scenic drives. However, few drives in the world allow you to see forests of guava trees, lava tubes, rainbow eucalyptus giants, and black sandy beaches. And few places in the world serve banana bread as good as Aunt Sandy’s.

Happy travels ~ Karen