Day 3: Road to Hana
On the third day of our trip, we dedicated the entire day to driving the Road to Hana. We were told by many that it was a “must do” while in Maui, and the other important tip we received was to get an early start.
The Hana Highway is approximately 65 miles long, and has about 59 bridges (many of them one lane) and 620 curves. With that in mind, the road takes a while to drive and slower when there is significant traffic. Taking your time and being safe are number 1 priorities. I stumbled upon the tidbit that it’s nicknamed “Divorce Highway” which is pretty funny— and I can definitely see it being a point of frustration for couples or any people traveling together. I’ll be honest, Brighton drove the entire time and I was just fine with that.
We got an early start, as recommended by most. It’s generally recommended to start the drive before 10am, but earlier like 7-8am if you want to allow plenty of time. We decided to do our stops on the way there and drive straight back like most travelers, just because I know that I am not a night person and we usually are tired by the end of the night and want to relax after a long day. If you have several days to fill, I would recommend breaking up the stops to give more time to explore. We definitely missed some fun spots that decided weren’t first priority and didn’t have a chance to go back later… next visit, hopefully!
Gypsy Guide: Your New Best Friend
One of the visitors we ran into during our visit told us that we should get Gypsy Guide for the Road to Hana. I’m not one for guides, usually preferring to have a vague list and freedom to venture beyond it, but the lack of cell service/maps/signage worried me and we decided to give it a shot! After all, it’s inexpensive and sounded like it was highly recommended. All I can say is: BEST INVESTMENT. For $7, you will be entertained, guided, and educated for the entire day.
It was especially helpful in letting us know when to turn for spots (because we had no service all day), and gave us some interesting backstory of places for context of what we were looking at. I felt like it enhanced our experience and would highly recommend to other visitors.
Breakfast in Paia at Island Fresh Cafe
Since food is not readily available during the trip, we decided it would be good to get some food before heading out. We stopped for a quick to-go breakfast at Island Fresh Cafe. They even have a “Road to Hana and Maui Day Trip” takeout menu. https://islandfreshmaui.com/menu/
The setting is super cute, inside of an old train station. Plus, there were cats wandering around! I noticed quite a few cats (stray, maybe?) all over the place while we were in Maui, including at the resort!
Once our bellies were full, we gassed up, and some cash in hand, we were off!
Keanae Lookout & Aunty’s Sandy’s Banana Bread
Mile Marker: #17
Our first official stop was the Keanae Lookout per the suggestion of Gypsy Guide. This stop is just past the Keanae Arboretum, on the small peninsula. This is a quaint little town that feels very “Hawaii” with a little history. It’s known for its taro fields, but visitors and photographers love to watch the waves hit the rocks along the volcanic coastline. There’s also a stone church built in 1856, but it’s the only building still standing after the tsunami of 1946 with 35 foot waves wiped out the rest of the town and killed 24 people. Since there was no warning system at the time, the creation of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center was a result of this tragedy.
Another fantastic part of this stop? The fresh fruit smoothies and freshly baked banana bread! We got one of each and snacked on it the rest of the day. One of the best parts was that it was nice and warm. I think it was some of the best banana bread I’ve ever had!
Upper Waikani Falls (Three Bears)
Mile Marker: #19.6
One of the most popular drive-by spots on the Road to Hana is the Upper Waikani Falls. It features 3 falls from 70 feet up high. While you can stop and hike down to the falls, I was not feeling especially confident in my slippery-rock scrambling skills and we decided not to waste the time to get closer since we were able to get a great view from the road. We did park at one of the pull offs and walked down to get better photos! The landscape is exceptionally lush and the water is so clear and blue! Definitely worth doing a drive-by or quick stop like we did!
Mile Marker: #29
A little further down the road, we stopped at the Nahiku Marketplace which is a mini-village of mostly food vendors with a couple gift and handcrafted item shops. When we stopped here, we were hit with a downpour of rain since this part of the island is much wetter and tropical. Luckily, most of the vendors have covered seating areas for their booths. There are also a couple porta-pottys there for the bathroom break.
We wandered up and down the booths looking for some food items that spoke to us, and Brighton happened upon a huli huli chicken/pork vendor that he immediately had to try. He was thrilled and gobbled it down so quickly!
Huli Huli Chicken is a traditional Hawaiian dish that’s brined and rubbed rotisserie chicken cooked over kiawe wood or mesquite which is normally served with a sauce (never a glaze) made with soy, ketchup, garlic chili sauce, ginger, and pineapple – served on the side. Huli means turned back and forth several times, so it’s similar to a rotisserie.
I wasn’t hungry after snacking on all that banana bread and breakfast burrito, so I skipped the snacks on this stop. Also, we saw more Maui cats!
Waiʻānapanapa State Park
Mile Marker: #32
This was one of the highlights of the entire trip, and most definitely for our time on the Road to Hana!
This is one of Hawaii’s state parks (personally, I think it could be national park!) and it’s located at mile marker 32 on the Road to Hana. This place is absolutely stunning and interesting! It features black sand beach (volcanic rock), sea arches, blow hole, and lava tubes! I really enjoyed the stark contrast between the black sand/rock with the lime green tropical leaves with the turquoise blue waters. It was raining when we arrived, but after getting completely drenched, we were rewarded with a slice of sunny heaven to truly enjoy the landscape.
We visited the black sand beach, blow hole, and the sea caves.
To me, this stop made the entire Road to Hana experience complete.
Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach
This was one of the spots pointed out by the Gypsy Guide and what I had found on blogs prior to driving on the road. It looked quite interesting, so we decided to give it a shot to see if we could find it. It’s not quite as accessible as our other stops, so it did take a bit of exploring for us to get there.
The beach reminded me of a Utah red sand stone area that had a beach. Interesting mix of colors! We parked on the road near the community center and walked through the grass to get to the trailhead. I did read after the fact that some (all of it?) is on private property, so just be forewarned that it may be the case and go at your own risk. There were lots of warning signs stating that this was an extremely dangerous trail, which made me question if I had the correct shoes on but we proceeded cautiously anyways. It’s a narrow, dusty path that follows the cliff edge. It made me a little nervous, but no worse that hikes we’ve encountered elsewhere. The entire hike took about 10-20 minutes to get to the cove.
Once we reached the cove, you could see the deep blue water with the protected cove of red sand and cliff walls. It was very beautiful. We didn’t proceed to the beach itself, but it was worth a look on our journey and I was glad we took the time to find it.
Koki Beach Park
Haneo’o Rd (Loop road; access from Hana Highway Mile Marker: #50.1 & #49.1)
The Gypsy Guide took us to Koko Beach Park next, which is a cultural significant area. The legend is that the dark red sand at Koki Beach was produced by the nearby cinder cone hill of Ka Iwi O Pele, meaning “bones of Pele.” According to Hawaiian legend, Koki Beach is where the volcano goddess Pele fought her final battle with her older sister, Namakaokaha’i, the goddess of the ocean. Pele’s bones were stacked along the Koki shoreline and her spirit traveled to Kilauea of Big Island. From the end of Koki Beach, there is a view of a small island, about a half mile offshore, called ‘Ālau.
Though it’s known for having red sand, I felt that the previous red sand beach had a more vibrant color, but it may have been the lighting at the time. The Gypsy Guide also discussed the significance of the cattle farms on this little area.
Mile Marker: #45
Our next stop was the famous and well-photographed Wailua Falls! You can do a drive-by photo of this one, but we did snag a spot and parked to take some better photos. You can go down to the bottom and swim, but we had just dried from our downpour earlier in the drive and swimming was not appealing at this point. It plunges 80 feet down, and it’s quite impressive! To me, this is what I picture when I think of Hawaii: lush, cascading waterfalls in a tropical surrounding.
Seven Sacred Pools at Ohe’o
Mile Marker: #42, within Haleakala National Park
This was our last stop of the day, and we were outrunning the rain clouds! We walked the short loop trail that gives you excellent views of the Seven Sacred Pools. We enjoyed them from a distance and saved our hiking time for the Pipiwai Trail across the street. This is one of the most popular attractions in Maui so be prepared to not be alone.
This area is a valley cut deeply over countless thousands of years by a rainforest stream. The stream cascades into into many waterfalls and pools until it empties into the Hawaiian ocean along the Kipahulu coastline. The result are these “sacred pools” or one of their many other names we discovered over the time we were there.
Pipiwai Trail – Bamboo Forest & Waimoku Falls
Mile Marker: #42, within Haleakala National Park
Across the street from the pools, still within the national park, is the trail Pipiwai Trail. It’s known for leading to a thick bamboo forest and the 400 foot Waimoku Falls. Since it was the end of the day, and the drizzle turned into a downpour again, we hiked to the bamboo forest and saved the falls for next time. We did see the the Falls at Makahiku on the way to the forest though!
The trail is about 2 miles each way, 4 miles round trip. It gives you a Big Bang for your buck with 2 large waterfalls and a thick bamboo forest without too much difficulty.
After our hike, we drove back partially in the dark to the town of Paia and then back to our lodging for the evening. It was a long, adventurous day! The Gypsy Guide kept us entertained with a history of Maui which made the drive back a little more tolerable.