Some of the most frequently asked questions about this journey are, 'Is the drive for me?' And ''Why all the controversy about the road beyond Hana town?' Below we'll cover both of these topics.
If you've done any research on the internet regarding the Hana Highway, then you know there is quite a debate over whether the drive is worth the time and effort. So that brings us to the first question, 'Is the Hana Highway right for you and your travel party?' The answer isn't a simple yes or no. Ultimately it really comes down to the type of traveler you are and what your interests include. From a personal standpoint, there is no way we'd ever go to Maui and not drive the highway. We've rated the Hana Highway at the very top of our "Must See & Do." But we know several others who are just as inclined to tell you to skip it all together. This divergence in opinion is what causes the great debate.
If you are on the fence about making the drive on your own; another option available to you is joining up with Valley Isle Excursions on their guided Road to Hana Tour. They offer hotel pick up from most major locations, keep the group sizes small, have a wonderful and professional staff, stop at over a dozen different scenic spots during the course of the day and their customized luxury vans with panoramic windows make for a great view of the scenery.
So, is the drive for me?
With everything said above, here are a few more things to keep in mind when deciding if you want to make the drive. If you answer 'yes' to most of these, then we'd recommend the drive. However, if you feel you are answering 'no' to most of these, then you might want to consider spending your time somewhere else.
1.) Are you, and all the people in your party, comfortable with frequent turns without getting motion sickness? If not, all the turns might be a rough journey. Since one of us has motion sickness, this was initially a concern. We can gladly say we have not once had anyone ever get sick on this drive. However, we've always been in the front seat of the car together, either driving or observing as a passenger. Passengers in the back seat may have a completely different experience. There are several ways to prevent motion sickness. Personally we prefer the wristbands.
2.) Are you comfortable driving in traffic? Are you prepared to drive in it at a slow pace if you get started late? Depending on how early you start, you may or may not encounter a lot of traffic. We again stress that 7 a.m. is the very latest to start the journey, and we say that for many reasons, but traffic is definitely one of the larger ones. Your enjoyment, or lack-there-of, can be determined by how you deal with traffic on the highway.
3.) Do you have the time available for the drive? There is so much to see on the Hana Highway, in Hana, at the 'Ohe'o Gulch, and beyond to Upcountry Maui that a single day cannot encompass everything. You would honestly be rushing yourself to do this drive with any less than two full days. Whatever you do, never try to make any portion of the drive in the dark. Keep an eye on the time, and if that means skipping places to get started back, do it. The road is not well lit and local traffic can make it more stressful. As we previously recommended, staying a night in Hana would quickly alleviate this problem. Here you can read more about driving the Hana Highway in a single day.
4.) Are you willing to drive the highway twice? Many car rental companies technically prohibit the south east drive, plus, the road can often close due to rock slides. That means you may need to turn around and make the drive back. Suddenly that means 600 turns and 50+ bridges becomes double that number.
5.) Are you prepared to stop, a lot, to see all the sights? The Hana Highway is great from a car, but to really appreciate it, you're going to have to stop frequently, get out of the car, and in some cases, walk or hike a bit to see things. For us, this is ideal. But not everyone likes the idea of even light hiking, so keep that in mind when deciding to make the drive or not. The highway is beautiful from a car window, but it definitely cuts down on its 'worth' in our book if you aren't likely to step outside the car.
What has happened on the Pi'ilani Highway (Hwy 31)?
Currently the Pi`ilani Highway IS open to the public and will remain so unless local conditions change. The Pi'ilani Highway was closed for approximately two years beyond the 'Ohe'o Gulch due to earthquake damage in October 2006. The closure started in December 2006 due to the danger of rock slides and the road remained closed officially until October 4, 2008.
That said, in regards to the second most asked question, 'Why the controversy about the road beyond the 'Ohe'o Gulch (Kipahulu)?' First and foremost, the decision to make the drive is yours alone. If you break down out there, don't say we told you to do it. Frankly though, don't let the rental companies or alarmists online fool you, the drive beyond the 'Ohe'o Gulch isn't half as bad as they proclaim it is, and it's perfectly fine terrain, with just a few rough areas - broken pavement and regularly graded road.
About 30 years ago this was a really bad stretch of road, and at times, due to instability in the cliffs above, it still can be. Hence, why it can sometimes close due to rock slides as it did following the earthquake in late 2006. If you choose not to make this journey, several of the stops at the end of our guide, in Upcountry Maui, can still be accessed by the fully paved Highway 37.
Hopefully, you're still considering the drive and the aforementioned items helped to clarify if the drive is for you or not. We don't think you'll be disappointed if you make the journey. No other drive has quite the charm and beauty of the Hana Highway and beyond.