Road to Hana
The scenic Road to Hana on Maui is the undisputed number one attraction on the island. We've been researching the attractions on the Hana Highway since 2002, when the highway first made a major impression on me personally. We can now offer our visitors over 10 years of expertise on this beautifully scenic drive. From checklists for making the drive, to the best guidebooks, audio CD's we've researched it all.
We even have a favorite tour company Valley Isle Excursions if you would like the company of knowledgeable guides who share the history, culture and their personal insights about this fascinating area with you while driving you to Hana and back in luxury and comfort.
Hana Highway Q&A » Hana Highway Checklist »
Many visitors often ask us the same questions about the Hana Highway and that's why we've created this entry - to help answer the most basic questions about the drive to Hana town. So let's start with a few common Q&A about the drive.
Road to Hana Q & A
Q: Where is the drive located?
A: The scenic drive is located on the northeast coastline of Maui. Officially the road is named the Hana Highway and on maps will be listed as Hwy 36 and Hwy 360. Many folks, ourselves included, consider the Hana Highway to continue beyond Hana to the Oheo Gulch, or even beyond that to Upcountry Maui via Highway 31.
Q: Is the drive to Hana (and beyond) safe?
A: It's very safe for drivers who can keep their eyes on the road; trust us, they'll be tempted to look around. The highway is fully paved and even though it has many curves and one-lane bridges, the drive is very safe. For more information about driving the highway, check out our Driving tips for the Hana Highway.
Q: How many waterfalls are there on the drive?
A: It depends, but there are a lot of them. It depends because if it's rained recently then waterfalls burst forth from almost every curve on the Highway. But if it has been dry, some falls may dry up and not be flowing. EMI, a company that diverts stream water for the hungry cane fields in central Maui, also can cause certain falls to cease flowing - again, usually when it's dry. In our opinion, the best waterfalls are actually beyond Hana town, with Wailua Falls being the crown gem. If you're up for a little hiking however, you can even get a good view of 400' Waimoku Falls at the end of the Pipiwai Trail. The later is located inside Haleakala National Park at the Oheo Gulch (also known as the Seven Sacred Pools). For more information on all the major falls along the drive, see our Hana Highway Waterfalls entry.
Q: Where are the best places to stop along the way?
A: Unless you spend a night in Hana town, visiting every attraction along the drive is impossible. It could take two or three days to see everything - so we always advise most visitors to stick to the highlights. That's why we've created a best places to stop on the drive article, which should guide you to seeing the major attractions, while skipping the less appealing places that most people still get hung up on because they don't know better. You can waste A LOT of time on the Hana Highway if you aren't careful, so knowing which places to stop at in advance is very helpful and saves a lot of time. Recently we've also created a virtual Hana Highway itinerary using our new 'Hawaii Itinerary Digest' here on the site; it highlights the best attractions along the highway.
Q: eBook/Guidebook, CD, GPS unit, or smart phone app - who should I trust to guide me?
A: Not to toot our own horn, well OK, maybe a little bit, but we have written an exclusive Hana Highway - Mile by Mile guidebook that details the drive's major attractions, and we think it's a great resource to visitors. We started writing the book almost 8 years ago, and after dozens of adventures along the highway, I think it's fair to say we've done our homework and research. We've literally guided thousands of visitors along the drive, and we've had an incredible amount of positive feedback from our recommendations and rating system in the book. Alternatively, if you're looking for an audio CD, then we feel the R2H CD is the best buy as of this writing. We wouldn't advise visitors to use any smartphone apps for the drive, as a cell phone signal is hard to come by on the drive. Additionally the GPS tours can be problematic in our opinion, so we're not especially a fan of those either - sorry GPS guys, just being honest. Also, a quick word of caution about some guidebooks - many will inform you about places that are on private property or can even be dangerous to visit. If it sounds like the book is "revealing" anything too exclusive, it probably is - so avoid those locations. Our guidebook specifically states which places are on private property and which should be considered "kapu" or off-limits.
Q: Is the drive really worth it?
A: Unless you really don't like scenic drives with beautiful scenery, waterfalls, and lush green surroundings - yes, the drive is worth it. Still, some people really don't care much for the drive, and that prompted us to write an article about that topic: Is the Hana Highway really worth it? If you've got any reservations about the drive, that article should clear up several important factors for you and help you decide if the drive is right for you and your family.
Road to Hana Checklist
This short checklist is meant to be a quick guide to what to do and bring on the drive. As we mentioned earlier, the drive has so many attractions it would be impossible to see them all in a single day. If you're going to spend a night in Hana, which is advisable if you've got enough time on your trip, then we feel like the Travaasa Hana Hotel is your best bet. This will allow you to visit the attractions before Hana town one day, and the sights beyond the next.
1.) Select a Rental Car or Guided Tour
After reading all of our Q&A above you should have a good feel for whether you want to make the drive yourself or take a guided tour. The latter is great for people who aren't too keen on the curves or bridges, but honestly, we still prefer to make the drive ourselves. Don't worry about getting a 4x4 or anything special, even if you plan to drive the road beyond the Oheo Gulch. Any regular car will do. Lot of folks love driving the highway in a convertible, and we think it's great - but keep in mind that it can rain often along the drive in short bursts, so that could be a lot of work putting the top up and down on the car. Overall you're going to want a car that has decent fuel economy and can make the drive without needing to refuel in Hana (where gas prices will make your jaw drop). On that note, fuel up in Paia town, which is located at the start of the drive, before continuing.
2.) What to expect for the scenic drive
Knowing what to expect along the drive will help you avoid any unnecessary surprises. Here's a few things to expect:
- frequent, but often quick, rain showers
- impatient drivers - so pull over often to let them by
- people stopped at every bridge - don't fall for this, stick to your plan
- get out of the car on occasion, you can't see everything from the car seat
- some short to moderate hikes - but they are excellent
- paid admission at the Garden of Eden - we think it's worth it
3.) What to bring - and what not to bring
A sizable packed lunch will definitely be advisable for the drive since it will take nearly a full day to complete. Bring a small backpack to carry things in, as you'll be doing some walking to see some of the attractions. Definitely bring your camera(s), you'll need it. Don't bring anything that's worth a lot of money if you plan to leave it in your car. While break-in's are more rare than they used to be, they do still happen on occasion, especially if any high-end goods are left visible in the car. This might include an iPhone, iPad, or any other tablet or electronic device. While these electronics can be helpful when making the drive if you have an eBook, we'd advise you to try and keep those with you in that nifty backpack we suggested. You also won't need a GPS - it would be pretty hard to get lost on this drive. Here are some other items to consider bringing with you:
- A cheap cooler with ice - this will keep your food and drinks cool.
- Water/Drinks - bring what you can, stock up with more at the general store in Hana town
- Comfortable shoes - expect to do some walking or hiking like we mentioned. Don't wear white shoes if you expect to keep them that way! Sandals are fine, as I've hiked in them for many miles, but they might not be right for everyone, so if you wearing sandals or slippahs (flip flops), you may want to bring some tennis or hiking shoes.
- A collapsible hiking pole - good for some folks if making the Pipiwai Trail hike at the Oheo Gulch
- Pocket ponchos - just in case one of those rain showers lasts longer than a few minutes
- Bug Spray - bugs are hit and miss, but it's worth being prepared incase the mosquitos are out and about
- Cash - The Garden of Eden, in addition to the fruit and smoothie vendors only take cash
- Malama Pono - be a good steward of the aina (land) and kai (ocean) - respect for the land is very important on Maui
- A watch - you'll definitely want to keep track of time. Never try to drive the highway in the dark; trust us yeah?
4.) Get ahead of the crowds when you can
Yeah we know getting up early on your vacation isn't ideal; but it's worth being ahead of the crowds. If you can be at the junction of Hwy 36 and Hwy 360 (official start of the drive) by around 7am, you'll probably be ahead of the major crowds who arrive between 8-9:30am. You can start earlier, but this can result in less than ideal photos since the sun isn't high enough in the sky yet. Whatever you do, don't get stuck in the lines of cars or this can greatly reduce the enjoy ability of the drive. Staying ahead of the masses will be your best bet. So leave early!
5.) Check about the conditions beyond the Oheo Gulch
If you plan to continue the drive beyond the Oheo Gulch, check with the rangers to see if it's rained recently or if any other conditions might create problems for that drive. Rockslides used to close that portion of the Highway frequently, but rock netting has now been put in place to aid with this problem. While almost every car rental company will "prohibit" that section of road in their self-provided guides, the drive is more than worth it and becomes the highlight of the trip to many visitors. It's broken pavement and narrow in a few sections, but once you get past Kaupo gap, conditions improve dramatically and you'll be amazed at the contrast in the scenery as opposed to how things looked on the Hana side. Be prepared for the wind though if you get out of the car, it can get quite strong when nearing Upcountry Maui.
6.) Rotate drivers when possible
You'll want to allow everyone to enjoy the drive, so if possible be sure to rotate drivers along the highway. This will give everyone the chance to fully enjoy the scenery. Most of the complaints we hear about the drive come from the drivers, who can't focus on the scenery because they have to watch the road. So be sure to share driving time if possible.
7.) Start back early
As noted above, you'll want to keep good track of time, and make sure you either begin your return along the northeast drive (if you're going back that way) or continue beyond the Oheo Gulch to Upcountry Maui, no later than 3pm. This should provide you about three hours to make the drive back to where it's less stressful driving conditions. Driving the Road to Hana in the dark is an, eh, "experience," but we don't recommend it.
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