You’ve probably heard the adage that life is a journey, not a destination. When it comes to traveling Maui’s Road to Hana, the saying rings especially true. The scenic Hana Highway stretches 52 miles between Paia and Hana, with 59 stone bridges and hundreds of hairpin curves that offer dramatic waterfalls, ocean vistas and rainbow mist at nearly every turn.
Below are ten common questions to consider before embarking on this incredible adventure.
1. What type of vehicle should I rent to drive the Road to Hana?
While there are numerous companies that will take drive you on a Road to Hana tour, renting a car allows you to explore the Road to Hana at your own pace.
You can rent a standard car at the Kapalua West Maui Airport, or find a unique alternative to make your journey especially memorable. Let the wind blow through your hair when you drive a professional reproduction of the 1957 Porsche 356 Speedster Convertible from Maui Roadsters. Or, gear up for your return journey via Highway 31 — often called the “Back road to Hana” — with a four-wheel-drive Maui Jeep Rental. Be sure to check with your rental car company before attempting the back road, though, as some companies have restrictions on where you can take their vehicles on the Road to Hana .
2. What’s the best season to drive the Road to Hana?
Although December is one of the most popular travel months on the island, it falls during the wet season — November through March — with the wettest months at the end of the season. You’ve got the best chance of experiencing dry weather from April to October. September is a prime time slot, as it has the fewest tourists and some of the driest weather.
3. How long does it take to drive the Road to Hana, and when should I head back?
The Road to Hana officially begins in Paia, a 34-mile, one-hour drive from Diamond’s Ka’anapali Beach Club. From there, 52 miles of winding pavement takes you to Hana, about a two-hour drive without stops. Remember to plan time in your itinerary to see the sights and factor in the driving time for your return.
Summer months offer the longest days, with about 14 hours of daylight. However, you’ll have close to 11 hours of natural light to enjoy your journey in the winter as well. Check sunrise and sunset times for the day of your drive, and plan to be on the road by astronomical twilight — when the first light hits the sky.
If you’re renting a roadster or Jeep for the day, your trip will be limited by the business hours of your rental company. Maui Roadsters, for example, has an 8 p.m. firm return time, which means leaving Hana at the latest by 3:30 p.m. in winter and 4:30 p.m. in summer.
4. Can I do the Road to Hana drive as a loop?
Yes – as long as your rental car agreement allows it. After exploring Hana, you’ll continue to the Oheo Gulch, also known as the Seven Sacred Pools, and take the intermittently unpaved southern route via Highway 31 to follow the coastline and enjoy a beautiful sunset. The road is paved as far as mile marker 38 but has long stretches of graded, graveled and sometimes bumpy travel.
Check out Hamoa Beach at mile marker 50 — often regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world for its salt-and-pepper sand and Hala trees, and a must-visit during your Hawaii family vacation or couples vacation. Head south to enjoy Wailua Falls (mile marker 45), where waterfalls, scenic ocean views, a winery and other road-less-traveled sights await.
5. Where are the best places to eat along the Road to Hana?
You’ll see banana bread stands all along the Road to Hana, though some of them serve other food, too. Be sure to bring cash, as many of the small stands don’t accept credit or debit cards. Make the most of your time by picking up a box lunch at a Paia restaurant, then find a scenic spot along the way to enjoy eating without getting delayed by lunch restaurant crowds.
If returning via Highway 31, take a break at the Kaupo General Store, a historic landmark built in 1925, where you can browse a mini-museum and refresh yourself with snacks, ice cream and cold drinks. Plan to have dinner at Maui Tropical Plantation in Wailuku, where you can take a plantation tram tour or enjoy breathtaking views on a zipline.
6. Where can I gas up on the Road to Hana?
Start with a full tank in Lahaina (or wherever you pick up your rental car), then plan on filling up in Hana. Even the Maui Roadsters that average 130 miles on their small eight-gallon gas tanks have no problem making the journey. However, if you find yourself needing more fuel, there are stations in Kahului and Spreckelsville. Along the back road from Hana, you’ll have to get to Kula to fuel up.
7. What are some must-see sights on the Road to Hana?
Research the many Road to Hana stops and sights, and make a list of the ones that appeal most to you and your family. Explore the Road to Hana’s Mile-by-Mile Guide, or order a CD Guide that can narrate your trip and help you plan an itinerary.
To get a taste of everything, choose sites that offer a variety of activities. For example, Wai’anapanapa State Park’s Pa’iloa Beach has a black pebble beach set against a blue-green ocean, rainbow mist, an ocean cave you can walk through to reach the water and a natural lava arch. Hike the coastal trail beside the Hala forests to discover blowholes, a seabird colony and sea stacks, or discover ancient cultures at a temple.
8. With so many sights on the Hana Highway to see, how can I choose?!
Make a list based on your interests. Ask everyone in your traveling party to do the same, then add the activities that you all agree on first. After defining your first-priority stops, you can add in a few more based upon each person’s preferences. Make sure you map out your stops and factor in how long each one will take for your itinerary. But don’t stress if you forget your plan or misplace your guide. Simply follow the road and you’ll find plenty of parking lots and pull-off areas to stop for photos.
9. What are the most Insta-worthy sights?
The scenery along the Hana Highway lends itself to stunning backdrops at nearly every turn. However, you won’t want to miss the rainbow eucalyptus trees — look for the first one at mile marker seven and get up close at Ke’anae Arboretum at mile marker 16. The rainbow sign outside the Halfway to Hana stand at mile marker 17 is also a classic.
10. What else should I know before driving the Road to Hana?
The Hawaii Department of Transportation maintains a page for Maui lane closures, so check this to see any obstacles you may face on the road.
As far as traffic, honk when approaching blind corners. Watch for cows; they might have horns, but they don’t honk. Use the “Shaka” — the “hang loose” hand sign — for everything from turn signals to traffic directions. In case of rain, leave early and drive slowly, as the road can become slippery and treacherous when wet. Stop for pictures when you can, but only if you can get your vehicle completely off the road. Do not stop in the middle of the road or blocking traffic.
Lastly, know that driving the twisty road can cause motion sickness in some passengers. Being the driver also comes with an added level of stress — if you prefer a less heart-pounding way to see the sights, consider taking a guided Road to Hana tour. This way, you can kick back and spend the drive staring out the window in awe. However you decide to see this spectacular route, it’s guaranteed to be a highlight of your Hawaii family vacation.
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