When I was researching things to do in Maui, the Road to Hana drive kept coming up, along with tons of warnings of dangerous conditions. But the reviews and pictures were so wonderful that we decided that we must do the drive no matter what. And now that we have done the drive, I am happy to report that it is not a difficult thing to do as long as you are prepared. Here are some top tips from a couple of people not used to getting gross outdoors and aren’t superb drivers by any means. In other words, this is the guide for dummies.
Our evaluation of the Hana Highway is that it is quite safe. The road is completely paved between Kahului and Hana. There are however some one lane bridges, where you need to be a little careful of oncoming traffic, but it wasn’t too bad at all. If you want to go a bit beyond Hana, the road to Pipiwai trail and the Seven Sacred Pools can be bumpy, but we managed just fine by going a bit slower. We had an SUV, but I’m confident in saying that you should be fine with any type of rental car. The more important thing is to take it slow and share the road.
If you are still concerned about driving, there are plenty of tours that are offered for the Road to Hana. Keep in mind though, those tours can easily cost over $100 per person, and personally, I don’t think it’s worth it.
Things to Pack
We experienced both pouring rain as well as scorching sun during our journey. It may seem like a good idea to just hike in the rain with your bathing suit since you are planning on getting it wet anyway(is it just me being an idiot?), but trust me, it is not comfortable. If the weather forecast shows any indication of rain, pack a light rain jacket or umbrella. Just a note, our forecast for the day indicated 20% chance of precipitation, but it poured for most of the morning.
The Road to Hana presents many opportunities to swim under waterfalls and in the ocean, so you will want to bring a bathing suit, or even better, wear it the whole time. You will want to bring a quick drying towel to use after being in the water, waterproof phone case or dry bag for your phone and valuables, and good shoes.
Speaking of shoes, I highly recommend getting a pair of water shoes or hiking sandals for this trip. You will be climbing up and down, going in the water, and hiking in the mud. Flip flops or slippers will give you blisters if you want to hike, and regular sports shoes will be extremely uncomfortable in wet or muddy conditions. This is especially important if you plan to hike the Pipiwai Trail.
Finally, bring some snacks! While there are some vendors along the way, it was a lot cheaper and convenient to pack our own food, even if its from Whole Foods.
We left our hotel in Kahului right before sunrise the morning of our drive. This turned out to be a fantastic decision mostly because the first half of the drive to Hana does not include a lot to see, so you get through the first part quickly before any crowds appear. The one downside is that some establishments such as the Garden of Eden and food vendors may not open that early. We did not find this to be that big of an issue though, since there is plenty of opportunity to come back to them on the way back, as we did.
Get the GyPSy Guide App
Getting a mobile app guide was hands down the best choice we made on this drive. We have used the GyPSy app during a previous trip to the Big Island, and I wholeheartedly recommend them for Maui as well. The app will follow you as you drive and does not require any mobile internet connection at all, as it uses location services. This was especially important for this drive, since there was no reception along the drive at all.
The guide tells you all about what you are seeing on the road, interesting places to stop (including stop if you have time vs must stops), and most interestingly, a brief history of Hawaii. It was just like having a guide in the car with us.
Consider Spending the Night in Hana
Since we booked an airbnb in Hana for the night and started our day early, we had a ton of time to see everything from Paia to the ‘Ohe‘o Gulch. The day was adventurous and long, so we were grateful for being spared the 2+ hour drive back at the end of the day. Instead, we checked in to our airbnb, cleaned off all the mud, and got some incredible Thai food at a food truck close by. If you are feeling it after the numerous waterfalls and mud hiking, you will also have plenty of time to explore and relax at Waianapanapa Park. On your way back the next day, you will also be able to checkout anything that was missed on the way there without any rush.
Avoid the Backroad
We had originally planned to take the backroad to Hana to avoid traffic and to see more things after reading some recommendations from other travelers. However, I would avoid doing this partly because there is plenty to see already between Paia and Oheo. More importantly, the backroad is often unpaved and bumpy as you will experience driving between Hana and Oheo. If this doesn’t deter you yet, many rental companies do not allow you to drive their cars out there, and it can often cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to get a tow truck out there if something happens. All this without the help of reliable cell signal. With all these considerations in mind, I would say the backroad is not worth it. The best thing to do to avoid crowds is to head out early and take advantage of your jetlag!
Driving the Road to Hana is a must do in Maui, and we were glad that we drove ourselves instead of shelling out hundreds of dollars for a tour. With a little bit of planning, you can also have a blast without stressing out or spending a ton of money.