Three Nights in Hana
Driving Maui’s Road to Hana was one of the highlights of our Hawaii honeymoon. However, it was one of the hardest parts of the trip to plan. There was just so much conflicting and confusing information out there, making it difficult to figure out whether we should try to do it in a day or stay for three? Afterall, I decided on three days and I’m so glad we did. Any less would have been a mistake. Here’s what we did during our three nights in Hana.
Driving the Hana Highway
The road to Hana refers to the Hana Highway, which starts in Kahului near the airport. It traces the coastline east past the town of Paia and Hookipa beach, making its way south passing the Twin Falls, Wailua and Wai’anapanapa State Park before reaching Hana Town. There is no road that connects the south of the island to Wailea. You have to drive all the way up to the airport and back down again past Kihei to reach the Wailea resort area.
Driving straight to Hana from the airport takes just over 2 hours and just under 3 to the Haleakala National Park. There are no gas stations after Paia, so make sure to fill up your tank before heading out! Many visitors turn back at Hana, but this is not where the road (or the adventure!) ends. In fact, the Hana Highway continues all the way down to the south around the Haleakala National Park ending at Kalepa Point (see map).
There’s just one small catch. The road to Hana is one of the most difficult and dangerous roads to drive. It is roughly 50 miles of 617 hairpin curves and 56 one-lane bridges. The road is also very narrow and with limited visibility around those sharp corners. And you have to watch out for locals who come flying around these bends, as well as tourists that didn’t read up on the driving tips and road etiquette beforehand.
It requires an experienced driver, as well a strong stomach to withstand. For anyone prone to motion sickness, medicine like Dramamine is strongly advised. And go easy on those Mai Tai’s the night before! If this sounds like too much, there are plenty of tours and drivers for hire.
There are 27 official ’mile-markers’ along the way to designate sights and places of interest. If you plan on hitting up all of them, or even half of them, think again. To give you an idea, we only got through 6 mile-markers in three days. But not all worth stopping for. For example, of the 27 is a general store, a coffee house and a church, which narrows it down. Of the 27, I was interested in about 10. So doing 6 was pretty good. I definitely recommend researching the mile-markers to plan which you want to visit.
The Back Side of Hana
As shown in the map above, the road circles around the park and back up to the airport. This is known as driving the back side of Hana, and it’s a route that Hawaii doesn’t want its tourists taking. Because parts are unpaved, tourists have been known to get stuck and stranded attempting it. Driving this route is therefore at your own risk. Unless you’re in a 4-wheel drive and will to take a risk, you should go back the same way you came.
A lot of rules in Hawaii appear made to be broken. But there are some you should definitely not ignore. For example, if you see a sign for contaminated water, it’s best not to go in. Most tourists we saw ignored all the rules but it’s worth remembering that these warnings are for your own safety. Most were put up after serious incidents and fatalities. Especially near waterfalls, heavy rains can lead to flash-flooding in an instant. It’s really important to always wear appropriate footwear on the hike trials and use common sense!
Staying in Hana: The Travaasa Hana
Given the difficulty in reaching the sights along the Road to Hana, the best way to enjoy them is to stay in Hana for at least a couple of days. There are a few different accommodation options to suit various budgets, from campsites to romantic oceanfront cottages for two.
However, the best hotel is undoubtedly the Travaasa Hana Resort. The resort is incredible, offering large suites and plenty of facilities including three swimming pools, a spa, tennis courts and games room. Their restaurant is also really good and the staff was the friendliest and most helpful we met – despite the no-tip policy.
Unfortunately for us, it took 3 hours to get our car due to huge queues at the airport rental kiosk. We hit the road late around 4 pm and had to drive straight to Hana to beat the sunset. Driving the road at night should be strongly avoided. This actually worked out in our favour, as we read it can be unsafe to leave luggage or valuables in the car. Even if the chances are low, it wasn’t a risk we wanted to take on our honeymoon. We reached our hotel just before dark, pulling over at the nearby Hana Beach to watch the sunset. We checked in and went for dinner at the hotel restaurant, the Preserve Kitchen (the best restaurant in Hana).
Our First Day Exploring Hana!
Hiking The Pipiwaii Trail
After breakfast, we drove to Haleakala State Park (mile marker 42) and hiked the Pipiwaii trail, the best hike in Maui. The 4-mile round trip takes you through a mesmerising bamboo forest and past the biggest Banyan tree I ever saw, ending at the 400-ft Waimoku Falls.
On the way down, we took the second loop trail to the Pools of ‘Ohe’o, aka the Seven Sacred Pools. Unfortunately, access was closed off due to safety. The pools are really popular for cliff jumping, so we were quite bummed to have missed out and admired them from the cliff edge instead.
It takes roughly 1-2 hours to reach the falls, depending on fitness levels and the number of photos you plan on taking! The way back (downhill) is always faster. Allow around 3 hours for this hike in order to spend some time hanging out at the falls.
Dinner at the Hana Ranch
After the morning hike, we took a well-deserved afternoon nap and chilled at the hotel’s gorgeous swimming pool. In the evening, we got a lift from the hotel to take us across the road for some cocktails and BBQ ribs at the more casual Hana Ranch.
Spend the Day at Wai’anapanapa State Park: Black Sand Beach
We got up relatively early (ahem 10 am) and drove to Wai’anapanapa State Park (mile marker 32) to swim at the black sand beach. It was the most incredible place I’ve ever seen. Just look at the photos to see how vibrant neon green the plants are against the black soil and electric blue sky. Have you seen anything like this before?
There are some coastal hike paths around here that we explored for a bit. But we weren’t prepared for a hike, dressed with flipflops and beachwear, so we turned back after 20 minutes or so. There is also a sea cave to the right of the beach that a lot of people got very excited about.
The black sand gets seriously hot though! I put my flipflops on a rock near the water and ran in fast as I could like running over hot coals! The ‘sand’ is a mix of tiny pebbles as fine as caviar, as well as bigger, smooth stones that sparkle under the sun. Wai’anapanapa actually means glistening waters. We brought our waterproof go pro with us to take some fun shots.
This is not a place to rush, or just take a photo and leave. Bring a picnic and spend at least a few hours here, hike to a secluded beach and enjoy swimming in the sea.
Hamoa Beach: The Most Beautiful Beach in the World?
After the black sand beach, we drove to Hamoa Beach (mile marker 50), which Mark Twain said to be the most beautiful beach in the world. It’s a relatively small, crescent-shaped bay, with white powdery sand and crystal clear waters that roll across the shore in small waves. The beach is lined with trees providing plenty of shade and is typically not very crowded. There is also a bathroom, however, my husband said he saw a spider so big he thought it was a crab. So be careful!
The Travaasa Hana has about 8 sunbeds on the beach reserved for its guests, which are the only sunbeds there.
Kaihalulu: Red Sand Beach
The third and final day came all too soon. Before hitting the road to drive back up to the airport and then on to Wailea, we spent the morning at Kaihalulu beach, also known as the red sand beach. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the hotel along a narrow hike path that requires proper footwear. Always be extra careful on Hawaii’s hike trails, especially if it is or has rained due to unstable or slippery paths and landslides.
After our swim, we took a shower and checked out. For the road, we stocked up on water and food supplies from the hotel’s small convenience store, as well as plenty of that delicious banana bread from the restaurant. Everyone who visits Maui will have their favourite banana bread place. Ours was from the Travaasa Hana. It also makes a super healthy breakfast (I think!)
The Garden of Eden
On our way back, we stopped at the Garden of Eden (mile marker 10) as I became obsessed with the lush vegetation of Hawaii and wanted to learn a bit more about the plants and species here. The garden also has some nice waterfall and sea views, a bathroom and a cafe. It’s a bit pricey, Garden of Eden charge $15 per person to enter. Although it is quite small, 30 minutes here can easily turn into 2 hours if you are a plant lover.
What We Missed…
As I said in the beginning, 3 days wasn’t nearly enough time to do everything. Our initial plan was to visit Paia town and the Twin Falls (mile marker 2) on the way to Hana, but due to the delay in renting our car, we postponed it. We thought we could visit from Wailea one day, but once we got to the Four Seasons there we didn’t want to leave!
Our 3 nights at the Travaasa Hana were nothing short of bliss, and the least amount of time you should consider staying. While we definitely hit up some of the best highlights, even at our seemingly leisurely pace, we could have taken things even slower still. It’s a shame to rush through these places on such a once in a lifetime trip. Because who knows when we’ll be back. For our 10 year anniversary, maybe!
In hindsight, an earlier start or 4-night stay would have let us spend some more time by the pool or relaxing on Hamoa Beach. As well as go to Wailua and/or Twin Falls and visit Paia town, where you’ll find the island’s most popular restaurant, Mama’s Fish House. Some people ask, is the Road to Hana more about the road or the destination? It’s a bit of a silly question, it’s definitely both!
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