A trip to Hawaii. It seems epic, right? For most it’s a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. You want to make sure you see and do as much as you can. I went not too long ago to visit a friend there who lived in the city of Honolulu on the island of Oahu. It was a busy time for both our businesses so a lot of advanced planning wasn’t possible.
One day we were discussing what I wanted to see and do over a glass of wine and poke bowl (a famous Hawaiian raw fish dish). I immediately perked up, ‘I want to see a black sand beach!’ She quickly informed me they’re not all over Hawaii and we’d have to go elsewhere for that, to Maui or the Big Island (jaw drops and I think, Whaaat?). But the next thing I knew I was looking up hotels and flights for 24 hours on this beautiful island.
Hawaii was the last state admitted to the United States of America. It consists of eight main islands in a geographical archipelago and is often referred to as the ‘Hawaiian Islands’. Everything you’ve heard about it – from its waterfalls, to beautiful beaches, to blue water, and wonderfully rich culture – are true. I was excited to experience the food (a lot of fresh fish), the sunsets and the people. I even made sure to hit up some well known movie locations in Oahu. But what I truly wanted to see was a black sand beach. Where else was I going to experience this but Maui?
The only thing you need to do in Maui, Hawaii: the Road to Hana
I was posting on Facebook faster than I could say, ‘Maui’, asking for recommendations from friends who had been there. Everyone agreed if I only had one day to tour there was simply one thing I needed to do: drive the Road to Hana. The road begins on the eastern fringe of Haiku, near Huelo, which is about 30 kilometres east of Kahului International Airport. The road is not a means to get from Point A to Point B. It is a journey in itself and one of the best adventures I’ve ever been on.
Tips for driving the Road to Hana
I did a lot of research in the short time I had to prepare. Reviews said to start early. It was only later I realized how vital this piece of the equation is. You do not want to be stuck on the road on your way back to your hotel area in the dark. It’s filled with twists and turns, is often one lane and often wet from frequent, tropical rainfalls. It’s flat out dangerous in the dark. Heed the advice! So, from personal experience, here are my best tips for driving the Road to Hana:
- Start no later than 7:30am
- Get plenty of sleep the night before so you’re an alert, responsible driver
- Bring water, snacks, cash and sunglasses
- Have a fully charged camera
- Bring a phone charging device to use in the car (or battery pack)
- Fill the car with a full tank of gas
- Have bug spray and sunscreen on hand
- Wear closed-toed shoes (like comfortable sneakers) for light hiking and sandals for beaches
- Wear a swimsuit under your outfit (if you enjoy swimming)
- Ginger candies or anti-nausea medicine may be good to have if you’re prone to car or motion sickness
GyPSy Guide’s The Road to Hana is one of the best apps I’ve ever purchased. It’s $4.99 USD and worth at least 50 times more than that. Get it while you’re on wifi before you hit the road. It does not need cellular service to work – simply download it and enjoy the pleasures of a personal tour guide in your car. When you hit corresponding GPS coordinates on your drive the app automatically begins to inform you of the history and facts about the place you’re about to visit as well as the history of Hawaii and Maui overall.
Highlights of the Road to Hana
Rainbow Eucalyptus trees at Ke’anae Arboretum
Have you ever seen these beauties in person? It’s almost hard to believe bark can be so attractive! Rainbow Eucalyptus trees are only found in a few places around the globe. They love tropical environments and grow quite successfully in Hawaii. Lather yourself in bug spray and get your camera ready because you’ll become an instant tree hugger. It’s about a 10-minute walk into the arboretum to see them but it’s worth the stop and they have ample parking. There are many other beautiful tropical species of plants to admire but the main attraction is these trees.
Hairpin turns and one-lane bridges
If you’ve ever wanted to feel like a race car driver you just might get your fill on the Road to Hana. The road has over 600 turns and about 54 small bridges, most of which are one lane. It packs a lot of punch in the nearly 103 kilometres of road (just under 65 miles). This is where the your anti-nausea medicine comes in! If there’s one person in the car more prone to car sickness let him or her drive. It tends to help lessen the dizziness he or she may feel. Don’t let this deter you from the experience, however. It’s a great journey and while I’m not prone to motion sickness I was absolutely fine and loved every minute of it.
Be cautious on the road – play it safe, follow the speed limit, only park where it’s allowed and well-marked (there’s rarely a shoulder on the road), and be extra cautious in the rain, including an awareness of oncoming traffic.
Ocean view at Ke’anae Peninsula
This was the first place I stopped to see the beach. It’s like a postcard: palm trees lining volcanic rocks with waves crashing ashore. You’ll be carefree with blue skies and blue water to remind you how zen Hawaii truly is. Because of its sunshine and tropical rains it’s likely you’ll get to see a rainbow at some point – it’s the graphic on Hawaii license plates for a reason!
You can’t leave Hawaii without seeing a waterfall and the Road to Hana provides more than a few. One of my favorites was Puohokamoa Falls but you’ll have the opportunity to see even more at Wailua, Waikani and Helele’ike’oha Falls too (also known as the Blue Pool). If you’re running ahead of schedule at any point and you’re able to swim, don’t miss the chance to jump in and enjoy the rush of the falls overhead. Also, the Seven Sacred Pools is located towards the end of the drive where most people turn around to endure the long road back to their hotel area. If you can only stop to swim at one waterfall location I recommend the Seven Sacred Pools be your pick!
Charming family-run food stops
Your cash will come in handy for stops along the way like the Banana Bread Stand and Island Style Tacos hut. There aren’t too many places to stop for food so your snacks and water will come in handy if you’re hungry. However, if you’re patient, there are some good food options you’ll encounter. Most of the stands are cash only so be sure to visit the ATM before the drive. Hawaii may seem like it’s still its own country but it is, in fact, part of the United States and deals in United States Dollars currency.
The ULTIMATE must-see: black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park
Be still my heart. The crème de la crème, the reason for my visit to Maui: the black sand beach of Waianapanapa State Park. I took my sweet ‘ole time here and was sad to leave. There’s a small cave to hide in on the shore, some beautiful trails to explore and, alas, a black sand beach! Take some shoes because there are some areas of the park where you’ll want to protect your toes but you’ll certainly want to take your shoes and socks off for part of the experience, dig your feet into the black sand and feel it between your toes.
Catch the sunset
The drive is long and worth every minute. It’s inevitable you’ll see the sun dipping below the horizon at some point on your drive back. Another option is to take more time on the drive and stay at one of the few hotels along the way, in which case you’ll still see the sunset on your journey. There isn’t a better way to end such a memorable day than with a stunning Hawaiian sunset.
For additional valuable information, check out the Road to Hana website’s FAQs page.
Craving more island adventures? Read these posts next:
- The Most Scenic Roads in New Zealand you MUST Drive
- The Ultimate Far North Queensland Bucket List: 68 Things to Do
- Must Do Activities in North Kauai, Hawaii
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