Long and Winding Road: Driving Maui's Famed Highway to Hana


Marco Garcia, The Associated Press, March 3, 2015

HANA, Hawaii (AP) — When we moved to Hawaii 10 years ago, my wife Yukako and I set out to drive the road to Hana on the eastern shores of Maui. Highway 360 was known for gorgeous scenery as well as for hairpin switchbacks and a bumpy road.

But Yukako turned several shades of green after a few too many curves. The drive abruptly came to a halt with a crescendo of screams demanding I pull over. Luckily, no lunch was lost and a dose of Dramamine helped. We eventually made it to Hana, averting a possible paradise lost, and enjoyed our visit.

When I asked Yukako to repeat the trip a decade later, she gamely agreed. We took a few days off, flew to Maui, and planned to attack the road at dawn the next day.

It's only 52 miles (87 kilometers) from Kahalui to Hana on Highway 360, but the drive takes three hours as the road snakes around Maui's northeast coast. It was once a trail built for a Hawaiian king to visit his territory, but then became a commercial thoroughfare connecting one plantation to the next. The road cuts through Maui's valleys and mountains and slithers above its coastal shores. The road has been improved in recent years, but there are still some 600 curves and more than 50 moss-covered stone bridges, many just one lane wide.

As Hana's fame has grown, so has the traffic. To avoid the inevitable caravan of slow-moving cars stopping at every turn for photos, we left at dawn from our B&B in Makawao, a small mountain town famous for cowboys rather than surfers.

We first passed through the artsy town of Paia, known for quirkiness and celebrity-spotting. It's also home to the last gas station before Hana. We then passed Mama's Fish House, where we would return for dinner, having booked a reservation online. Tables are tough to get at the famous beachside restaurant.

The drive winds past long stretches of swaying sugar cane fields and blue ocean views with kite surfers soaring through the sky. The notorious curves don't appear until well into the drive when the fields and ocean give away to tropical flowers and jungle greens.

But with every new turn in the road, the Hana Highway revealed a different breathtaking view or a cascading waterfall. We drove past acres of towering bamboo trees, so tall they blocked out the sunlight, and tree branches hanging heavy with fruit. Roadside stalls sold fresh-picked bananas and fresh-cut exotic flowers. At one vista where we stopped to take pictures, the smell of fragrant plumeria flowers and wild ginger was overwhelming. "It's like one giant flower lei," she said.

Halfway through the trip we reached the Nahiku Market Place, which offered the usual art galleries and fresh coconut water for sale, along with several open-air restaurants including a Thai kitchen and a coffee shop. It was a good place to take a break.

Right before reaching Hana, you'll find Wai'anapanapa State Park which boasts a stunning black sand beach. The beach, which had few visitors 10 years ago, is now a destination with many sun-worshippers on the ebony sand, but it's still well worth a stop and even a swim. Nearby there's a lava tube along with a historic Hawaiian heiau, or temple, said to be one of Hawaii's largest.

There isn't much to do in Hana as the town is small, with just two general stores, a couple of churches, a restaurant or two along with the post office There's also one high-end luxury hotel. The town's bay beach isn't as nice as some of Maui's other fabulous spots. There's also a red-sand beach, though it requires several warnings: It's a nude beach and the hike there is treacherous and requires crossing private property.

On the other end of Hana is the salt-and-pepper sand Hamoa Beach, voted one of Maui's best beaches. And a few miles farther away is Palapala Hoomau Church, home to the grave of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh.

After making a day of it with stops along the way and even a swim at the secluded red-sand beach (we left our suits on), we headed back to Kahalui. This time, Yukako didn't even complain about the hairpin turns. Road improvements have smoothed the journey out, and we both enjoyed it. At the end, we toasted our curvaceous, one-day road trip over a locally caught mahi mahi back at Mama's while enjoying colorful skies, colorful drinks and the Hawaiian sunset.


If You Go...

ROAD TO HANA: Highway 360 between Kahului and Hana, 52 miles (87 kilometers). Allow three hours and be prepared for hairpin turns and one-lane bridges; http://roadtohana.com/ or http://www.gohawaii.com/en/maui/regions-neighborhoods/east-maui/hana/#customOrder:created .


This article was written by MARCO GARCIA from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.