6 Stops to Make on the Road to Hana
[Hana, HI, Nov 22, 2022]
The Hana Highway (colloquially referred to as The Road to Hana) is a 64 mile-long road connecting Kahului in central Maui to the town of Hana in east Maui. The term “highway” is probably the opposite of what this road actually is. It’s a twisty, windy, narrow thing with 59 bridges, 46 of which are only one lane wide, and approximately 620 curves. Modern road construction to Hana began in the 1870s, with an unpaved road built to facilitate the construction of the Hamakua Ditch. It continued in the early 1900s until the full road to Hana was officially opened on December 18, 1926. The road was not completely paved until the 1960s.
I started my trip to Hana from Makawao, which saved me some time and miles. I had booked a night at Hana Inn, so I didn’t have to drive back the same day, unlike most people. I highly recommend this, as it allows you to take a more leisurely pace and really enjoy the road!
Deciding what stops to make on the road to Hana is not an easy task. Some of the most popular waterfalls are on private property. Pullouts are not signed and you have to orient yourself by the mile markers. Parking is limited and the road is super popular, adding to the difficulty. In addition, there is limited/no cell coverage on the road, so you have to come with your list of stops already prepared.
After much deliberation, I decided to limit the number of waterfall stops. Most of them seemed to be tourist traps or difficult to get to/on private property. Here is the list of 6 I narrowed it down to.
1. Garden of Eden Arboretum
This wonderful garden is at mile marker 10.5. The property development started in 1991 and the garden opened in 1995. It was developed entirely with personal funds and receives no Hawaii state support, which is why there is a $20 entrance fee. There are over 700 botanical species on the 26 acres of the garden. In addition, you can see some waterfalls off the property that would not be visible from the Road to Hana itself. There are 2.5 miles of trails with many overlooks and viewpoints.
Another attraction is Keopuka rock, which featured in the in the beginning scenes of the original 1993 Jurassic Park blockbuster film. The garden opens at 8 am, so it’s also a perfect stop if you get on the road early.
2. Honomanu Bay
Located near mile marker 14, this black sand bay sits at the end of a narrow, oft-missed road on the ocean side of Hana Highway. You will get your first glimpses of the bay between mile markers 12 & 13. There are a couple of worthy lookouts to pull over and savor the view or snap a photo before you descend into the valley.
Unless you have a 4×4 vehicle, park on the road to Hana itself and walk the half-mile down to the bay. Once at the beach, look to your left and you will see Hana Highway amongst the greenery.
3. Keʻanae peninsula (Waialohe Park, Aunt Sandy’s Banana Bread, Ke’anae Lookout)
Ke’anae Peninsula—an ancient fishing village and lush taro plantation – is as Old Hawaii as it gets. It is a dramatic half-mile long outcrop of newer lava. Immediately after you leave the Road to Hana near mile marker 16, pull over on your left at Waialohe Park. You will have great views of where you just came from.
Down the road is Aunt Sandy’s, featured in many guidebooks for its banana bread. I tried it and I can attest it’s popular for a reason!
Continue on to Ke’anae Lookout. The water is really rough here so it’s not a great spot for swimming. If there is a lady selling coconuts by the parking lot, definitely get one!
4. Upper Waikani Falls
This beautiful waterfall is at mile marker 19. Most people simply take photos from the bridge, which is what I did. You could get closer if you drop into the base of the waterfall from the side of the bridge, but it looked too precarious to me.
5. Kahanu Garden
Kahanu Garden & Pi’ilanihale Heiau are at mile marker 31. The road to the garden goes from pavement to dirt with a few potholes but my little sedan made it no problem. The land was used as a sugar plantation and for grazing cattle until 1974, when it was donated to establish the garden. The Canoe section features collections of plants the Polynesian settlers brought with them when they first came to Hawaii on their canoes almost 1,800 years ago.
Also in the garden is the Pi’ilanihale Heiau, or “House of Pi’ilani”, an ancient Hawaiian temple from the end of the 13th century. I was familiar with other heiaus from trips to the Big Island, so I enjoyed seeing this one and learning more about the Hawaiians who inhabited this area.
6. Wai’anapanapa State Park
Probably my favorite stop on the entire road was this jewel of a state park at mile marker 32. Note that it now requires reservations, which I did not realize until a couple of days before. There were only late afternoon slots left, but this worked fine for me since I was spending the night in Hana. I went down to the black sand beach, where yet another beached Hawaiian monk seal was the star of the show.
There are two trails in this park, one going north and one going south. The trail going north starts just past the black sand beach and provides great views of the beach itself. This is the more rocky of the two and I didn’t have time to do both, so I didn’t go much past the beach overlook.
The trail going south was a dramatic hike because it’s really close to the ocean. There is great contrast between the blue water, the lush green vegetation and the black volcanic rock. The trail is chock-full of arches and blowholes and you really get a feel for how powerful the ocean is. It was a great final stop before finally making it to Hana!
After checking in at the Hana Inn – the cheapest accommodation I could find – I had dinner at Hana Ranch Restaurant. The Maui grass-fed beef burger and side salad were delicious. I washed them down with a Bikini Blonde by Maui Brewing Company. For dessert, I had to splurge on the passion fruit cheesecake. It was a great way to end a long day on the fantastic Road to Hana.