Words to the wise: Paia is the last place to get fuel before Hana, where the only service station closes at 6 p.m. Companies renting cars usually do not pay for damages incurred by drivers on unpaved roads, only paved ones.
Nearby attraction: Haleakala National Park, more than 28,000 acres of volcanic wilderness, including a craterlike valley, rain forest, and waterfalls, located in southeastern Maui.
Further information: Maui Visitors Bureau, 1727 Wili Pa Loop, Wailuku, HI 96793; tel. 808-244-3530, www.visitmaui.com.
The road to Hana is, to say the least, less than ideal: narrow hairpin turns are more the norm than the exception, and tiny towns along the way remain throwbacks to an earlier era of simplicity and isolation. Yet the difficulties of this winding coastal route are at the same time one of its great virtues, for they force drivers to slow down. And slowing down, one local likes to point out, leaves you time to “smell the flowers” — not at all a bad idea in this pretty corner of paradise.
1. Hookipa Beach Park Though the beach here is beautiful in its own right, the big attraction is the opportunity to watch some of the world’s best windsurfers in action. Jumping, tacking, and even cartwheeling across the blue waters off Hookipa Beach, athletes by the hundred perform acrobatic feats in an idyllic setting. The combination of steady surf and robust winds make the area such an ideal locale for windsurfing that even international championship competitions are held here.
2. Twin Falls About two miles beyond the point where Rte. 36 becomes Rte. 360, a short trail leads to a pool fed by this pair of waterfalls. It is in this area, too, that the highway begins to curve crazily, snaking along the lower slopes of the sleeping giant Haleakala, a volcano whose highest point crests at 10,023 feet.
The course the Hana Highway follows was originally a footpath, a narrow trail blazed by ancient Hawaiians. Later, convicts used shovels to widen the route, and some decades after that, it was finally paved. Despite these steady improvements, the road retains a well-deserved reputation for being difficult — indeed, about three hours are required to navigate its 52 serpentine miles.
From Twin Falls onward, a Technicolor world lines the highway, which enters an enchanted realm adorned with vibrant greenery, misty waterfalls, and pristine pools. More than 50 bridges — many just one lane wide — span the terrain’s many gorges, and the views occasionally open to reveal seascapes of the blue Pacific Ocean and dark sand beaches that lie below. Wild orchids and fragrant yellow ginger blossoms are among the plants that emblazon the roadside. The jungle — a maze of bamboo, African tulip, breadfruit, and paperbark trees — grows so dense that in places a green canopy arches above the roadway.