Hana Highway in Hawaii: World-Class Scenic Drive

Route Details Length: About 50 miles. Words to the wise: Paia is the last place to get fuel before Hana,

Hana Highway
The twists and turns of the Hana Highway will force drivers to slow down and spend quality time in a Pacific paradise teeming with flora and fauna.

Route Details

Length: About 50 miles.

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.

Print a map of this route.

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.

3. Huelo
Serene save for a few squawking
roosters, the small community of
Huelo, with its tiny Kaulanapueo
Church, stands brightly against
the blue backdrop of the Pacific
Ocean. Constructed of coral in
1853, the New England-style
church features an austere interior,
complete with the original pews.
Farther along, look for stands
of rainbow eucalyptus trees around
the old plantation town of Kailua.
The Hana Highway then leads to
Waikomoi Ridge, where a nature
trail zigzags through a forest of
bamboo. Just down the road at
Puohokamoa Falls, you can picnic
beside a 30-foot cascade that
tumbles into a rock-lined pool. Yet
another waterfall and swimming
hole lie nearby, but the unmarked
trail that leads to them is fairly
treacherous and often slippery.

4. Kaumahina State Wayside Park
This wayside park is not only practical,
offering restrooms and picnic
tables, but also beautiful, with
a lush tangle of native plants. Dazzling,
too, is the overlook, which
provides a panorama of the rugged
coastline and Honomanu Bay.
Once back on the road, you’ll
come to the largest valley on the
north side of Haleakala, about a
mile or so farther on. Carved by
erosion during the volcano’s first
period of dormancy, it stretches
inland for more than five miles.

5. Keanae
If you’re not sure of the names of
the many flowers and trees alongside
the road, Keanae Arboretum is
the place to find out. Trails weave
through the large park, and one
well-tended garden thrives with
yellow plumeria, banyan trees,
and other native and exotic plants
— all of them clearly identified.

To enjoy another of the island’s
rustic villages, follow the side road
that rambles down the windswept
Keanae Peninsula to Keanae. Snug
in a nook along the jagged coast,
it looks out on the relentless surf
and ebony volcanic rocks that
glisten in the sunshine.

6. Wailua
Water-logged taro patches — a
signature sight in Hawaii — carpet
the lonely Wailua Valley, a green
expanse best viewed from the
Keanae Valley Wailua Overlook.
After taking in the view, follow the
spur road that leads to the village
of Wailua. Along the way, you may
see the locals pounding the starchy
taro root with boards and stones,
one step in the recipe for poi.

Wailua’s St. Gabriel’s, better
known as the Miracle Church, is
wrapped in legend. When the
community decided to build the
tiny heart-decorated chapel in
1870, the story goes, a storm
washed ashore all the coral and
sand necessary for the job. Then,
just as advantageously, when the
work was done, another storm
came and swept the excess back
to sea.

7. Nahiku
As the history of the village of
Nahiku reveals, this quiet coastal
community was not always so
serene. In 1912 entrepreneurs
arrived to start a rubber plantation
and, after ripping up large
tracts of rain forest, planted hundreds
of rubber trees. What the
planters did not bargain for was
the fact that the trees, drenched
by Nahiku’s frequent rains, would
yield but little rubber. Today the
failed venture is recalled by the
rubber trees that remain along
Nahiku Road.

8. Waianapanapa State Park
Just past Hana Airport, Rte. 360
comes to this park, a verdant area
perched on a lava flow beside the
sea. A black sand beach, created
where molten lava met the ocean,
features a stone arch and a blowhole
that you may be lucky enough
to see and hear in action. One trail
wends through the area’s dense
jungle — a tangle of leaves and vines
— to two lava tubes filled not with
fire but with water.

Hawaiians tell the tale of a beautiful
princess who fled her enraged
husband and hid on a cave ledge.
After a diligent search the husband
discovered his wife and, in a raging
fury, killed her. Every April red
water now flows from the caves —
supposedly a reminder of her fate.
Scientists, however, have another
explanation, saying that the likely
cause of the color change is an explosion
of millions of tiny red
shrimp in the water.

9. Hana
After a seemingly endless succession
of tortuous turns, fern-filled
gulches, and splashing waterfalls,
the highway comes to
the hills and pastures of
Hana, a quiet town with a few
shops and cottages.
Despite its
present-day
rural charm,
the area was once
the site of fierce
fighting. Since Hana lies
just across the Alenuihaha
Channel from Hawaii, the Big
Island, it was very important to
rival kings. One of the battle
sites, Kaukiki, a cliff above Hana
Bay, was captured by Hawaiian invaders.
Peace was not established
throughout the realm until the
great King Kamehameha I united
all of the islands early in the 19th
century.

10. Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park
A word of warning is in order before
heading out on the 10 miles
past Hana: the road is so crooked
and narrow that drivers are jostled
to their very bones. The grueling
trip, however, is
richly rewarded, especially in this
sector of Haleakala National
Park, where sparkling water holes
form a staircase of cascades.
Some 24 pools and many feet of
elevation later, the water flows
into the Pacific. After the hard
ride, be sure to take a dip, the
perfect remedy.

Farther down the road in Kipahulu
lies Palapala Hoomau Church
and the clifftop grave of Charles
Lindbergh, who spent his last years
in Kipahulu. The pavement ends
about three miles past the church.
Only the truly adventurous — in four-wheel drive vehicles — should attempt to tackle the untamed route that lies ahead.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest