It’s often said that life is about the journey, not the destination, and some might say that adage applies to the eastern Maui town of Hana as well.
The famous and scenic 40-plus-mile Road to Hana — which weaves through lush rainforests and along dramatic seaside cliffs while offering epic ocean and waterfall views — links this rural, traditional Hawaiian town on Maui’s wetter side to the island’s more dense resort areas. It’s no wonder that so many Maui visitors spend a day driving to Hana and back, and that this is considered one of the most beautiful drives in the world.
The Road to Hana is one of the world’s most scenic drives.// (c) 2010 Charles Starrett
It’s a memorable journey, but clients who linger in Hana after the sun sets reap even more rewards than day-trippers. Staying put for at least a couple of days allows clients to savor the simple pleasures of this laidback town and gives them time to ease into a more relaxed rhythm of life, worlds away from high-rise resorts and crowds.
One benefit of staying in Hana is the opportunity to savor every mile of this stunning drive without having to backtrack at day’s end. Several hundred hairpin turns, 54 single-lane bridges, myriad scenic lookouts and other worthwhile stops along the way simply demand an unhurried pace and a trusty car. It’s best to allow at least a few hours for the drive, ideally departing in the morning to beat afternoon traffic.
The bohemian North Shore surf town of Paia, near the start of the Hana Highway, is the perfect place (and the last chance, really) to stock up on lunch provisions and other groceries for the trip. Then, armed with a map featuring area highlights, clients can wind their way through the jungle and along the coast, stopping at their leisure. Roadside fruit and snack stands offer tropical smoothies, fresh-baked banana bread and other tasty treats, and brief hikes provide a good chance to stretch and get a closer look at the incredibly varied plant life and waterfalls.
At the end of the Hana Highway, Hotel Hana-Maui and Honua Spa welcomes honeymooners and others seeking a romantic hideaway with casually luxurious accommodations. This legendary low-profile hotel has it all, from entertainment to free daily activities. It also boasts the best dining in the area in its restaurant, Kauiki.
On dry days, beautiful beaches beckon in and around Hana. The otherworldly black-sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park is one of the most unique, with sand comprised of tiny, smooth lava pebbles in stark contrast to the turquoise water lapping the shore. It’s worth a brief barefoot visit, even if it’s not ideal for swimming. Lava tubes, sea caves and hiking trails add to the park’s appeal. The red-sand Kaihalulu Beach is another colorful volcanic stunner, and it’s surrounded by high cliffs, although the path to reach it is somewhat steep. Smooth-sand Hamoa Beach is gorgeous, easier to access and best for surfing, boogie boarding and swimming.
For clients wanting to explore sealife, Hana Bay Kayaks’ three-hour Kayak and Snorkel Reef Watches are a good bet and suitable for even first-time paddlers or snorkelers. And, for yet another perspective of this dramatic coastline and the slopes of Haleakala volcano inland, Hana Ranch Stables offers guided horseback rides along rolling, green, seaside ranchland.
Hikers won’t want to miss the Kipahulu area of Haleakala National Park, 10 miles past Hana. One popular trail follows a stream and leads hikers through tropical vegetation, including a towering bamboo forest and, at trail’s end, a shallow pool fed by a pristine waterfall. Afterward, a dip in one or more of several freshwater pools at the park’s Oheo Gulch, between the forest and the sea, soothes weary feet and limbs.
More deluxe pampering can be found at Hotel Hana-Maui’s Honua Spa as well as Luana Spa Retreat. Both have impressive menus that include traditional Hawaiian lomilomi massage, and the charmingly intimate Luana Spa lets clients choose between receiving its exceptional treatments in a cozy rainforest yurt or a traditional thatch-roofed outdoor hale (house) on a hill overlooking gorgeous Hana Bay.
There’s still more to do in Hana. No trip would be truly complete without visits to the history-rich Hana Cultural Center and the legendary, wildly eclectic Hasegawa General Store. So for travelers willing to take the time to slow down, this destination is sure to be as enjoyable as the journey itself.