The road to Hana is one of those iconic Maui adventures that everybody has heard of. There are whole books written about it. There are websites devoted to it. You can buy t-shirts proclaiming that you survived it. There’s even apps you can download.
Should you do it?
You can do Maui without doing the road to Hana. It’s a whole day from West Maui, and if you’re only on Maui for a few days that’s a lot of other options you’re giving up. But there’s just so much on the road that you won’t find anywhere else. If you follow a few simple rules, you’ll have an experience you won’t regret.
Here are some tips for making the trip unforgettable:
Remember this day is about going to Hana, not getting to Hana.
Nothing against Hana, but it just ain’t all that compelling. This day is about exploring the beauty and sights on the road there and back. So read the guidebook (we love Maui Revealed), or better yet download a Road to Hana driving tour app. There’s one offered by Gypsy for $4.99, and another, free one from Shaka. These apps work like your own private tour guide. And because there’s audio, you don’t have to take your eyes off the sights to read about what you’re supposed to look at.
And don’t just look for pretty sights. One of our favorite stops on the road was a short walk along a less than obvious path through a field to a rock overhang where we could watch people WAY braver than us diving into a pool some 30 feet below. It was a treat.
Leave early. Sure, you COULD enjoy a leisurely morning with coffee and papaya on the lanai. But you’ll be part of a long line of cars filled with people that decided to do the same thing. And you’ll be rushing to get to Hana and back, and miss some of the great spots along the way. Plus, you’ll be driving some pretty gnarly road home in the dark. So resist the temptation to ease into the day, and get on the road by 7.
Consider spending a night. I know, you’ve already got a place back in West Maui. This doubles up the lodging cost. I get that, and it’s certainly not a requirement to stay overnight in Hana. But there’s something pretty special about being there after all the tour buses and rental cars have headed out of town, and you have Hana virtually to yourself.
Drive the back road home. If your rental agreement allows, consider driving the back road on the way home. Warning – there are a couple dirt road stretches. And there are several one-lane spots. But driving the back road home is pretty spectacular. The landscape goes from lush and green to dry grassland dotted with volcanic outcroppings, and vistas that go on forever. As the sun gets lower, the sea turns to silver. Plus you’ll have a chance to buy a Kaupo General Store t-shirt! (About the one-lane part. Whatever you do, DO NOT drive the back road counter-clockwise in the afternoon. You’ll meet the tour vans on those one-lane stretches….going the opposite direction. You won’t like it.)
Explore the small van tour option. This is REALLY not my usual recommendation. I’m a big fan of independent travel. With a van tour, you’re tied to whatever the tour company wants you to see, on the schedule they want you to see it. But the Road to Hana requires a lot of concentration, and the driver misses a lot. An escorted tour ensures everybody gets to enjoy the sites. The other benefit – remember I suggested you do the back road on the way home? If your rental agreement lists the back road as “unauthorized”, then by driving it you violate your rental agreement. Get stuck somewhere, and they are not likely to bail you out. Damage the car out there, and your insurance may not cover you. Tour groups avoid that whole dilemma. Just sayin’.
Next time, I’ll share some of my favorite spots and things to do on the road. Stay tuned!
Everyone has an opinion about the Road to Hana. This is mine – I’d love to hear yours. Please share!
Companies design their tours so that you get the maximum amount of enjoyment, sites and stories out of a day trip on the road to Hana. The day is planned so you can see some of the best spots throughout the day for the right amount of time. There is so much to see and do that if you plan on going yourself, a visitor normally miss many stops, spend too much time at the wrong locations or end up driving back after dark, hungry and tired.
Things change all the time and apps, books or CDs just can’t keep up with that, meaning you get information that tends to be out of date or not quite right for the time of year you visit. Nothing beats a local guide who tells you about the sights on the road and answers any questions to help you make the rest of your vacation even better.