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Getting there is half the fun

For The Maui News

If you believe that getting there is half the fun, you are in for one great big treat driving the road to Hana. By way of 600+ curves and 54 one-lane bridges you will be delivered into the Maui of the travel posters – lush and tropical, dotted with waterfalls, slow-paced, stunning. Generally acknowledged as one of the most scenic drives on Earth, the famously long and winding portion of the road really covers just the last 20 of the 38 or so total miles, measured from Kahului. You will want to take your time. Schedule at least three hours or more each way in order to savor every curve, every vista. If you have the time and, frankly, the budget, treat yourself to a night (or two) at the Hotel Hana-Maui (see sidebar). Here’s how relaxing it is. On a recent visit we saw a horse taking a nap…lying down…on a bluff beside the sea. I am not making this up.

Fill up your gas tank and pick up provisions in the funky town of Pa‘ia – about six miles from Kahului. Mana Foods on Baldwin Avenue is arguably the Island’s best “natural foods” store and offers a wide variety or prepared foods, too. If you’re big on breakfast, you’ll want to stop at Charley’s Restaurant for a BIG breakfast. If you’re not in a hurry, explore the shops and galleries that line both Hana Highway and Baldwin Avenue. And if you land in Pa‘ia at lunch or dinner time – perhaps on the return trip – try Flatbread, the Pa‘ia Fish Market, or Moana Bakery & Café just up the street from Mana Foods. The Maui Crafts Guild is here, too, a cooperative owned and operated by Island artisans and a good place to shop for gifts.

Okay, let’s go or we’ll never get to Hana. The next community is Ku‘au and the Ku‘au Mart is also a cool place to stock up on snacks and beverages. Just past Ku‘au is Ho‘okipa Beach Park where you will likely feel the pull to pull off the road. Renowned as one of the best – if not THE best – windsurfing spots in the world, more than one professional championship is held here each year. Watching dozens of brightly-colored sails dance in the surf is a happy way to start the day.

A few miles further on, a bank of mailboxes on the left-hand side of the road marks Huelo – a small residential/farming community makai (towards the ocean) of the highway – and that’s pretty much it ‘til Ke‘anae but we’ve got miles of curves and views and waterfalls to go before we get there.

One very important rule of this road. Please keep in mind that this is the only way for residents – who are not sightseeing – to get to and from Hana. So please check your rearview mirror often and if you see someone close behind you, pull over as quickly as it’s safe to do so and let him pass. We don’t sound our horns in Hawai‘i – except in the most dire emergencies – so being aware of and attentive to other drivers is essential and respectful. Mahalo!

At about Mile Marker 5 – shortly after an extreme uphill hairpin turn – look to your left for one of Mother Nature’s most beautiful creations. The Rainbow Eucalyptus trees may be your first official nature “photo op” of the day.

When you reach Ke‘anae, you’re halfway. On the left, there’s a road that will take you down to the peninsula, a small native Hawaiian community. There’s a stone church dating back almost 150 years and the lava rock outcroppings, crashing waves and swaying palms are worth the detour. In the last decade or so, some of the younger folk here have returned to traditional taro cultivation and the lo‘i (patches) are very beautiful, especially when you consider that the culture’s most important nutritional and spiritual crop springs from them.

Back on the main road you will come upon the appropriately named Halfway to Hana fruit and refreshment stand. There are many places to buy banana bread along the way; the sweet treat baked by the proprietor here may be the best.

Several miles further on is the Wailua Valley State Wayside. There’s a small parking lot and some stairs to climb. From the top, you’ll have a birds-eye view of another taro-growing community, Wailua. And from this vantage point you can plainly see the lovely patchwork quilt pattern of the lo‘i.

Turn off the air-conditioning, open the windows and for the next 15 miles or so, enjoy the sweet fragrances of ginger, guava, and unspoiled nature along with the gorgeous views. There are roadside stands on the way – many more than there used to be – and at about Mile Marker 29 you will see Nahiku Marketplace, a series of stands clustered together selling food, beverages, souvenirs. For me, the only reason to stop here is for a bag of incredibly delicious coconut candy. Three flavors – original, lavender, spicy – come in small (small) re-sealable plastic bags and sell for $5.00. And don’t worry about the re-sealing part. The stuff is addictive and will be gone by the time you get to Hana.

Just past Mile Marker 31, you will see ‘Ula‘ino Road to the left. Drive one-and-a-half miles, crossing the stream bed, to Kahanu Gardens and Pi‘ilanihale Heiau (open for self-guided tours Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m). The beautiful grounds of this ethno-botanical garden are home to the world’s largest collection of breadfruit trees as well as many other Hawaiian and Polynesian-introduced plants. The heiau (temple) is the largest in Hawai‘i. Restored to its ancient glory over a years-long restoration, it was an important place of worship and still, obviously, holds huge cultural significance for native Hawaiians.

Back to the main road and one more mile to Wai‘anapanapa State Park, there are rustic cabins for overnight stays. They are wildly popular so must be booked well in advance through the State Department of Land and Natural Resources. The black sand beach and the trail that hugs the rugged coastline are stunning and you should plan to take a short walk, at least.

A little way past Mile Marker 33, the road splits. Take the “lower” road to the Hana Cultural Center and Museum and on down to Hana Bay and Ka‘uiki, the birthplace of beloved Queen Ka‘ahumanu. The “upper” road leads directly into town. Past the hotel on the mauka (mountain) side is the town hub – the post office, bank, Hana Ranch Store (delicious rotisserie chicken), Hana Ranch Restaurant, a gift shop, and a gas station down below on the main road. And, of course, Hana’s retail institution, immortalized in a song of its own, Hasegawa General Store. From fishing tackle to baby food, manapua to mu‘umu‘u, organic dried fruit to baseball caps and everything, EVERYTHING in between, Hasegawa’s is Hana’s must-stop stop.

Continue on to Hamoa Beach described by James Michener as “the most perfect beach in the world.” He was right. The surf off this sandy crescent is wild in winter, swimming and snorkeling are safe in summer.

About 20 minutes further on is Kipahulu and the Pools of ‘Ohe‘o. Please don’t call them the Seven Sacred Pools no matter how many times you’ve heard them referred to by that incorrect name. There are many more than seven pools and they are no more or less sacred than fresh water anywhere else in Hawai‘i. The lower pools are always crowded. Instead, head up the Pipiwai Trail to the upper waterfalls and pools and you’ll reap the added reward of walking through a magical stand of bamboo. If the wind is blowing, even slightly, the sound will carry you away.

If Hana was a day trip for you, it is surely time to head back. You will get an entirely different perspective traveling in the opposite direction. If the ocean views mesmerized you on the way to Hana, try gazing mauka (towards the mountains). An old friend of mine always described that view as “the definition of green.” I’m betting you’ll agree.


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