Hawaii is made for road trips, and one of the best is the Road to Hana, a relatively short drive that should take all day (if you're doing it right).
Technically called the Hana Highway, the Road to Hana is 52 miles of winding two-lane road connecting Kahului with the tiny town of Hana. You could certainly make the trip in a few hours (it's slow going with all the twists and turns, and most of the little bridges narrow to a single lane), but why would you? The scenery along the way is some of Maui's most beautiful, with waterfalls to see, beaches to visit, and short hikes to do en route.
Some of the sights you can visit along the way include the Twin Falls waterfalls, the Ho'okipa Lookout, Honomanu Bay, the two arboretums, the Hana Lava Tube, and Wai'anapanapa State Park. The town of Hana itself is tiny, but lovely and has many nice beaches.
The lunar landscape of Haleakala Crater covers an enormous expanse – so big that Manhattan could squeeze inside. The world’s largest dormant volcano, the crater is protected by the Haleakala National Park.
This is the place for stunning views of cinder cones, wild hiking trails, Hawaiian legends and rare endangered species.
Gazing into the huge crater is an awe-inspiring sight, and several hikes lead across the crater floor.
Haleakala last erupted in 1790, and the odds are good that it could blow its top again one day.
A pleasant stop on the road to Hana, the Pua’a Ka’a Park offers the chance to take a scenic break from the long drive. Stretch your legs on its dirt path to nearby waterfalls and natural pools. The farther you’re willing to walk, the taller the waterfalls become and many people bring a picnic to enjoy as a part of this diversion.
Totaling five acres the area here is lush with tropical plants which, with the sound of the waterfalls, create a distinct rainforest feel. Picnic tables are set against scenic backdrops, and fish and tadpoles are visible in the shallower pools. Watch for wild birds and mongoose. The walking paths here are not rigorous, but a refreshing dip in one of the pools is a highlight for many on a hot day.
The city of Lahaina on the western coast of Maui is, today, sometimes seen as simply a way to get to the beaches of Kaanapali. If you're just passing through, however, you're missing the town's charms completely.
Lahaina was once the royal capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, from 1820-1845, and many of the attractions in the historic district date from that era – including the old cemetery, where you'll find royal graves, and a defensive fortress with reconstructed walls. Later, the city's economy was built on the whaling industry. Visitors today, however, come by the thousands to go whale watching rather than hunting. The Lahaina Historic District is the center of tourism in the town, with several 19th century attractions to check out, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962. In addition to the historic attractions and whale watching, you can also enjoy snorkeling, surfing, sightseeing cruises, and luaus.
Once a little sugarcane town, tiny Paia was brought to world notice by the windsurfers who discovered its first-class waves. It’s now known as the windsurfing capital of the world. The town’s old plantation-style wooden buildings are now home to funky bars and restaurants, craft shops, surf stores and art galleries. The town’s windsurfing hub is nearby Ho'okipa Beach. Pull up a towel and watch the surfers in action, or head to calmer Baldwin Beach for a paddle.
The legendary “Road to Hana” drive seems to indicate that the town of Hana itself is the goal, but you'd be crazy to miss a visit to Wai'anapanapa State Park.
Spending some time in Wai'anapanapa State Park is reason enough to stay overnight in Hana. It's a lush and gorgeous park just outside of Hana, and one of its most well-known features is the small black sand beach of Pa'iloa. It's a beautiful beach, to be sure, lovely for swimming or simply sunbathing, but there's more to this park than just a beach. Wai'anapanapa has two underwater caves you can visit that are filled with a combination of fresh and salt water. You can go swimming in these pools, too. This area also has historical significance, too, as you'll see when you visit the ancient burial sites. There is also a trail that winds three miles along the coast, from the park all the way into Hana Town itself.
Honolua Bay sits peacefully with its vibrant turquoise and deep blue, warm waters off the northwestern coast of Maui. Preserved as a Marine Life Conservation District, fishing is strictly prohibited here, making the diversity and amount of marine life particularly strong. With its rocky volcanic cliffs sheltering from winds, the bay remains calm and the water clear and excellent for snorkeling. Colorful tropical fish such as parrotfish, damselfish, Moorish Idols, snapper, and wrasse, as well as tuna, sea turtles, and eels are commonly sighted. The rock formations and abundant corals make this a scenic place to explore underwater. It is also a popular surfing spot, particularly in the winter months, due to the long waves that crash at its coast. There is a small black sand beach, but most of the coastline is jagged rock. Visibility in the water tends to improve the farther you swim from the coast.
Even in the middle of a sunny day, hikers here will often find they are strolling along in near darkness. The towering bamboo is so thick in places that it nearly blocks out the sun, and it creaks and whistles high in the branches as it blows in the East Maui wind. The dense jungle of bamboo aside, what makes this hike such a Maui favorite is the multiple waterfalls and swimming holes. Reaching the waterfalls can be treacherous, however, as the trail leading down from the highway to the falls is steep, slippery, and dirt. Even the entrance requires skirting a fence that has been cleared for easier entry, and it’s a “proceed at your own risk” type of trail that isn’t officially marked.
For those who choose to visit, however, four different waterfalls splash their way through a forest is laden with bamboo and guava. Each waterfall has a small swimming hole where you can escape the midday heat, and the bottom two falls are the most accessible for hikers.
Hawaii’s first planned resort town, Ka'anapali is a consistent favorite with visitors, with numerous hotels and condominium complexes sharing the prime waterfront location along Ka’anapali Beach. Once named America’s Best Beach, the spot offers three miles of sand and warm, swimmable water. Families play on the shores, keeping eyes open for a possible whale swimming in the distance. Tour boats depart directly from the sand during whale-watching season, which runs through the winter.
Along with numerous restaurants, there are a variety of stores located in Ka’anapali’s open-air Whalers Village shopping mall. Throughout the day, free Hawaiian entertainment, like hula dancing and lei-making lessons, are offered to guests. A walkway runs in between the beach and the line-up of resorts and businesses, making it easy to forget about the car and stroll from one spot to the next. There’s always a fun crowd of folks moving about.
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The Ohe’o Gulch is a vibrantly green valley that has been naturally created by centuries of rainforest streams. Also called the Kipahulu Area, these lush lands became part of the Haleakala National Park in the 1940s. The main draw for visitors is the many tall waterfalls that feed into groups of large, tiered natural pools, sometimes called the Seven Sacred Pools of Ohe’o. Swimming in the fresh water is popular when water levels are safe.
Two streams, the the Palikea and Pipiwai, are the source of all of the water in this area. Visitors can hike the two-mile Pipiwai Trail (3-5 hours roundtrip) along the streams with view of the pools. Along the trail, there is one tranquil natural pool that can be less crowded than the Seven Sacred Pools area. The path ends at the 400-foot-tall Waimoku Falls, and you can always cool off in the pools after finishing the hike.
Makena has the notorious distinction of being the first place where a Western explorer set foot on the island of Maui. When Jean Francois de La Perouse first “discovered” the island of Maui in 1786, he found a thriving population of Native Hawaiians living along this volcanic shoreline. Unlike areas of South Maui such as Kihei and Wailea which are so developed today, Makena was the population center for South Maui’s original inhabitants, and consequently, it’s an area which is heavily steeped in ancient history and culture.
Although much of modern Makena has been developed with resorts and homes, this history is still evident at places such as Keawala’i Church—a Congregational Church established in 1832—where sermons are still held in the Hawaiian language. Similarly, at the end of the paved road in Keone’o’io Bay, the trailhead begins for the ancient King’s Highway, a rocky path commissioned by King Pi’ilani which once wrapped its way around the entire island.
Haleakala National Park protects the world’s largest dormant volcano, Haleakala Crater. Exploring its huge expanses, it’s easy to see why haleakala means ‘house of the sun’.
The park is divided into two sections: the crater and the coastal area around Kipahulu.
Visitors come here to hike the wild lunar landscapes, with overnight treks particularly popular. Sunrise is an amazing sight over Haleakala, and the park is also well worth visiting at night, when the star-filled sky is crystal clear.
On the coast, the landscape is more lush, with fern-shaded pools and tumbling waterfalls to cool off in.
Hana is a community on the eastern end of Maui, and it might remain largely isolated if not for the spectacular scenery on the Hana Highway that draws visitors in droves.
Hana Town itself has a small population, although there's a constant influx of travelers. It's hot and humid year-round, but you'll be able to escape the tropical conditions at any one of the many excellent beaches in and around Hana – including a black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park, and Hamoa Beach (sometimes called Hawaii's most beautiful beach).
The Hana Highway – also known as the Road to Hana – meanders more than 50 miles along the northern shore of Maui and leads to the community of Hana. If you've got the time, the best way to travel the Hana Highway is slowly, stopping frequently to check out waterfalls, beaches, and breathtaking views.
Along with the many attractions along the Road to Hana, there are also historic and scenic points of interest in Hana Town itself.
The island of Molokai may not be as popular with tourists as other Hawaiian islands, but it offers stunning scenery and plenty of opportunities to relax. Molokai's landscape includes two volcanoes, a large white sand beach, and a sacred valley – all in an island that's only 38 miles long and ten miles across. You can ride a mule through Kalaupapa National Historical Park (the only way to access the park), go camping at Papohaku Beach, and explore the Halawa Valley – where Polynesians are believed to have settled in the 7th century. Molokai is also said to be the place where hula comes from, where the goddess Laka first danced the hula. Today, there is an annual hula festival on Molokai each May.
During the mid-19th century, Molokai was the setting for a leper colony. The site of the settlement in Kalaupapa is still occupied by some of its former patients, so access is by invitation or organized tour only.
This 7.8-acre park is a popular stop along the Road to Hana, with several hiking trails, covered picnic facilities and scenic views of the coast. There are dozens of native Hawaiian plants and birds to see as you walk through the forested area, so take a break from the drive and get some perspective from an overlook of the Ke’anae Peninsula and the nearby village.
There are several scenic spots to catch views of the bright blue sea and the winding coastline. Trails lead down to the ocean and loop back around, so there’s space to stretch your legs while enjoying the tropical environment here. Bring your walking shoes, your camera or binoculars and a picnic to enjoy some time at this park on your way up to Hana.
For a look at what Maui's agricultural life once looked like, visit Maui Tropical Plantation – a sort of plantation theme park that's also still a working plantation.
Maui Tropical Plantation covers about 60 acres, and was originally designed to turn the island's rich agricultural history into a tourist attraction. There is a tram ride you can take, which includes a narrated tour of the plantation and historic information. You'll learn about crops for which Maui is famous – sugar cane, pineapple, coffee, bananas, and macadamia nuts, among other things. You can even try your hand at husking a coconut.
In addition to the crops themselves, the plantation also features the Maui Country Store, which is full of products made on the island of Maui. There's an on-site restaurant, too, where you can sample some of the fresh fruits you see growing in the fields all around you.
La Perouse Bay is a stretch of coastline bordering the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve on Maui’s south shore. It was named for the French explorer Jean-François de La Pérouse, the first European to set foot on Maui in the 18th century. The bay is the site of Maui’s most recent volcanic activity, and the landscape is covered in jagged, black lava rock intermixed with pieces of white coral. Though there isn’t much of a beach visitors can hike this area using the King’s Trail, which winds past several small coves.
As its waters are protected from fishing by state law, aquatic life is abundant and excellent snorkeling spots can be found off its rocky coast. Spinner dolphins sightings are frequent in the bay. When waters are calm, it can be a great spot for swimming and kayaking.
When you can't get enough of sea life in the waters around Maui, then head for the Maui Ocean Center in the town of Wailuku.
Opened in 1998, Maui Ocean Center is an aquarium featuring only sea life that lives around the Hawaiian islands. It's the largest tropical aquarium in the western hemisphere, and features an enormous Open Ocean tank. There's an acrylic tunnel through the tank, giving visitors the feeling of truly being underwater. Among the diverse array of sea life in the 60 exhibits at the aquarium, you'll see octopuses, stingrays, turtles, sea horses, moray eels, jellies, and sharks, and you'll learn about dolphins, whales, and monk seals – not to mention thousands of fish. Maui Ocean Center also has the largest collection of live corals in the country.
Although the Wailea resort complex is graced with numerous beaches, the epicenter of the beach scene will forever be Wailea Beach. Voted as the #1 beach in America in 1999, this stretch of golden sand which fronts the Grand Wailea and Four Seasons resorts offers everything from snorkeling and standup paddling to outrigger canoe paddling and playful bodyboarding. Fun-loving yet undeniably luxurious, Wailea Beach is the postcard of luxury you would expect from a Maui resort complex.
Even though private cabanas line the shoreline (and there is a great chance of spotting a celebrity), Wailea Beach is a public beach and is open to anyone in the community. Public parking lots are found at neighboring Ulua Beach as well as next to the Four Seasons, and a two-mile coastal path connects Wailea Beach with Polo beaches, which is a similar island favorite.
Situated on Maui’s northern tip past the sweltering shores of Lahaina, Kapalua is a luxurious enclave of beaches, golf, tennis and resorts. The signature beach—Kapalua Bay—has been voted America’s best, and the Plantation Golf Course regularly hosts the best in professional golf. Snorkel with sea turtles and colorful reef fish at hidden Namalu Bay, or hike the Village Walking Trails that climb their way up the ridge. Wherever you stand in Kapalua, the island of Moloka’i dramatically sits on the not-too-distant horizon, and whitecaps fleck the Pailolo Channel that separates the two islands. In winter, locals flock to Fleming Beach Park for the bodysurfing and waves, and secret, white sand Oneloa Bay is a sanctuary of footprints and silence. And, even though tony Kapalua is only 20 minutes from Lahaina, its exposure to the trade winds means it’s always cooler just a few minutes up the road.
There’s something special about where Ocean organic vodka is made — perhaps it’s the fact that it’s created on a Maui farm or that it’s the only spirit made with organic cane sugar and deep ocean mineral water. Situated on 22,000 square feet of grass near the base of Mount Haleakala, the farm and distillery have scenic views of their sugar cane plants and the surrounding coastline.
Tours of the distilling process and farm take place daily, emphasizing the importance of organic farming and sustainability. With an emphasis on environmentally and socially conscious practices, the tour gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse into production from start to finish. There is even a small herb garden on volcanic soil that produces the flavors for the cocktails they serve. Visitors can sample both the sugar cane juice or mineral water and the finished product.
The iconic rock pinnacle known as the Iao Needle is the focus of Maui’s Iao Valley State Park. Rising 2,250 feet (675 meters) into the air, the unusual plant-covered peak rises from the Iao Valley floor, surrounded by rainforest-covered volcanic craters, pools and streams.
The pinnacle was used as an altar, and the evocative location was the site of a famous battle between Kamehameha and the warriors of Maui. Come to the Iao Valley State Park to follow easy hiking trails along tumbling streams. Views take in the Iao Needle, all the way across the rainforest to the coast at Kahului.
The town of Kahului on Maui is often just the starting point for vacations on the island, but if you've got a bit of spare time there are some good reasons to explore Kahului before moving on.
Kahului is one of the main shopping destinations for Maui residents, and it's home to one of Hawaii's largest airports. Besides shopping, however, you can also check out the Kanaha Beach Park and Kanaha Pond State Wildlife Sanctuary. The former is a relatively hidden beach (behind the airport), and the latter is a bird sanctuary with some endangered Hawaiian bird species. There's also a botanical gardens featuring solely native Hawaiian flora. The town's history is closely tied to the sugar industry, which you can trace at Kahului's Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum. Many visitors to Kahului know it as the starting point for the scenic Hana Highway (also known as the Road to Hana), which winds more than 50 miles along the northern shore of the island from Kahului to Hana.