Some things in life are unforgettable. The day I met my wife, the birth of my son and daughter, and that time I passed a kidney stone at the wee age of 12. Its a mixed bag, really.
Our family drive on the Road to Hana in Northeast Maui was one of those things in life – unforgettable. And by the end of this story, you’ll know whether or not that’s a good thing.
Let me set the scene.
Rain fell onto the windshield of our rented Chevy Impala as we wound through a narrow, two-laned road. The water funneled up the hood and formed veins on our windshield, which splintered off like twigs from a branch. Lush foliage and leafy palms lined both sides of the roadway, creating a green tunnel with pockets of sunlight poking through the dense canopy.
This place looked like Jurassic Park – without the raptors or Jeff Goldblum. As a matter of fact, we learned that the one of the first scenes of the movie (with the helicopter flying by the waterfall with the old man) was filmed around this area.
Sounds peaceful, right? Oh, just wait.
Now let me paint a picture of the inside of our Impala. Mya and Logan both sang the song of their people on several occasions during our day-long drive. At certain points in this enchanted journey, both kids screamed with the full capacity of their baby lungs. My left eye began to involuntarily twitch as a response to the crying.
And that leads me to my first nugget of knowledge. Don’t take babies and toddlers on the Road to Hana, but if you do, don’t do what we did. Here’s the thing: it’s a 3-hour drive if you b-line it to the end. However, that’s if you don’t stop at any of the awesome sights, which is what the road is all about, and that’s why you want to carve out an entire day for the Road to Hana.
The day-long excursion is doable for a couple adults or family with older kids, but it’s just not ideal to experience all that the Road to Hana has to offer with two miniature monkeys in the backseat.
But don’t get me wrong – we still saw some spectacular sights as a family, and we’ve penned out some helpful tips and takeaways for Road to Hana visitors.
- Download the Gypsy Guide to access a Road to Hana audio tour. The narrator shares the rich history of the region along with tips on where to stop and what to skip. The app tracks your progress on the road, so the narrator provides information relative to your location. The audio tour is worth the $10!
- Start early in the day to give yourself plenty of daylight. It’s a long drive with a lot of spots to stop, and the road gets busier as the day goes on.
- Pack snacks and beverages. There are a few small cafes and food trucks along the way to Hana, but don’t count on them being currently open due to COVID-19.
- Take Dramamine prior to the windy drive. You and your vehicle’s interior will thank me later. Google tells me there are 620 curves on this rainforest road.
- Start your journey with a full tank of fuel. The farther out you go, the more insane the gas prices get. And be sure to plan for a full day – there are a ton of sights to see!
Spots We Hit
So here’s the deal – the Road to Hana is chock-full of pullouts and spots to explore, and that’s where the narrator on the Gypsy Guide app comes in handy. The dude, who happens to be a local who drives the road almost daily, gives you the insider scoop on where to stop and what to skip.
With my parents in one SUV and my sister’s family in the other, our little convoy checked out the Keanae Arboretum near mile marker 16 to kick off the journey. With just a short stroll down a paved path from the road, we were soon surrounded by massive trees. But not just any old trees – these were rainbow eucalyptus trees!
These beauties were breathtaking – or should i say breath-giving? I’m sorry, I can’t control my dad jokes. I’ll work on it.
And our boy, Logan, enjoyed the area with his Nana and Papa. You rarely see this happy dude not smiling his face off. However, Logan may be passing gas here; it’s hard to say.
Roadside Shops and Toddler Tantrum Area
After a short stay here (it doesn’t take a lot of time to stare at a cluster of colorful trees), we loaded up our minions and headed farther toward Hana. We eventually stopped at a cluster of small shops selling local knickknacks, overpriced coffee, and pineapple bread.
When it was time to leave the crowded pit stop, Mya decided it would be an ideal time to mount a full-out public meltdown. I assume onlookers thought i was kidnapping my own daughter based off the struggle to get our little spider monkey into the car and buckled. Shoot, I think we both cried at one point. Fun stuff, I tell ya.
But alas, we had more memories to make on this joyous day. Thankfully the sheer beauty of the drive helped to alleviate the stress that comes with toddler tantrums. One such area was the Waikani Falls, which is near mile marker 19. You can easily snap a photo from the road here or take a short, steep hike down a non-kid friendly path to the pool’s edge.
Farther down the windy road to Hana, our Idaho convoy visited the Ka’eleku Cave, also known as the Hana Lava Tubes. For $12 per adult, a friendly teenager will hand you a flashlight and point you towards the entrance to Hawaii’s longest lava tube! It’s also home to stalactites, lavacicles (yes, that’s an actual word), and an old fallout shelter that stems back to the Cold War era.
We were a little anxious that our little ones may be too small for this adventure, but both of them were total rockstars. In fact, Mya made it down a set of slippery stairs that led into the deep, dark tunnel. I held her hand mostly for her to comfort me…
The Town of Hana
After emerging from the bowels of the earth, our crew piled into our motorized chariots and drove to Hana. This would be a good spot to grab a bite to eat. We hit up a roadside taco trailer and poke truck. The tacos took awhile to come out – 45 minutes or so. As I waited, I began to think that the staff must catch the fish to order. From the South China Sea…in a rowboat. I digress.
And that’s when our little family hit a wall. Our babies were tired, we’d burned up a lot of daylight, and my eye twitch had quickened. With Hana in the rearview, we began the long journey back to where we began.
We planned to hit up The Garden of Eden on the way back, which is where the Jurassic Park scene was filmed, but the place closed at 4 p.m. We arrived at 4:04 p.m. That really added to my wife’s already bright and chipper mood. I’d seen that expression on her face before – it was the same look she gave me when I’d left a fistful of sunflower seeds in my pant pocket on laundry day.
They charge $15 per adult, but judging by the reviews, it would’ve been well worth it.
And as our last family hurrah, we gathered our last bit of sanity and visited Twin Falls near mile marker 2. We took a short, easy walk down to a small waterfall that cascades into a pool big enough to swim in. Side note – if you’re wondering where all the world’s mosquitoes go in October – it’s here. They go here. These gnat-like vampires sucked our blood, so bring bug spray for your trek into the rainforest.
Spots We Missed
Unfortunately, most of the awesome stuff is near the end of the Road to Hana – farther past the town itself, according to the all-knowing narrator. I swear, the guy’s like a Hawaiian Alexa!
If you’ve got the time, reviewers rave about the Wailua Falls, which is roughly 25 minutes past Hana. It’s visible from the highway and easily accessible by foot if you’re looking to swim.
There’s also the ‘Ohe’ O Gulch, also known as the Seven Sacred Pools, just a few minutes past the falls. That spot is also is meant to be legit. And if you’re extra adventurous and have spare daylight for the return journey, you can take the Pipiwai Trail, which goes above the Seven Sacred Pools and through a bamboo forest and ends at Waimoku Falls. It’s a four-mile round-trip hike.
And that concludes the world’s longest blog post. If you made it this far, you deserve some sort of MTN Talk medal. Jokes aside, thank you for reading!
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