The Clockwise Road to Hana
Read about the counter-clockwise road to Hana here
Maui is a bizarre island. Bizarre because it’s a microcosm of all possible climates on a tiny volcanic blob of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Having stayed in Kihei for about a week now, Maui to me was the land of dry and warm weather, sandy beaches, and gentle Pacific waves. But apparently, there was an entire section of the island which was lush tropical jungle, craggy cliffs, and a turbulent ocean. It was hard to fathom that such a place could exist just 50 miles away from my beach chair lounging, Mai-Tai sipping self.
Following popular advice from the internet, we started off from Kihei as early as we could — 8am (leaving earlier than that would’ve been an inhuman thing to do during an island vacation). We decided to take the more popular clockwise route to the eastern section of the island (You can read about our adventures taking the edgier counterclockwise route here).
The eastern section of the island is popular for the Road to Hana — a single highway (that is often single-laned) that twists and turns through the tropical jungle to take you to the remote oasis of Hana. It is so popular that this drive features as the #1 thing to do on the island regardless of who you ask. Part me of regretted not starting earlier. I was picturing in my mind a train of similar looking rental cars ambling along the road like a Disney Theme Park ride. An announcement in the background — “To your left you can see a tropical jungle where the movie Jurassic Park was shot”. The audience goes “Oooh! Aaah” and a bunch of snaps and flashes emerge from a thousand cameras.
Horrified by that picture, we rushed through Central Maui to reach mile marker 0 on the road to Hana. And in that we made one cardinal mistake that would come to bite us later in the trip — we forgot to eat Breakfast.
As we started on this exciting path, the road started to become narrower, the speed limit reduced to 30mph or less, and elevation started to gain and fall giving us a rollercoaster like experience. Thick green vegetation started to close in around us. I was reminded of those Indiana Jones movies where the jungle starts to surround you as you fall into a booby trap. Fuuuun!
The first stop on the road to Hana was Twin Falls. We were following a guidebook called Maui Revealed which told us in all candor to ignore Twin Falls. So we did exactly that. Hard to say what we missed out on, but I was glad to leave behind a dozen cars that were parked at the entrance of Twin Falls.
We then passed through unimpressive Rainbow Eucalyptus trees (it’s basically tree bark with various shades of brown) and a botanical garden called Garden of Eden. While the name sounds impressive, I felt weird paying $15 to see trees and waterfalls that I was already seeing for free. Perhaps there was something amazing there, but the FOMO wasn’t strong enough for us to spend our time there.
The beautiful part about the road to Hana is, as the name suggests, the road itself. Guidebooks will tell you different spots and view points you should not miss. But the reality is that every single moment of that drive is a viewpoint. So I’d suggest leaving your checklist behind and be fully mindful and present.
We saw waterfalls everywhere. The number of waterfalls we saw on this road surpassed the total number of waterfalls I had seen in 31 years of my life prior to this trip. Don’t worry if you didn’t find a pull out spot near a waterfall you wanted to see. There’ll be another waterfall around the corner.
The road at this point just became a never ending series of hairpin bends, making you feel as if you are skiing in your car. Left, right, downslope, single-lane bridge, left, right, upslope. Repeat. Yes, what the internet tells you is true — the road has 620 curves and 59 bridges!
We pulled to the side at a spot called the Secret Lagoon because the name sounded cool. We could see a tiny trail going into the jungle so we decided to follow it. After walking for a few minutes, the scene opened up into something that was right out of paradise. A waterfall flowing into an emerald pool, glistening in the sunlight. At that point, I so wished I knew how to swim. I just wanted to dive right into the natural pool and bathe in the waterfall.
After this mini-adventure our stomachs started to grumble. Unfortunately, there was no food in sight. Google maps showed us a bunch of shacks and cafes along the way, but none of them were open. In fact, they all looked abandoned years ago and in the process of being eaten up by the jungle. Our only saving grace was this small fishing village of Keanae. We took the exit, drove down a narrow, steep, single-laned road to reach Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread stall. That warm, freshly baked banana bread was a life saver. After gulping it down like ravenous lions deprived of food for many months, we proceeded back on to the road to Hana.
At this point, the jungle had grown so thick that we were hardly able to see the views of the cliffs and the bay down below. So we headed on. Left. Right. Downslope. Single-Lane bridge. Waterfall. Left. Right. Upslope. Repeat. We drove past local kids who were cycling around, jumping theatrically into waterfall pools, and in general goofing around. You know the kind of goofing around that involves making funny faces, yelling local expletives, and showing bum cheeks.
We knew we had reached halfway as we were greeted by an iconic institution — Halfway to Hana. What looks like fancy watering hole from afar is actually a tiny shop selling cold sandwiches and snacks. I shouldn’t complain — at this point, any food was a luxury. You have something edible? Yes! I’ll take it. Actually, make that two! (The pineapple smoothie was really good though!)
After hearing a hot tip from a local who was showing her friend around we stopped at an un-named spot, walked through signboards that warned us (and threatened us) to reach a hidden waterfall. I’m not your everyday trespassing fellow, but it turns out that many places around the island are actually public lands which you can walk through. But they may intersect private property and lead you to irrigation canals which aren’t necessarily state-established hiking trails. People die in Hawaii doing stupid things. So if the signboards deter stupidity and save lives, I’ll take it!
Back from our waterfall adventure we proceeded to slalom through the next set of lefts and rights. At one point, there is narrow road that forks down into the cliffs below. Feeling the adventurous spirit rise in us, we decided to take the exit and embark on this thin road called the Nahiku Road. Calling it a road is like calling a 3-storied building a skyscraper.
We kept getting an eerie feeling as we drove through this road. A feeling like we weren’t supposed to be here. The noise of the cars faded away. The sounds of the surf muted in the background. All we could sense was this still, deathly silence. It didn’t help when a few locals gave us the cold stares. After a point, the road was blocked anyway, so we floored the car and got back to the road to Hana as fast as we could.
Along the way, you’ll see signs that say, “Land of the Love-Snatching Wind”. Turns out the phrase is less morbid than what we initially thought. The Wind doesn’t snatch away your love. The Wind snatches your love from a distant land and brings them back to you. Phew!
A couple of miles later, we reached civilization. Hot, wood fired pizza greeted us at Hana farms. Pizza never tasted this good! Close to this wonderful pizza place is the Waianapanapa state park with its unique black sand beach. We didn’t wander here as long as we’d have liked. After our experience driving the counterclockwise route through the night, we decided that we should make a move when there was still some sunlight around.
What we failed to realize was that it takes about 3 hours to drive back. So even if you start back at 5pm, you’re going to have to drive a major part of the section at night. And so began another adventure slaloming the car through the darkness, sloshing over rain puddles, running away from the headlights behind us, and chasing the tail-lights in front of us. No matter how many times you drive this road, I suspect night driving will always be uhm…a little exciting.
Enjoyed reading this blog? Disliked reading this blog? Either way, leave a comment! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Photo credits to my friends V & T who either took these pictures or their cameras were snatched from them to take these pictures.