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As I mentioned in my Maui post, the Road to Hana is a winding and narrow rainforest drive that's a highway only in the technical sense of the term. Distance-wise, it's only about 60 miles to Hana, but your journey will take all day: there's a 25 mph speed limit for much of the route, dozens of one-lane bridges, frequent photo stops, detours for hikes, and multiple swimming opportunities. There's no conceivable way to see every stop along the way in one day, so pick the sights that look most interesting and relax and enjoy the drive.
From a culinary standpoint, our day on the Road to Hana was a flop. Of the three eateries I had carefully noted as potential lunch spots, one had gone out of business and two were closed for the day. Growing more irritable with each passing hour, I subsisted on packaged breakfast biscuits and bananas until Mike bought me a mango muffin in Hana because he was tired of listening to me whine.
But—although as a food blogger I sometimes overlook this—there is more to travel than food. Our day on the Road to Hana was glorious: sweeping vistas of the ocean, a hike through a lush rainforest, tumbling waterfalls along the roadside, body surfing at an idyllic beach, and just breathing in the humid, fragrant air with the windows rolled down and gentle Hawaiian melodies on the radio. So although this post is devoid of tips about nifty local eateries, it will still help you enjoy the journey. And that's what driving the Road to Hana is all about.
Road to Hana Tips:
Take a guidebook (we used Lonely Planet's Discover Maui) that lists the sights both by landmarks and mileage marker--signage is minimal or nonexistent. The Road to Hana website also offers a comprehensive list by mileage marker, but the directions aren't as detailed as Lonely Planet's.
Fill up your tank with gas before you leave Kahului. The only gas station along the route is in Hana.
Bring water and snacks (especially if you have dietary preferences and are prone to crabbiness when hungry. Not that I would know anything about that). There are some roadside stands along the way, but since many have erratic hours, it's better to be prepared.
Wear your swimsuit and bring a beach towel--there are several opportunities along the way for an impromptu dip. Some of my favorite spots for swimming are the waterfall-fed pool at Pua'a Kaa State Wayside Park (mile marker 22) and Hamoa Beach (mile marker 50, after Hana—note that the mile markers go backwards after you pass through Hana).
A subjective list of my favorite sights:
Twin Falls (mile marker 2) is a bit of a crowded tourist trap, but if you get there first thing in the morning before the crowds it's a lovely spot.
The Waikamoi Ridge Trail (mile marker 9.5) is a quick (10 minute) and easy hike that gives you a taste of the rain forest's lushness. The trail is muddy, so wear sensible shoes.
Although they're not native to Hawaii, I loved the painted eucalyptus trees at the free Ke'anae Arboretum (mile marker 16).
Take a short detour to see the waves crashing against Ke'anae Peninsula (turn off past mile marker 16).
Wai'anapanapa State Park has a stunning black sand beach (mile marker 32).
My favorite of the many, many waterfalls along the route is Wailua Falls (past Hana at mile marker 45).
Some guidebooks advise against driving the "back side" of the Road to Hana (i.e. continuing around the island back to Kahului instead of doubling back after Wailua Falls). Sections of the road are unpaved and narrow, with blind curves that require you to honk before proceeding, and due to the condition of the road, driving on it may void your rental car agreement. However, the "back side" is a shorter route to Kahului, and the scenery is stark but awe-inspiring—the ocean on one side, the rim of the Haleakala crater on the other. We've driven the route twice in a compact car, and didn't find it markedly more perilous than the Road to Hana. Consider the pros and cons and decide for yourself.