Maui day 4: Hāna Highway

The Hāna Highway is one for your bucket list. That’s what everybody says. I was more than willing to find out. I got up early, grabbed a latte at Starbucks (sticker shock!) and was on the road by 6 a.m. According to seasoned travelers, it pays to get an early start because the Hāna Highway is very popular (1,500 to 2,000 cars a day). I was glad I did because I did have the road almost to myself—at least initially. Eventually traffic caught up with me because I stopped so often but even then it was never bad.


Some statistics to give you the big picture: The Hāna Highway connects Kahalui where the airport is located to Hāna on Maui’s east coast and is 68 miles long, although some people would argue that it actually doesn’t start until Pāʻia and hence is only 50 miles. In any case, it has 620 curves, some of them hair-raising, and 59 bridges. Straight driving time—without stopping—is around 2½ hours. Most people probably take 5-6 hours for the roundtrip. It took me 11 hours but I did stop often (very often) and took lots of photos. And I spent 2 hours at the Garden of Eden Arboretum (more on than further down).


Tip: Reset your trip odometer where highway 36 coming from Kahalui turns into highway 360 (at the intersection with Kaupakalua Road). Here the mile markers start over at zero. Guidebooks tie their descriptions to these all-important mile markers so you want to be on the same page.


You might think people drive the Hāna Highway to get to Hāna, but some say that in Hāna “there’s no there there.” It’s all about the journey, not the destination. Hey, the Hāna Highway is a metaphor for life.


If I had to sum up the Hāna Highway in one word, it would be “green.” Because of the abundant rainfall (some of it happening right while I was there) and the constantly warm temperatures, growth is rampant. I swear, if you watch intently, you can see stuff grow.

As you drive along, you see glimpses of waterfalls and smaller cascades. Stopping is often a problem because there aren’t enough pullouts and lots of competition for what few spaces there are.


I had expected to see more waterfalls but some are hidden from view and require a bit of hiking. Since I was making this drive on my own so I could focus on photography, I didn’t have my trusted co-pilot (aka my wife) to read from the three guidebooks I had along. I referred to them as much as possible whenever I pulled over, but I still missed sights I would have liked to see.


The vegetation is lush and dense. As I mentioned, the predominant color is green in all its hues, but there were many pops of color along the way. One of the showiest plants I saw was the African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata). With its reddish orange flowers, it’s easy to spot from hundreds of yards away.


African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata)

Spathodea campanulata is native to Africa and has colonized the tropical regions of the world. In many ways it’s emblematic of the flora of Hawaii. Most of the most colorful and exotic plants you see in the islands are from somewhere else. This includes the gingers and heliconias that grow wild along the road and many trees that often dominate the scenery, including eucalyptus and the Moluccan albizia (Falcataria moluccana).


African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata)

Native plants, like taro (Colocasia esculenta) mix with the newcomers.


Kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum) and taro (Colocasia esculenta)


Parrot’s beak (Heliconia psittacorum)

Shortly before 8 a.m. I arrived at the Garden of Eden Arboretum located about 1/3 of the way in. This privately owned 25-acre botanical garden showcases exotic plants and trees from the South Pacific and tropical regions of the world.


Garden of Eden Arboretum

I spent a good two hours here and took so many photos that I will have two separate posts in a few weeks. For now, here are some teasers:


Garden of Eden Arboretum


Garden of Eden Arboretum


Bambusa lako, Garden of Eden Arboretum


Dendrocalamus asper, Garden of Eden Arboretum

Speaking of bamboo, you’ll see a lot of bamboo along the Hāna Highway, ranging from discrete clumps to entire forests. While you do see a fair amount of clumping bamboos, such as Bambusa vulgaris, the species in the photo below looks like a running bamboo to me. Only a running bamboo like a phyllostachys produces this “forest” look.


While for large stretches you see nothing but vegetation, the view opens up occasionally and you are afforded panoramic vistas of the coastline. Here is the village of Wailua (mile marker 17)known for its taro fields. Since you’re hundreds of feet above Wailua, it’s almost like you’re looking down from a low-flying airplane.





Another stunning spot was Nahiku, reached on a short spur road at mile marker 25. While rocky, the beach here looked particularly tropical to me.





There are several fruit and flower stands on the Nihiku road. I stopped at this one and picked out a few more flowers to add to the bouquet I bought at a stand in Kula along the Haleakalā Highway. As is typically the case, these stands operate on the honor system: You take what you want and you put money in a box.






Papaya tree (Carica papaya)

Just past the 32 mile marker, you’ll see the turnoff to Waiʻanapanapa State Park. This is the only beach in Maui that has black sand. This is a popular spot and it was difficult to find parking. I parked in the large lot just past the campground and walked along the rim. The views were fantastic.



When I finally got to Hāna, I had reached the saturation point. I’d seen so many wonderful sights that my brain needed to take a break. All I did was snap a few photos of the Wananalua Congregational Church…


… the old-fashioned Hasegawa General Store…


…and a golden bamboo hedge (Bambusa vulgaris ‘Vitatta’) outside of town:


I was hoping that on the drive home I would get a clear view of Haleakalā but the top was in the clouds, as seems to be the case most of the time.


My final stop was at Ho’okipa Beach Park near Kuau, a few miles east of Pāʻia.


Apparently this is one of the premier windsurfing sites in the world. I did see quite a few windsurfers but they were off in the distance. Right below me, a bunch of people were trying their hands at surfing and paddleboarding. Some were good, many were not, but I bet everybody was having a great time.



While I saw many wonderful things, I did miss a few I had been interested in. I’ll get another chance on Saturday when I’ll go back to Hāna with the entire family. Hopefully I’ll find more of the touted waterfalls.



  1. That must have been a drive! So an 11-hour drive, 1-2 hours to write the post... that's dedication to your readers!

    Next time you want to do some posts on Hawaii (any island, although Kauai is very nice) let me know and I'll be glad to help you out. Ease your burden. :)

    1. What can I say? That's just the kind of guy I am!

      Kaua'i is the only other island I've been to. It was stunning, especially the north and Waimea Canyon. But it's much smaller than Maui so there's less to explore. I'd say it's perfect for a shorter vacation, say 5 days, or in combination with another island.

      I want to visit the big island (Hawaii) next.

  2. Fabulous! Did you get down to the black sand?

    1. We went back to Hana on Friday (with everybody) and we DID make it down to the black sand. Even found a very cool sea cave. Post coming up.

  3. Hmmm, now you only have Kula Botanical Gardens, Enchanting Floral Gardens, Ke'anae Arboretum, Kahanu Garden, Maui Nui Botanical Gardens and Maui Tropical Plantation(which has a nursery...)to visit. Better get cracking, Gerhard. Sue

    1. I don't think I'll make to the Ke'anae Arboretum and Kahanu Gardens at this point. However, I still plan on doing the others. Keeping my fingers crossed!

  4. Reading avidly and looking hungrily at your photos. Looking forward to more. They're just wonderful!

  5. Paradise Gerhard, paradise! Do you think you could do Maui and Oahu in one week or best to just stay at Maui for that duration?

    1. Yes, I think you could do both islands but you'd have to do some meticulous planning ahead of time (unlike the day-to-day lollygagging we're doing). 5 days on each island would be even better. But it all depends on what your main focus is.

  6. Never made the road to Hana. Did you see the sacret pools? I hear they are beautiful!

  7. Heaven...pure and simple. I've been saving up your posts for when I have time to read them slowly and savor every picture. I agree with Alan, what dedication you have and believe me we're loving every minute!


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