After spending a memorable night in the funky town of Paia in Maui, it was sadly time to leave. I will miss you Mopsey Kalua Pork Pizza and Sandy Beach Coconut gelato. But, on the flip side of the coin we were departing to drive the Road to Hana, one of the best things to do in Maui.
The Road to Hana, also known as the Hana Highway, is a picturesque (and very curvy) drive along Maui’s northeastern shore. It is loaded with hundreds of hairpin turns, cascading waterfalls, a bamboo forest and dozens of beautiful things to see.
Most travelers will take the 53 mile road to the town of Hana, then turn around and head back the same route they came. But, our adventurous travel plan was to do the continuous loop. All in one day. Even the unpaved, bumpy part of the road with the zigzagging turns that the tour books warn you about.
We mapped our route, left Paia at 8:30 in the morning and made a whopping 17 stops along the Road to Hana, 8 more stops than we made while driving Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail. That’s a lot in one day!
Be warned—Most stops don’t have signs, so the guides and maps refer to their location by the mile markers they can be found at. Counting mile markers makes it even more tricky than driving the switchbacks, so be very careful!
The 17 Best Road to Hana Stops on the Hawaiian Island of Maui
Mile Marker 3.5 — Kaulanapueo Church
The very first stop on the Road to Hana was the Kaulanapueo Church built in 1853. At 8:45 in the morning, we were the only ones there, besides the spirits buried in the quaint cemetery, some dating back to 1940. The Protestant churches doors were locked, but the stop was worth a peak around the grounds.
Mile Marker 4.5 — Huelo Lookout
Early on the Road to Hana drive we decided that a fruit smoothie would be in order and one of the first stands was Huelo Lookout. I ordered a banana bliss smoothie, which was made with fresh papaya, coconut and bananas.
If those ingredients don’t say Hawaii, I’m not sure what does.
Mile Marker 9.5 — Waikamoi Nature Trail
The Wailamoi Nature Trail is an easy loop hike filled with ferns, tall trees and scenic overlooks. There are two hiking options; the long route and the short. With our limited time on the Hana Highway we took the shorter of the two which was just under a mile.
Mile Marker 10.2 — Ka Haku Smoke Shack
Ka Haku Smoke Shack is one of the funkiest food huts along the way to Hana and the ten buck chicken plate comes with a free coconut. Don’t bother with the canned corn and rice sides that come with it. But the chicken, that is grilled right in front of you, is tender and flavorful. The fresh coconut juice washed it all down nicely.
Mile Marker 10.6 — Garden of Eden
The Garden of Eden is one of those pricey, touristy arboretums that I would typically pass up, but it is a great stop for identifying all the local plants that you will see during your Hawaiian travels. Plus, they have a couple of waterfall lookouts.
Mile Marker 10 8/10 — Puohokamoa Falls
Just like the guidebooks say, there is a waterfall lookout at lower Puohokamoa Falls, but what they don’t say is that it has a no trespassing sign. The wire fence has a good size opening, where visitors have disobeyed the signs. I am not suggesting that you do the same. But, it was only a couple minute walk for a faraway waterfall glimpse.
The waterfall can more easily be seen inside the Garden of Eden.
Mile Marker 16.8 — Ching’s Pond
Ching’s Pond is a popular swimming hole that many people pass by without even knowing it is there. The brave locals cliff dive from the bridge, a 25 foot drop. The less adventurous leap from the lower portions or simply watch from the sidelines. Jumping is absolutely, positively not recommended, but at that time not taking the leap was also one of my Road to Hana regrets. Not sure I’d be so brave today!
Mile Marker 17 1/3 — Halfway to Hana
The Halfway to Hana snack shop is certainly one of those places popular due to its name and it will probably not be the best banana bread along the way, but worth the stop just to say you’ve been. Almost like Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Mile Marker 18.8 — Wailua Valley State Wayside
A place to stretch your legs and get a killer view! We took the stairs on the right of Wailua Valley State Wayside to the top and were treated to a view of Ke‘anae Valley, Ko‘olau Gap and the village of Wailua.
It will be a quick stop, but worth the perfect Hawaiian view.
Mile Marker 19.5ish — Upper Waikani Falls
The Upper Waikani Falls is also known as Three Bear Falls and is one of the most popular waterfalls of all the Road to Hana stops. It’s a quicky, right on the side of the road.
Mile Marker 23 — Lava Tube
An if-you-blink-you-miss-it lava tube can be found on the right side of the road after mile marker 23. This 140 foot cave takes some stooping to enter, but that didn’t stop me. Not much in there, but at least I can say that I was.
Mile Marker 28.8 — Nahiku Marketplace
Nahiku Marketplace is a Hana shopping center, which consists of a tiny handful of Hawaiian product shops. This is where I discovered one of my absolute favorite Maui treats, coconut candy. The coconut is hand cut, sprinkled with brown sugar and slow baked. It was well worth the $5 a bag.
Mile Marker 32 — Luana Spa Retreat
After indulging on too much coconut candy, we made a quick stop at Luana Spa Retreat to get a tour of a yurt. Why? Because I had no idea what the heck a yurt was either. Turns out it’s fancy-smancy collapsible tent commonly used in Mongolia. But, you can sleep (or, even better, get a spa treatment) in one at Luana.
Mile Marker 32 — Nutcharee’s Thai food
Right next to Luana Spa Retreat is Nutcharee’s, a delicious and authentic outdoor Thai restaurant. Even though it is off the beaten path of the Hana Highway, this place sometimes gets so busy it has to turn away guests. Yep, it’s that good.
Mile Marker 32.2 — Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach
The Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach was my favorite stop along the Road to Hana. A short, yet steep, path led us to the beach which started with large coal colored rock, followed by shiny black sand with descending sizes of pebbles. Beautiful!
Bonus Stop at Mile Market 33 — Hana Tropicals
Hana Tropicals is a exotic tropical flower farm and orchid nursery located in the charming town of Hana in East Maui. The farm is an homage to one of nature’s most beautiful and distinct signatures around the island of Maui. The grounds are nestled away in a lush ethereal jungle, teeming with organic beauty. Hana Tropicals offers a free guided tour of their farm, provided by one of their young and passionate volunteer workers, or you may choose to explore the property at your own pace and interest.
At his point along the Hana Highway most people turn around, heading back towards Paia, but we decided to do the full loop. Many of the tour books say that the unpaid roads are treacherous, but it really wasn’t that bad. Actually, the unpaved section was compact from so many cars driving on it. It was few miles of bumpy paved road that sucked.
Past the town of Hana
After passing the town of Hana we made a quick stop at Hamoa Beach, a beautiful, crescent public beach. We just took a peak, but would have spent more time sunbathing if we didn’t have to get back to Paia by dinner.
Ohe’o Gulch — Seven Sacred Pools
Our last stop on the Road to Hana loop was the Ohe’o Gulch, also known as the Seven Sacred Pools. There are several falls that flow through Ohe’o Gulch and they are popular. By the time we got there, around 2:30pm, it was loaded with tourists.
By then, after 17 of the best Road to Hana stops, the 4 mile hike (in & out) of the bamboo forest was not gonna happen. Next time.
We returned back to the Paia Inn exhausted after a memorable 9 hours of adventure.
How many Road to Hana stops have you done?
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