Taking a trip to Hana was part of our original trip planning. If you have ever been to Maui, you have heard about the terrible, horrible, but beautiful road that curves around the Northeast side of the island leading to the isolated town of Hana, and to the great “Seven Sacred Pools” I’ve been to Maui so Many times, and we’ve never done this. partially because the road sounded like a mess, partially from all the negative people who told such horror stories about their trips. But we were here for two weeks, and we had to do this. We decided that staying overnight in Hana would make it easier, so we burned a bunch of saved miles and booked a night in Travaasa, which is the big hotel/spa in Hana. This way we could to one day out, one day back.
Since we’ve been here, I’ve been reading guidebooks and checking the tourist maps to understand where to stop on the way. The Seven Pools are actually past the town of Hana, so it made sense to plan those for the second day. But where to stop along the road was still up in the air. I marked the map with suggestions from the Maui Revealed guidebook. As a guess, I also downloaded a tour app when we were doing our hikes. This was the Shaka Guide, and had a Hana and a Haleakala tour. These were narrated tours for the car. I wasn’t sure what would be good, so I brought everything.
We were up early, leaving Lahaina by 7am. This is mostly because we are naturally early risers, and still a bit on Seattle time. But it gave us a chance to beat the traffic around the west side, and plan to grab breakfast in Paia, which is the start of the Hana Highway. We found a nice café and had Loco Moco for breakfast, (Beef Patties with Egg on Rice), with Yulia getting a Quinoa bowl. The espresso was great as well. We wanted a hearty breakfast as there aren’t a lot of places along the Hana Highway for food.
Once we started our drive, I brought out the tourist map that I marked up, and started the guided tour. The app used the GPS on my phone to determine where we were on the tour, then read the appropriate section to tell us about what was around. This seemed like neat idea, but I wasn’t sure how well it worked.
Holy Jesus Fucking Shit. This app was goddamn amazing. Holy Shit. Holy Shit.
This app read our goddamn minds. The narrator told a mix of things to see, history of the area, driving tips, and Hawaiian Music as we drove. Several times Yulia would ask something out loud, like “what is with the one lane bridges?” and within a few minutes the app would fire off, “If you are wondering about the one lane bridges, this is how they work…”
This happened several times. It actually got creepy.
The tour also gave a bit of ranking to the stops, telling us to skip over some (as there were better sights ahead) and saving us some driving time. Some things on the app weren’t on the maps at all. But everything was amazing. The initial advice on how to navigate the one-lane areas was very helpful. At each area like this the chokepoint is marked with a set of Yield signs, whoever comes first, goes first. If in doubt, wave the other car through. It’s easy, but we could see groups that just got confused. Pretty much every bridge and tight turn was like this. If you were in a rush to do it all in one day, I could see how this would get stressful. We weren’t in any rush, and this was exactly why we rented a convertible. We could see the trees and sights all around us without getting out of the car. It was beautiful just driving to see the jungle canopy close over us in one area, then open up to a wide view of the sea. Everything kept changing as we drove, so it ended up being really fun.
We skipped the first beach, set of falls, and a grove of Rainbow Eucalyptus trees (the bark peels at different levels, showing different colors all up the trunk), and better of each of these were further down the highway. Our first big stop was Garden of Eden, a botanical garden. We paid the entry fee, and walked the tour around. it hade fantastic vistas of the ocean, jungle, a few waterfalls, and also a large rock formation that was used in the opening scenes of Jurassic Park. (Dinosaurs not included). There was a great collection of plants, birds, and local biting insects. We could have skipped the last bit.
We caught a few small bridge and waterfall photos, then drove a ways to the Keanae Peninsula. This is a fairly new Lava flow peninsula. There’s a small food stand here. They are part of the Banana Bread mafia that is so common across the island. Everyone makes a slightly different Banana Bread. All of it is amazing. We bought a loaf to go. We drove out to the end of the peninsula. The rock formations were amazing, as was a small stone church, which is the only building to survive a Tsunami from over a hundred years ago. We hung out on the beach for a bit to watch waves crash across the rock formations. It was truly spectacular to see the black lava rock contrast with the white foam of the crashing waves.
We continued to drive with our tour app giving us bits of information all the way. If we were on a stretch with noting to see, we got some music. The app pointed out were to find some local swimming pools (we stopped at Chang’s Pond). It also gave us some history on the East Maui Irrigation company that was built to irrigate the farmland, building the aqueducts and canals that we saw bits of. Falls would change their flow depending on when water was being drawn. We had been seeing a lot of rain, so all the falls were running full blast. All of the falls were amazing, mostly because each one was so different.
At a point that was not the halfway point, we stopped a stand called Halfway to Hana. They had another kind of Banana Bread, and some sandwiches and other snacks. We wanted fresh fruit, but they really didn’t have any, so we just bought the Banana Bread and kept going. Later on the drive, the app pointed out some Lava Tubes that we could hike through, and we had to circle a bit to find a parking spot. The tubes had a very small entrance, and were a bit wet to climb into, but led us on a short but fascinating walk underground. This wasn’t on our regular map, and was well worth the stop.
A small roadside stand had hand-made coconut ice cream. Our guide gave us enough warning so we could pull right in without having to circle back. Sasha was thrilled, as she can’t drink dairy, and we wanted to cool down a bit. Naturally, everything was flavored with local fruits and such. It was amazingly good, and Sasha commented that it was probably so good t have coconut ice cream, because where were you going to find cows on the island? I noted that Ranching is actually a huge industry on Maui, and that her Loco Moco this morning was made from local Maui beef. She thought for a minute and said, “Oh yes, it was delicious.” We finished our ice cream and headed out.
Several more bridges and waterfalls later, we stopped at the Nahiku Marketplace. This is a little roadside stop with some food stands, a gift shop, and coffee stop that also sold Banana Bread. It also had toilets, which is always a welcome sight. We didn’t need any food, as we had plenty of Banana Bread still, and the gifts were pretty typical. There were some cats walking around, so taking a cat break was good. We continued on our way, until the Kahahu Gardens. This is a native botanical garden, with samples of native and culturally important plants (Sugar Cane, Taro, Coconut, etc.) around the impressive center, the Pi’ilanihale Heiau. This is a 1500 year old temple mount, and the largest of it’s kind in Hawaii. It stands around 50ft high, and is the size of two football fields. It’s massive. It so dwarfs everything around that it is very hard not to react to. I was truly stunned. Apparently it had been completely overgrown by the jungle until the 1800’s, and was completely forgotten. I’m not sure how you lose a temple this large, but my grandfather should stop feeling so bad about losing his keys on the beach. The bugs were pretty bad here as well, (even with repellent) and that cut our visit short.
Our last stop before Hana was the Black Sand Beach at Wai’ānapanapa State Park. In addition to the Black Sand beach, There were also freshwater caves to swim in. We really wanted to swim in the caves, but we hit the beach first. The beach was crowded, and the waves were really rough, but it was still a stunning sight. The sand was truly black, peppered with smooth small black stones. It was much harsher than regular sand, and hard to walk on. It almost looked like walking inside of a Black and white photo of a beach, the contrast was so different. There was a stone arch across the water in one direction, and an active blowhole in another. If this was a theme park, I’d fault the developers for trying to cram too much in a small space. These kind of attractions should be spread out.
We enjoyed the beach until we were bruised from the waves and rocks, then went up the hill to the caves. There were a short walk in, but the fist one was closed due to falling rock. We could see the cave from the trail, it was dark and pretty amazing, but I have an allergy to getting hit in the head with a rock, so we stayed out. There were some people in the cave, ignoring the sign and jumping into the dark water anyways. We didn’t want to stay to watch the Darwin awards, so we went forward to the next cave. This cave was just a bit up the trail, and safe to enter, but the water was stagnant, and really overgrown. It was not what you would want to swim in. So the caves were a bit of a disappointment. But really, everything else was so amazing on the drive, this was the only thing that fell short, and it was still amazing to see. That’s some pretty good math.
We pulled into the hotel at 4:00. We had been driving for 8 hours, including all the stops. Earlier the guide had mentioned that 4:00 was the time when you would want to turn around and head back of you were doing this in one day. We still hadn’t driven to the Seven Sacred Pools (which were properly called the Oheo Gulch, Seven Sacred Pools is just their marketing name) The Oheo Gulch was at least another 20-30 minutes down the road, depending on traffic. So having the hotel meant we could visit them in the morning instead.
The Travaasa hotel is the old, original hotel in Hana, previously called the Hotel Hana. It has obviously had a major remodel, as everything looks brand new. It is right across the road from the Hana Ranch, which was covered in cows. This place is seriously upscale, and we drove in looking like extras from LOST. Everyone smiled at us anyways; I suppose they get lots of people coming in covered in the road to Hana, so we weren’t anything new. They took our car, and brought around a little golf cart to show us the grounds and take us to our room. Everything here was bungalow-style. The property spanned over a big chunk of Hana Town itself, which was really small. There are a few stores outside the hotel, and a couple of restaurants, but it’s really a sleepy local town with a hotel and ranch. The cart showed us the spa, infinity pool, gym, and pointed us to where to walk in town. He dropped us at the room, and we went in to clean up.
The room was surprisingly large for a two bed. Naturally, there was more damn banana bread waiting for us in the room. I really like banana bread, but this was becoming a punchline. The bathroom was enormous, we immediately took turns cleaning up, washing off the red dust and salt from the drive out. We were tired, but more than that we were hungry. Once cleaned up, we all went to the restaurant in the hotel. It didn’t open yet, so we moved to the bar to get some appetizers and drinks. Both Yulia and Sasha were a bit chilled, probably a little overheated and a little too hungry. It wasn’t long before the restaurant opened, and we ordered some local grilled fish, Yulia and I shared a baked snapper, and Sasha had some fresh Ahi. We had a side of local Avocado guacamole, and an Ahi appetizer. Yulia had some red wine (the first on our trip) and I had several Mai Tais. Yeah, I’m not that creative in my drink orders. The bar had a great view out over the area, we could see the jungle on the high rocks along the shore, little bits of ocean peeking out between the trees, and the rooftops of Hana Town below us.
After dessert, Yulia and Sash went for a swim , and I joined to watch the stars by the pool. There isn’t much light pollution in Hana, so the stars were clear in the sky. I loved watching them, but couldn’t recognize any constellations as I’m too used to the Northern Hemisphere. I think I saw Scorpio, but I’m trying to remember star maps from Boy Scouts. I’m sure I could have pulled an app down to verify, but it didn’t really matter. There was a small fire pit burning by the pool, and we just relaxed out by the ocean until we went to bed.
We awoke early again, had some coffee and some fucking banana bread, and got ready to head out to the Oheo Gulch. Yulia and I lounged about on the patio for a while until Sasha woke up. We weren’t in a rush today as we only had one planned stop. Once we were all up, we grabbed our gear, put the top down in the car, and headed south.
Past Hana Town, the road is much les developed. I imagine this is what the whole road was like when I was young, and I could see how this would be even more nerve wracking. it was narrower, poorly marked, and the narrow bridges were even narrower. It was still beautiful, but about a 20 minute or so drive down. Our Shaka Guide continued to give us descriptions and locations as we went. We took a few more waterfall photos, and made it to the gulch easily, with very little traffic. The only folks we saw out were locals and road cleaning crews, probably getting things ready for the afternoon tourist rush.
We hit some heavy cloudbursts at the park, and as expected the pools were closed for swimming. The risk of flash flood was too great, and the water was rushing fast and really brown. But the Pools were still amazing to see. There are far more than seven pools, with connecting waterfalls between each one. The light rain gave the area a mist with the sound of heavy surf crashing from the sea. This was so with the trip out. We took some great photos, including of another black sand beach below. Although that area of sand is within the rocks, so I doubt you could swim there even on a calm day. We just stood to enjoy this for a while, then walked back to the car.
We didn’t have any more sights to see, so we were driving the road straight back to Paia. Our guide no longer told us the sights, but started with a Hawaiian History lesson about the birth of King Kamehameha, arrival of Captain Cook, and the overthrow of the Hawaiian Royal Family. We stopped taking photos and just enjoyed the drive.
Except for all the other assholes.
Our drive down was pretty easy, with few traffic jams. Going back had us swimming against the flow of traffic, and we encountered far more areas where drivers just didn’t know how to act. Lots of people drove in the middle of the road, which is really dangerous around blind curves. I mimicked the locals and honked going around each blind curve. That worked well, as I caught a few drivers dashing back onto their side of the road at the last second as we came around. The worst bit was on one lane bridges, There’s a Yield sign on each side, and you are supposed to take turns, but cars would just follow each other and block the whole way. It shouldn’t be a that hard, but people just lose their minds on this road. It’s a regular Yield sign, do what it says. It isn’t a ancient Hawaiian symbol of the God Yi’eld, demigod of all river crossings – blessing you as you cross.
It’s a fucking Yield sign. Yield Motherfucker.
We stopped again at the Halfway to Hana stand, and got some Kaluha Pork sandwiches. They were perfect as a quick break. I did not get the banana bread. Waiting in line we had an encounter with another loud tourist. He had just finished throwing his empty beer cans into the trash, labeled “Do Not Throw Cans and Bottles Here”, instead of walking two steps to the recycling container. He bellowed to his family, “We are almost at Hannah! Then we can finally see something!” The rest of the family was griping about the drive and the turns. At the stand he wanted a cheeseburger, which of course they didn’t server. This turned into a five minute discussion about cheeseburgers and how important they were. I checked my bag, but couldn’t find my shark-tooth war club to kill him with for the good of Maui.
Some people really come with the wrong expectations. The Road to Hana isn’t about getting to Hana, or Oheo Gulch, or the Black Sands. It’s about the Road. There is an amazing escape to be had on this drive, but you have to be willing to let go and see it. You have to disconnect from your expectation and just see what the day brings you.
For us, the road brought us banana bread.
I mean Peace. Not banana bread, peace. Or tranquility. Something profound. Anyone want any banana bread?