The Road to Hana – A Vanventure in Maui, Hawaii

The Road to Hana – A Vanventure in Maui, Hawaii

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On This Page

Trip Snapshot

Objective

Alex’s goal was to visit all 50 states by the time he turned 30. Hawaii was to be #50, the final state – it was a celebratory trip.

Our personal mission while in Maui was to take on the legendary drive, the Road to Hana.

When We Went

February/March 2020

Daily temperatures range from the high 60s to low 80s – all year long. Not too hot, not too cold. Ever.

It rained every single day we were in Maui. The rain came in quick, torrential downpours, then dissipated just as fast as it had arrived.

Length of time

5 days. We were in Hawaii for a total of 10 days, 5 of which we spent on the island of Maui.

Park Admission

We spent a lot of our time in national parks on this trip and used our annual pass multiple times.

For more info on national park passes or to purchase one online click here.

Map

Here’s a visual of where we were on the island:

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Health & Safety

Health

Altitude

The elevation changes on the island of Maui are a bit extreme. You can be at the top of Haleakalā, 10,000 feet above sea level one moment, and a short hour and a half drive later be on the beach in Kihei. This drastic change in altitude combined with the multiple flights we took resulted in me not being able to fully pop my ears for days.

Covid-19

The day we left for Hawaii the virus wasn’t of much interest to anyone in the US – it was still far, far away…

When we arrived back home however, both me and Alex were mandated by our jobs to self-quarantine due to our recent travel. This was literally the first time I have ever been sent home from work, I felt like I was in time out! The situation continued to escalate from that point forward as more and more cases were reported in the United States. If we would have planned our trip for a week or two later than when it was we would have been forced to cancel the whole thing altogether.

Safety

Petty Theft

Despite hearing about the issue of petty theft on the island, we felt quite comfortable being out and driving around.

Just don’t leave your valuables in plain sight (or don’t bring them).

Meth Presence

While driving the Road to Hana, we rounded a bend and came up on a young women and her daughter standing right in the middle of the dirt road – and we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere. She asked us if we could give them a ride a bit further down the road. There was something notably off-putting about the speed at which she talked and the way her eyes involuntarily twitched, we suspected meth.

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How We Got Around

Plane

We flew into the Kahului airport on Maui.

OGG is a small airport that is almost entirely outside. They have no need for a standard building, that would just inhibit your ability to feel the salty breeze while you wait for your flight.

Camper Van

We rented a fully decked out camper van from Outdoorsy for our time in Maui, it’s basically Airbnb for vans. This was our first time using the service and we have decided it is officially a game changer for how we travel.

It adds so much flexibility to your road trip because you’ve got your rental car and your place to stay all wrapped up into one. You can pick up and go as you please with minimal set up at the end of each day.

We especially loved the camper van for this trip in particular, as it allowed us to take our time on the Road to Hana instead of trying to cram all the sights in to one day.

We were hoping to have a caravan of campers with our other friends that came to Hawaii with us, but they decided to rent condos in Kihei instead. To each their own. (Nick did come along and hop in the pop top for a night.)

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Where We Stayed

Van Camping

We parked our camper van at various locations around the island.

For both campgrounds we stayed at, a park admission fee was required (or you can use your national park annual pass), but no reservation was needed for camping. Campsites were first come, first serve.

Hosmer Grove Campground

Our first night in Maui we camped at the Hosmer Grove campground located near the Haleakalā National Park visitor center a whopping 7,000 feet up the mountain.

It was cold, with a dense fog and a constant rain – not what I had originally envisioned for my first night in Hawaii.

Despite the chilly conditions outside we stayed warm and dry in the van. (Keep reading for more on our Haleakalā experience.)

Kipihulou Campground

The rest of our nights camping in Maui we were at a (thankfully) significantly lower elevation, at the Kipihulou campground also located in Haleakalā National Park.

Unfortunately, the bathrooms (long drops) were a tad ill-placed right in the middle of all of the campsites so the best spots were dependent on which way the wind was blowing that particular evening. Don’t let this be too much of a deterrent, it’s beautiful here it’s just something to be aware of.

The campground was essentially just an open field by the water.

The field was outlined by waist-high grass.

Palms hung above and swayed lazily in the breeze.

A trail lead you through the tall grass and meandered around for a while before ending abruptly at steep cliffs by the waters edge.

Haleakalā could be seen standing majestically in the distance.

The sunsets here were like something out of a Thomas Kinkade painting. The light reflecting off the water gave everything a metallic sheen.

Hostel

The Northshore Hostel

Our last night in Maui we went budget-friendly and stayed at The Northshore Hostel.

It was very basic, but all we needed was a bed before catching a flight the next morning.

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Food

Island Coffee

Much to my delight, coffee shops boasting locally-grown island brews were a common occurance.

Fresh Fish

It’s no surprise that you can get some delicious fish on the island, we enjoyed some from a taco truck in Kihei.

What a great looking bunch we are.

We saw signs advertising poke, but I didn’t have the chance to try this signature Hawaiian concoction (and I received quite a bit of grief for not making this a priority when I returned home).

Spam Musubi

I knew before I arrived to the islands that Hawaiians are known for their love of sushi and also for their strange infatuation with spam, but I had no idea I would encounter the two of these together!

I’ll be honest, if Alex had not purchased a roll and offered me a bite I may not have tried it. The generous slab of fried spam sitting on top of the rice and wrapped in seaweed was intriguing, and I cannot lie, a delicious combination. Who would have guessed?

Fruit Stands

Fresh fruit was everywhere – little impromptu stands dotted their way across the island. Pineapples, oranges, and bananas were the most common.

Banana Bread

With all those bananas, the decadent baked good was a common treat. Definitely snag yourself a loaf or two.

Macadamia Nuts

This light and buttery nut could be found in a variety of flavors, like this tasty garlic and onion:

Thai Food

The best meal I had when I was in Maui was a big ol’ bowl of spicy Thai noodles we got from a little spot off the side of the road in Hana. Packed with veggies and the perfect amount of heat they were the perfect post-hike meal.

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What We Did

Shakka Guide

Alex bought the shakka guide app for our own personal narrated tour as we drove around the island. It uses GPS to accurately tell you information about where you are at.

I must warn you that it’s a bit cheesy – the narrator reminded me of Casey Kasem from the American Top 40 radio countdown. However, from Hawaiian mythology to geology it was very informative and led us to some spots on the drive we would have otherwise overlooked.

Haleakalā National Park

Visit the park website here.

Summit of Haleakalā Sunrise Tour

After camping 7,000 feet up the mountain at the Hosmer Grove campground, we woke up at 4 am the next morning to finish the drive to the summit of Haleakalā, another 3,000 feet up to try to catch a view of the sunrise. (Reservations are required for this tour).

The fog was as heavy as ever and it was still raining as we climbed higher and higher up the mountain.

As we approached the summit the freezing rain had turned to snow.

The nēnē, Hawaiian geese, did not seem to mind the cold.

The wind was blowing hard and with a winter advisory in place, we weren’t able to see much of the crater at sunrise.

By this time I was getting a tad anxious to leave the cold and get to sea level, finally we began our descent down Haleakalā. The landscape of the island is incredibly diverse, we were at the summit of the volcano, but a short drive later we were back to sand and sunshine.

Pīpīwai Trail

We hiked the Pīpīwai trail located in the Kipihulou area of Haleakalā National Park to view Waimoku Falls, one of several waterfalls we would encounter on this trp.

It was outrageously muddy at the start of the trail from a downpour that had hit us the previous evening. We slid around for a while as we started our hike.

Soon enough we came upon one of the most peculiar trees I have ever seen. Its branches appeared old and cumbersome, as if they had been there for ages. Protrusions off the limbs, called aerial prop roots, extended down to the ground and functioned as additional trunks, providing what appeared to be some much needed support.

It was a Banyan tree.

A little while later, about a mile into the hike, we were submerged into a bamboo forest. The shoots were thick and tall, the tops were a good 20 feet over our heads. When the wind blew they rustled together like a wind chimes.

Finally, at the end of the Pīpīwai trail was Waimoku Falls, a cascading 400 foot waterfall.

It’s large enough that you can even make it out from the road if you know where to look.

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The Road to Hana

The Road to Hana is a drive that’s more about the journey than the destination.

The original road was constructed by Hana’s Chief Pi’ilani to unite the island by connecting the towns of Kahului and Hana. 

The popular route is to begin the drive in Paia and continue the loop around. We had decided to take the Road to Hana in reverse to catch a different perspective, beginning at the Pi’ilani highway. This route is shown below:

You may breach your rental car agreement if you venture onto the Pi’ilani highway, many rentals will not allow you to drive it due to how narrow and sketchy the road is.

Fortunately, we ended up having enough time to be able to do the drive both ways and even took Nick along with us.

Fill up on gas before you begin! There is only one gas station on the whole drive located in Hana, and it is more expensive.

Pi’ilani Highway

The Pi’ilani highway snakes its way among fields of lava. Short golden-hued grasses can be seen sprouting through the layers of black lava rock.

The black rock often ends abruptly, giving way to the blue ocean below.

Cinder cones, small hills created from gases and falling lava during an eruption, give some vertical dimension to the otherwise empty fields.

It has a bare, desolate kind of beauty.

It was my favorite part of our drive on the Road to Hana.

Hidden gems were in plain sight along the highway – if you knew where to look! Check out this gorgeous sea arch that was initially hidden from our view.

I have to give credit to the Shakka guide app for this one!

We knew we had begun our drive on the Hana Highway when the barren lava fields suddenly transformed to thick, lush rain forest.

Waterfalls and Rainbows Around Every Turn

Waterfalls seemed to be around every curve in the road. It’s going to sound crazy, but at a point we finally quit stopping to view every single one and just caught every third one or so.

While on Maui, we saw an average of five rainbows a day. No exaggeration. I’m convinced there’s a rainbow somewhere on the island at all times.

It became almost comical just how many waterfalls and rainbows we saw on this trip, there was no way such a place was actually real. It must be a dream.

The whole drive was quite magical.

The fairy tale wasn’t without its fair share of risks however, as some areas of the drive were sketchy. It frequently had you clinging to the sides of steep rock cliffs that drop to the Pacific below. Blind curves were common. The road was very narrow and many areas there was only enough room for one vehicle at a time, and so one car would end up backing up… (Lucky for me Alex was having loads of fun driving in the rig we rented, I would have been white knuckled.)

Hana Town

Finally, we came upon Hana town. We had successfully reached Hana.

It’s a very small town, with just a couple of restaurants, food trucks, and a shop or two – all operating on island time. That’s it.

Again, the Road to Hana is all about the journey, brah.

Kaihalulu Beach

Kaihalulu Beach is a rare red sand beach that got it’s rust-colored hue from a crumbling cinder cone.

To get there, you must walk a short trail off the side of the road after you pass Hana town. The trail winds its way along the crimson cliff side until you reach a teal pool.

A natural rock wall takes the brunt of the breaking ocean waves to make for perfect swimming pool.

Waiʻanapanapa State Park

A bit further past Hana town is Waiʻanapanapa state park, a black sand beach.

Visit the park website here.

The opaque black sand contrasts beautifully with the green vegetation and blues of the ocean and sky for a picturesque landscape.

Black sand beaches do not have a long lifespan, the ocean quickly works to reclaim the volcanic rock that forms them.

During this recovering process unique geographic structures can be observed. At the park you can view where the sea has carved out a cave and arches and even a blow hole where the sea water bursts through the rock.

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Kihei

Before our time on Maui was done, we went to visit our friends who were staying in condos they rented in Kihei.

Here was our view of Kihei from the up country:

With its sandy beaches and laid-back vibe it was no surprise why they chose the spot.

There was plenty to do off the beach as well, bars, restaurants, and shops lined the streets.

The sunsets on the beach were incredible. Check out this amazing shot Bentley captured:

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Big Island

Our time in Maui had come to a close. We were headed to the big island with the whole group for some volcano exploration.

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