Drive the Infamous Hana Highway

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Photo:  Roberts Heavenly Hana and Maui Tours.

Photo: Roberts Heavenly Hana and Maui Tours. If you’d rather not be the one to do the driving, take a tour!

Ask someone about their experience of driving the Hana Highway and, depending on their temperament, they’ll either clasp their hands in ecstasy or roll their eyes and shudder. This is because Highway 36 does not quite match the typical definition of a “highway” — that is, it’s certainly not designed to accommodate those in a hurry to get somewhere.

Instead, with its 600-plus turns, 50 (or so) one-lane bridges and breathtaking views that alternate between mountain streams and soaring sea cliffs, the Hana Highway is less a roadway than an event in itself.

Beginning just past Kahului airport and covering 52 miles of north-facing coastline between Pa’ia and Hana, the drive takes a minimum of two hours — and that’s if you don’t stop for a dip in one of the roadside streams or a picnic at one of the state-maintained “waysides” that offer magnificent views, the chance to stretch those road-weary legs and use the restroom.

A few things to remember when driving the highway: There’s no gas and not much in the way of food between Pa’ia and Hana, so you’d best fill your tank and belly before setting out. Get started early; traffic can bog down in the later part of the day, particularly around the bridges, which require that one lane always yield to oncoming drivers. Besides, it’s not the best idea to be driving this road after dark.

If you plan to swim along the way, keep in mind that some streams service communities’ water needs and others can be deceptively dangerous due to slippery rocks, precarious drops or a tendency to flash-flood (if it’s raining, DON’T take a dip). Stick to those streams that are already widely used (they aren’t hard to find, just look for the line of cars on the side of the road). It’s a good idea to pack some food and drink, but if your timing is right you may catch one of the roadside fruit vendors. If not, keep an eye out for the “Halfway to Hana” sign, at which point you can pick up some refreshments and a bit of caffeine.

Finally, it’s best to have two drivers on hand — for one thing, the road can get a little tiring; for another, if you have to spend the whole day with your eyes on the road, you’ll miss some of Hawai’i’s most spectacular views.

NOTE: If you do not want to come back the way you came, you can return to south Maui via the road that runs along the southwest flank of Haleakala. The road is quiet and may be rough in spots, but the scenery is fantastic.

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