A road trip is probably the last thing on your mind when visiting Hawaii. Yet, on the tranquil island of Maui, you can find one of the world’s most breathtaking drives … the Hana Highway.
What is the Hana Highway?
For 65 winding and scenic miles, the Hana Highway takes drivers on a trip alongside the Eastern shore of Maui, Hawaii. Along the way, the road passes over 59 bridges (46 of which are one-way) and curves approximately 620 times.
Once you arrive in Hana, you can choose to stay in one of the many luxurious Hawaii vacation rentals … or you can keep on driving another 65(ish) miles to finish the loop back to Kahului. Having done the entire drive in one day, I highly suggest spending at least a night in Hana.
One of the biggest reasons for spending the night in Hana is so you can take advantage of all the tourist destinations along the highway. Highlights include waterfalls, beaches, the Haleakala National Park and the Seven Sacred Pools. Plus, you will inevitably want to stop every 5 feet to take a photo.
A Brief History of the Hana Highway in Maui, Hawaii
“In the sixteenth century, Maui’s King Pi’ilani conquered East Maui and drew Hana into his political sphere. Pi’ilani built the Alaloa, the “long road,” from West Maui, a road on which travelers reportedly swung themselves over East Maui’s rushing streams with ropes made of vines.
Later, Piilani’s son, Kihapiilani, extended the Alaloa into the Hana District. When completed, the road was 4′ to 6′ wide, 138 miles long, and paved with hand-fitted basalt (lava) rocks. Modern road construction to Hana began in the 1870s, with an unpaved road built to facilitate the construction of the Hämäkua Ditch. Part of The East Maui Irrigation System, the Hämäkua Ditch brought water from the rainforests of Haleakalā to semi-arid central Maui to support the sugarcane industry.
Road construction continued in the early 1900s and was extended piecemeal until the full road to Hana was officially opened on December 18, 1926. Construction of bridges continued through the 1930s and the road was not completely paved until the 1960s.
In August 2000, the highway was designated as the Hāna Millennium Legacy Trail by President Bill Clinton. The Hāna Highway was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 15, 2001″
Driving Alongside a Volcano
For the first 64 miles, the Hana Highway takes you through a canopy of lush greenery and tropical rainforests. However, on the way back you’ll notice a complete shift in scenery and topography … should you choose to continue on the road and drive the portion located on the Western side of Maui, Hawaii.
Past the Hana Highway, a landscape of ranchlands, dry grasslands, lavascapes, exposed rock, tall brown grass and wide open fields await. This is because you are now driving alongside the Haleakala Volcano, and on the backside of Haleakala National Park. Personally, this was my favorite part of the drive.
For nearly 25 miles, your rental car will bump, creak, bottom out and make you sure that you’ve just voided your insurance policy. This is all a part of the fun! And don’t worry … despite the rumors, driving this route does NOT void your rental contract.
If you’re up for the adventure, here’s a great mile-by-mile guide to the drive.