This sounds like a film title but it’s actually the name of one of the World’s most scenic drives and definitely on most peoples’ bucket lists of things to do when visiting Hawaii (Maui). The trip involves a 40 mile trip from Paia to Hana along a narrow road which has 600 hairpin bends and crosses 50 single lane bridges. It’s considered a ‘must do’ but our friend Joe, who visits Maui often remember, had said we might not want to bother. He’d done it once, it makes you feel car sick and he didn’t need to do it again!
But we decided to go with the majority and just do it. It was another early start for us and on the road by 7am. First stop at 8-30am was the surfer/hippy town of Paia – not too far from the airport where we’d flown in. The shops weren’t yet open and the only people seemed to be the homeless or confused looking tourists wondering why everyone told you to set off early on this trip. We’d stopped here to go to ‘Charley’s’ Saloon for a proper American breakfast including a biscuit (no gravy- thanks). Charley’s turned out to be a popular music venue where Willie Nelson regularly performs- in fact was that him sitting at the bar ordering a Mai Tai this early?
Now we were on Hana Highway proper and sure enough it is quite a drive. The drive itself takes about 3 hours because the speed limit averages say 15mph but there are also vast stretches where you need to stop at every bend to give way to oncoming traffic. So you are required to treat other drivers with a good deal of Aloha! and give them the ‘hang loose’ sign (make a fist, stick out your thumb and little finger and waggle hand) to say ‘thanks’.
Along the way we passed North Maui Coastal scenery- including the incredibly beautiful Hookipa Beach and, a bit further on, the site of ‘Jaws’ – the Worlds biggest wave break at 70 feet (not today). We then entered more tropical environments including bamboo forests and stands of Rainbow Eucalyptus trees. We watched people disappear into the mosquito infested bamboo apparently to seek out a waterfall but we didn’t do that. We did stop at mile marker 6.5 and trespass briefly on some private land to get the photos of the Eucalyptus
We also stopped at Twin Falls where people swim in the pools at the base of the waterfalls and jump in from the rocks. Not for us this daredevil activity although it looked fun. We did enjoy looking at the tropical flowers and the fresh pineapple lolly as it was very hot and humid here.
As time went on the weather went off and became hot and rainy – well after all we were in a tropical rainforest. The trees are huge and there are lots of enormous creepers- just like you’d expect in the jungle.
Our next stop was probably my favourite- it was a little off the main drive down a bumpy track. It was the home of a cabin selling Aunty Sandy’s fresh Banana bread and so we stopped and bought some along with a can of juice. Nearby to here there was a beach and the waves were really crashing against the black lava rocks which was great to watch.
It took us much longer than I’d expected to make progress and I was concerned that I really didn’t want to be driving back in the dark. By the time we reached Waianapanapa Bay I was getting a bit uptight and we kind of rushed the stop here at the ‘iconic black sand beach’. We did enjoy walking into the lava tube – basically a cave through the lava that goes through to the lovely cobalt coloured sea. The pebbles in here shined like polished black jewels.
Now we were just 20mins from Hana and it was REALLY raining hard. It was fine though as the windy roads had calmed down a bit. Apparently, most people spend on average 10mins in the town of Hana before they turn around and go back. The drive is all about the journey- not about the destination. Good job really as there is nothing much here at all. There is one exception to this and that is the Hasegawa General Stores. It was like something out of Little House on the Prairie- in a big old barn and sold everything- including rifles and machetes alongside your Lays crisps, t shirts and banana bread. Jane chose the t shirt celebrating 100 years (in 2010) of this famous store.
I now needed to make a decision about how we would get home. Most people had been advising me to carry on on the same road which does a circle back up and would be different scenery. But I could see on my not very detailed map that there is a part of this road described as ‘off road’. Gwen had said it would be fine but I’ve noticed the locals can be a bit blasé about this sort of thing. I went into the store and spoke to Frida Kahlo who was serving behind the counter. I asked about the road- waving my map at her- and she looked at me with her big brown eyes and said …’You ain’t seen nothin yet- b-b-b baby…..’ No sorry , of course she didn’t- what she actually said was ‘Oh…that road is closed, closed until 4-30pm’. It was only 3pm. She did also confirm that the off road bit was not ‘off road’ it was just a dirt road! Well, let me tell you, me and my Nissan Qashqai back home consider a dirt road quite off road enough thanks and I wasn’t about to hang about for a couple of hours to do it in my compact rental car. For goodness sake.
So, thanks to Frida- decision made and we turned around and started back along the Hana Highway in the other direction. I felt very comfortable with this now – rather than continuing on the road less travelled and getting stuck in the dark. Phew.
It still took a long time to get back and so we decided to stop for retail therapy in Paia where the lovely shops were now open and we had dinner at the Flatbread Pizza restaurant, a Maui institution, which Joe had recommended and was great. Here we met ‘Bronze’ (real name Franz but I misheard him) who was our lovely young waiter. Paia is a real surfer town and I was keen to know more about this surfer lifestyle. Bronze told me that he wasn’t actually a surfer but he’d visited Paia previously and fallen in love with the rainforest. He’d then moved here after looking after his terminally ill Dad and then having sold his online business, house and two cars. He now just wanted to live in his cabin in the jungle. It had been a long day and I’d fallen just tiny bit in love with Bronze.