Traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

Traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

If you go to Hawaii, one of the things you “must do” according to most travel guides is traveling the Road to Hana in Maui,

I have traveled the Road to Hana twice. The guides are right but there are some things to consider. To travel the Road to Hana, you should be aware of the following:

  • Time – it is at least an all day time commitment. I explain more about this below.
  • There are a lot of curves and stops. If you are prone to car sickness, take medication before you go.
  • It can be a harrowing drive. If that isn’t your thing, consider doing the Road to Hana as part of an organized tour.

I traveled the road once via organized tour and once we drove it on our own. I enjoyed it both ways. With the tour, our driver took care of the harrowing roads. He also told us where all of the best views were. When we went by ourselves, we used an app on my phone to find the sites while going at our own leisurely pace.

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RoadtoHana
The Three Bears Waterfall along the Road to Hana.

Traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

Background Information

The Road to Hana, or the Hana Highway, is a stretch of highway that spans over 64 miles and connects Kahului to the town of Hana on the east side of Maui. It then continues on to Kipahulu as Highway Route 31.

If you drive the highway uninterrupted, I’ve read that it should take about two and a half hours to complete. It is highly unlikely that you will ever travel it uninterrupted as a tourist because the highway is very winding and narrow. There is also so much to see along the way that will keeping you stopping and starting throughout the trip.

The Road to Hana passes over 59 bridges, many of which are concrete and steel dating back to 1910. Most are only one lane wide. There are also approximately 620 curves along Route 360 from east of Kahului to Hana. Most of these curves are through lush, tropical rain forest. Because of the curves, it’s a good idea to consider motion sickness meds before traveling on the Road to Hana if you’re prone to that ailment.

So if the highway is so winding and stressful, why do people travel along it?

Because it is the route required to see many amazing ocean views, pretty waterfalls, lava tubes and a black sand beach. All of these make it worth the drive or ride.

Regardless of whether you drive the Road to Hana yourself or go as part of a tour, it is a full day trip from the west side of the island, where I stayed both times. We left in the early morning and returned after sunset. If you prefer, you could also break the trip into two days and book a room in the town of Hana for one night. This is a good option if you want to take more time to explore and do the driving over two days.

Don’t Forget the App if you Travel the Road to Hana in Maui on Your Own

The key to traveling the road on our own was to download an app with a narrated audio guide of the road so we did not miss any of the hidden gems. Gypsy Guide or Shaka Guides are both good options and they are available for a nominal cost on the Apple and Google platforms. The audio can be stopped and started as needed and is also available offline so you can download the information and play it without having to worry about having cell service. Make sure to bring your phone charger with you though so you have plenty of battery for the guided audio tour and for taking lots of pictures!

There are so many opportunities to take beautiful photos along the way. The audio guide will alert you when a landmark possibly worth stopping at is approaching and it’s up to you to decide whether to listen. I recommend at least stopping briefly to check most of the landmarks out. You’re on vacation after all so why not?

Below are some of my favorite stops from my travels along the highway.

Garden of Eden Arboretum and Botanical Garden

The Garden of Eden Arboretum and Botanical Garden is located at mile market 10.5 on the Road to Hana,. It includes 26 acres and more than 700 species of plants. It has the most varied collection of plants in Hawaii. The garden features a platform where visitors can see Keopuka Rock, also known as the Jurassic Rock because it appeared in the opening sequence of Jurassic Park.

Visitors can also get close up views of the Rainbow Gum trees in the Garden of Eden Arboretum and Botanical Garden. These trees look may look like they’ve been painted on the the colors are all natural. The trees shed their bark each year, showing a bright green bark underneath. Over time, the bright green bark darkens to orange, maroon, blue and purple tones.

Garden of Eden in Maui Jurassic Rock in Maui Rainbow Gum Tree Road to Hana Maui Rainbow Gum Tree in Maui

The chicken below was the first living thing to greet us when we got off the bus to get a closer look at the Rainbow Gum trees on our tour. Although he looked ready to chase me back onto the bus, he quickly lost interest and we peacefully went our separate ways.

Traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

Upper Waikani Falls (aka The Three Bears)

These falls are very popular because they’re easy to see from the road.

They are located at mile marker 19.6. Most people snap a photo and drive off because there are few places to stop and park. There is parking 1/10 mile past the falls. You will have to walk back along the narrow road with no shoulder. When these falls are at a safe flow rate (like in the photos) you can take a short hike down from the road and swim.

Wai’anapanapa State Park

Wai’anapanapa State Park at mile marker 32 is best known for its black sand beach named Pa’iloa. The beach is actually more rocky than it is sandy and is small with a ocean cave on the east side that can be traveled through to the ocean. There’s also a naturally made lava arch in the water.

Wai'anapanapa State Park in Maui Black Sand Beach in Maui

Palapala Ho’omau Church

This church was built in 1857 and still stands along Maui’s lush coastline. It is the burial ground of prominent aviator, inventor, explorer, author and activist Charles Lindbergh.

Palapala Ho'omau Church in Maui

When I visited the church, there was a herd of horses that lived in the field next to the church. I wasn’t all that interested in the grave and while I hung out waiting for the rest of our tour to come back from the grave, the bus driver and I passed our time by playing with the horses. We would give them a mint for a smile. These horses undoubtedly have the best smelling breath on the island. The photo below is one of my favorite from my trip traveling the Road the Hana in Maui in 2013.

Mints for a Smile in Maui

I have so many photos from the Road to Hana. It is impossible to pinpoint which mile market they were all taken at. I am going to share a few more of my favorites below. No mile marker info available. This is really the key to traveling the Road to Hana in Maui. Take your time, enjoy the views and soak in the experience.

You won’t regret it!

Views while traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

An arch over the ocean traveling the Road to Hana in Maui

Interested in reading more about my favorite place in the world? You can check out some of my other Hawaiian adventures here and here.

What You Need to Know Before Experiencing the Haleakala Sunrise in Maui

One activity you will see mentioned a lot when reading guidebooks while planning a trip to Maui is experiencing the sunrise or sunset on Haleakala, the most popular dormant volcano on Maui. I missed this activity during my first trip to Hawaii because I did a lot of scuba diving. Deep sea levels and mountaintops don’t mix well when a human wants to stay alive. I was finally able to carve time out for this experience during my second trip to Maui.

Haleakala National Park

Haleakala is known as the world’s largest dormant volcano. It stretches across Maui’s southern and eastern coastlines and is the main attraction in Haleakala National Park. It is Maui’s highest peak, rising 10,023 feet above sea level. There are 55 endangered species that call the area around Haleakala home, more than at any other U.S. national park.

Reservations Now Required for the Haleakala Sunrise

To experience the sunrise, we got up and drove an hour and a half from Maalaea to Haleakala National Park. We left around 3am and arrived at the park around 4:30am, about 2 hours before the sunrise. Because viewing the sunrise on Haleakala is so popular, getting there early was required. However, in February 2017, they started requiring reservations to view the sunrise on top of the volcano. The cost is $1.50 per vehicle ($1 + fee), a total steal! My assumption is that they did it for crowd control and I will give them kudos because it worked when we were there. The peak was not crowded which made the experience enjoyable (assuming you can call an experience that includes getting up at 2:30am enjoyable. Ha!).

You can book your reservation here.

What to Wear for the Haleakala Sunrise in Maui

Cold. Really, really cold. And windy.

If I had to describe my first impression from the volcano peak, these would be the words I would use.  It is definitely not what you expect when visiting Hawaii.

I knew it was going to be cold because I did a lot of research before we went but it was even colder than I thought it would be. I’m from the Midwest and currently live in Chicago. Therefore, I am used to chilly weather but that doesn’t mean I appreciate it while I am in Hawaii. We didn’t want to be outside anymore than necessary so we napped in the car while waiting for the sun to start making its ascent over the horizon.

I would recommend bringing warm clothing if you plan to view the sunrise, particularly if you are bringing kids with you. If you have a warm hat and mittens and can fit them in your suitcase, throw them in. You will not be sorry.

The Haleakala Sunrise in Maui

After the long drive in the dark up the side of a volcano and a couple hours of waiting, it was finally time for the main (and only) event: the sunrise.

Once the sun started coming up, I realized why people recommend this experience. It was pretty spectacular. We were above the clouds so we got to experience the sun coming up over the horizon and the clouds.

What a sight to behold!

The Beatles said it best…”Here comes the sun (doo doo doo doo). Here comes the sun, and I say. It’s all right…

Haleakala Sunrise in Maui

Haleakala Sunrise in Maui
So amazing!
This group was singing as the sun came up. It made the experience even more special.
The telescope at the top of the volcano.

Experiencing the Haleakala Sunrise as a Solo Traveler

While I was not on this trip solo, I always try to look at these activities from the perspective of a solo female traveler because that is usually how I travel. I would not have wanted to complete the 1.5 hour drive in the dark to the top of the volcano on my own. However, I don’t like to drive and try to avoid it whenever possible. My friend did the driving when we went and she was fine. I think she would have been fine solo as well. If I wanted to do it solo, I would go as part of an organized Haleakala Sunrise tour, such as this one. Obviously organized tours have their pros and cons. Being on someone else’s time table can be annoying. In a case like this, it would be worth it for me.

My Final Thoughts

Overall, I enjoyed our time experiencing the sunrise on Halekala. I am not sure where else I will have the chance to see the sun rise over the clouds so that alone made it worth our time.

However, I wouldn’t put it at the top of my list of “things that I must do in Maui” if I had less than a week to explore the island. This is a weather dependent activity. If you choose it over another activity that you really want to do but the weather isn’t cooperative, that could be a bummer. Also, there was a lot of waiting around for a sunrise that was over in 20 minutes or so. You can go exploring and hiking around Haleakala National Park afterwards but we were cold and hungry so we chose not to.

If you want to check out other things to do while visiting Maui, you can read about our experience whale watching here and things you should know before traveling the Road to Hana here.

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Haleakala Sunrise in Maui

Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Maui

Since my first trip to Hawaii in 2013, one activity that has been at the top of my “to try” list is stand up paddle boarding (SUP). I chickened out when I was there in 2013 and again in 2015 but finally got up the nerve to try it on this trip. I have seen so many people during my trips out on their boards, gliding along, making it look so easy. I knew better. I figured it was going to be hard. And I was right. It was actually really hard. I needed an instructor to hold my board in order to stand and even then, I resembled baby Bambi trying to stand for the first time, with wobbly legs and a lot of falling. So much falling in fact that I don’t have a photo of me standing while we were out there but I promise, and Deb as my witness can confirm, that I did manage to stand up a couple of times for a few moments. After it was over, I realized that I had fun and really enjoyed the experience and I am so glad I tried it. We even saw a huge turtle while we were out there. I can’t wait to go again, hopefully soon.

We went out on the water with Paddle On! Maui. The company is owned by Peg and her tours start in Wailea near the Fairmont Hotel. Peg was wonderful to us. We were supposed to go out on our first morning in Hawaii but Peg was kind enough to call us and tell us it wouldn’t be enjoyable because it was so rough and windy. We finally made it out a few days later. It was just the two of us and Peg, which was great for beginners like us. I appreciated Peg’s undivided attention and also her concern for our safety and comfort. She had many good suggestions for places to go and things to see for our remaining time in Maui. She easily picked up on my love for Hawaii and made the comment that I’m “totally moving” there soon. Ha! Maybe! I hope? I wish? Although this was not a cheap activity (~$150pp for 3 hours), I highly recommend Paddle On! Maui if you go stand up paddle boarding while in Maui. The amazing service and small group atmosphere make it worth the price. http://www.paddleonmaui.com/




Of course we found some time for the beach while we were in Maui as well. My favorite beach was Big Beach. As the names implies, it’s a big beach, which was great because it could accommodate many people while still giving people the space to spread out and relax. It was sunny the first day we were there, overcast the second but I thoroughly enjoyed our time there both times. I did a bit of snorkeling the first day (I have my own gear so it was impromptu and on my own) and there were some fun fish and coral to see under the water, which was a pleasant surprise.


I could get used to this.


The sand was so fine. I loved running my hands and feet through it.


Maui ?


And then it was gone…


I stared at the view below for hours and it was time well spent. Take me back!


Protection from the sun is key for me. The long sleeved rash guard you see me wearing in so many of my photos is one of my most valuable purchases when it comes to beach vacations. I wear it all the time because it provides such great coverage from the sun without me having to use lots of sunscreen. I got this one at Land’s End but you can find them many places. I got my sun hat at a farmer’s market in L.A. I like that it has a wire around the rim so I can manipulate it as I need to.


We were greeted with really strong shore breaks on our second day at Big Beach. I did venture into the water at one point and the waves even made me nervous, which was telling because I’m usually very comfortable wading into the ocean. There were so many kids trying to boogie board and body surf on these waves, even though the lifeguards kept telling them to stop because the waves were too dangerous and many necks get broken when kids try to do that on these types of waves. But apparently most people were not concerned because the kids kept doing it.



The other side of Molokini


One last photo that has nothing to do with stand up paddle boarding or the ocean but makes me laugh every time I see it in my photo album… we passed through this intersection several times during our stay in Maui and every time, we would comment at the writing on the highway. Is it telling us we can go straight? ? How many times is it really necessary to mention that the two left lanes are turn only? Judging by the road below, about 20 times per lane.

Whale Watching in Maui

One of the activities I have enjoyed the most during my visits to Hawaii is whale watching in Maui. Being out on a boat while looking for whales in the distance is the perfect way to spend a morning in my opinion. If you are going to Maui, you should make sure whale watching is on your list.

Here are the things you should know before you go.

The Humpback Whale

When I say whales here, I mean humpback whales. The humpback whale is a species of baleen whale. The adults range in length from 39-52 feet and weigh about 79,000 pounds (Wow! I didn’t realize they were SO big before writing this post).

The humpback whale has a distinctive body shape, with long pectoral fins and a knobbly head. Their lifespan is estimated to be between 45-50 years. The humpback whale completes the longest annual migration of any mammal.

Males produce a complex song lasting 10 to 20 minutes, which they repeat for hours at a time. Its purpose is not clear, though it may have a role in mating.

The Best Time to See Whales in Maui

Humpback whales visit Hawaiian waters each year from November May. The peak season is from January to March.

Which Hawaiian Island is Best for Whale Watching?

While you are likely to see whales off many of the Hawaiian islands during whale season, Maui is one of the top whale watching spots for boat-based viewing in the world.

Pacific Whale Foundation

We chose to go on a whale watching tour with the Pacific Whale Foundation (referred to as Pac Whale by the locals) from Maalaea Harbor, which was next door to our condo. Talk about convenient!

The Pacific Whale Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1980 to save whales from extinction. According to their website, their mission is to “protect the oceans through science and advocacy.” They do research in Hawaii, Australia and Ecuador.  When possible, I prefer to take tours with organizations that are working to improve the environment and the species that call it home. Therefore, Pacific Whale Foundation was the perfect choice for us!

Whale Watching in Maui

We started spotting whales within 10-15 minutes of departing from Maalaea Harbor and probably saw 15-20 whales in total during the two hours we were out on the water. Most of the whales we saw included a mama and a baby since the whales come to the warm waters of Hawaii in the winter to give birth and raise their babies until they are grown enough to make the trek back to Alaska during for the summer.

The whales do not eat while they are in Hawaii because there is no food in the area. They eat nonstop during the summer months in Alaska and use that as fuel for the winters in Hawaii. We did see a large breach or two but I did not catch any of them with my camera. I am okay with that since I was there to experience the moment, not take photos.

Whale Watching in Maui
Every humpback whale has a unique pattern on its tail fin, which helps researchers identify them.

The land mass in the distance of this photo is Molokini. Molokini is a crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater between Maui and Kaho’olawe. Snorkeling and scuba diving are very popular at Molokini.
Whale Watching in Maui
My favorite moment of the tour, and possibly my favorite moment of the whole trip to Maui, happened about halfway into this tour. A mama and baby whale swam directly under our boat and came to the surface about 10 feet from where I was standing on the boat. It was AMAZING! I will not forget that moment anytime soon. Everyone on the boat was so excited.
A couple of Bottlenose dolphins decided to join our tour too!

So many wind towers on the island of Maui.

My Final Thoughts on Whale Watching in Maui

I really liked this tour. I think it was the cheapest organized tour we did in Maui too. It was ~$45 per person, which is reasonable for Maui.

The only odd thing about the tour was that they required everyone boarding to have their photo taken. Their reason for this was to help them count the number of people on board. They then had employees count the number of people on board again after we departed from Maalaea Harbor. I have never seen this before and am not sure why they were so particular about the photo. I tried to talk my way out of having to have my photo taken to no avail. I wonder if they have funding or grants tied to the number of people they take on tours?

Other than this, I only have great things to say about whale watching in Maui and the Pacific Whale Foundation and its employees. I highly recommend them if you plan to join a whale watching tour while in Hawaii.

Interested in reading more? Check out the things you should know before traveling the Road to Hana here.

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Whale Watching in Maui

The One With the Embyos 

Fans of the TV show “Friends” may recognize the title of this post as the title of one of my favorite “Friends” episodes. In this episode from Season 4, one storyline follows Phoebe as she undergoes an embryo implant procedure to become a surrogate mother for her brother and his wife. The other storyline follows Rachel and Monica as they wager their apartment in a trivia game against Chandler and Joey, who would have had to get rid of their chick and duck had they lost.

At the beginning of the episode, we’re told that the chick was undergoing “changes” and becoming a rooster, meaning it was crowing each morning at sunrise, much to the girls’ dismay. At one point, Rachel mentions that she had been up since 5am that day due to “somebody’s dumbass rooster.”

This episode has come to mind for me several mornings this week because there is a rooster living nearby the condo we are staying at while here in Maui. I was startled awake the first morning by “cock-a-doodle-doo” being crowed over and over as the sun was rising. My first thought was “be quiet you dumbass rooster!” and then I thought of the “Friends” episode and couldn’t help but chuckle. I took the rooster crowing as a sign to get up and enjoyed the sunrise from our balcony. It was beautiful, definitely something to crow about. Since then, I have learned to ignore him. He can crow but I’m staying in bed.

Here are a couple of photos from our first sunrise in Maui


Could one of these be the culprit?