Everywhere you go in Maui, you’ll see stickers, keychains and Tee shirts that say “I survived the Road to Hana” on them. The road to Hana is notorious because it is one of the most beautiful roads you will ever drive along with miles of beaches, cliffs, ocean views, waterfalls and quaint little farms but it also one of the most twisting, narrow and challenging drives with 600 hairpin bends and 54 one-lane bridges. I don’t like driving as I only learned to drive a few years ago and am still not very comfortable with it. Luckily the Banana Bungalow offers the Road to Hana as one of the free tours of the day so I didn’t have to worry about driving on my own, however on my particular tour nature got in the way and we had a little more to contend with than the twisting road so now I can really seriously say I survived the Road to Hana.
I arrived in Maui a day late because of flight problems that caused me to miss all my other flights, the Road to Hana was the first tour I did and my first full day in Maui.
The day started off early, with all of us piling into the vans at 8:30. Our first stop was the grocery store to pick up snacks and water (and for some of those eager to start the party – alcohol). Word of advice for anyone doing this tour that gets motion sickness – get medication to help you survive all the sharp turns and twists in the road. We continued on our way soon getting on the road that leads to Hana. This tour is literally more about the journey than the destination, the scenery on the way and all the interesting places to stop on the way are what makes it worth doing. Sit on the driver’s side – that’s where the best views are and keep an eye out for the funny signs along the way.
Stop 1: Banana Bread and Shave Ice
After a bit of driving our first stop was Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread where they had warm loaves of banana bread waiting for us. I got one of those and a strawberry banana shave ice which was my first experience with Hawaii-sized portions. It was pretty good and great to help cool down after being in the hot van since our air conditioner was not working but I had an even better more traditional style shave ice later on in my trip which I highly recommend waiting for if you can only try shave ice once.
Stop 2: Waianapanapa State Park
Our next stop was Waianapanapa State Park where did a little hike and I experienced the first of the Banana Bungalow guides badass-ness when they took us past a sign that basically said “death awaits you on the other side of this sign” and then hiked down the path to some freshwater cave pools. We jumped off the side of the path into the pools about a 6 foot drop and swam around in the caves for a bit. The pool was not as deep as expected and I experienced the first of our group’s misadventures when I cut my toe on the rocks on the bottom as I landed.
We then headed over to the black sand beach to swim and sunbathe. The black sand was really hot and I was surprised by how salty the water was! I’ve been in the ocean before while visiting the East Coast of Canada, but I found the Pacific Ocean to be much saltier than the Atlantic Ocean. Has anyone else noticed that?
After lounging on the beach we continued on and made a pit stop at a barbeque food truck found alongside the road, where I had chicken BBQ tacos with pineapple salsa, yum!
Stop 3: Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach
The red sand beach Kaihalulu
was our nextstop was just gorgeous. There were caves and cliffs and a big rock formation that people jumped off of but I had had enough jumping off of things for the day. The tide was pretty strong but I enjoyed swimming in it and wandering around the narrow little paths and taking photos. Care is necessary on the path to get to and from the beach as it is pretty narrow with a steep drop, our group’s second accident happened here when someone actually fell off of the path and down the side and got pretty scraped up.
Stop 4: The Kīpahulu District Bamboo Forest in Haleakala National Park
We drove another 12 miles past Hana to the Haleakala National Park in the afternoon after a full day of swimming and driving and walking around. The next activity was a hike through the bamboo forest on the 4 mile Pīpīwai Trail . We couldn’t see the Seven Sacred Pools which is normally part of the tour because there had been too much rain causing flooding. I was already pretty tired out and my cut up toe was hurting plus it was raining but I really didn’t want to miss the opportunities to do everything I could while in Maui so off I went on the hike.
It was pretty hard, we were walking up rocky steep paths made slippery by the rain and along narrow walkways through the forest and finally crossing over rocks and crossing a stream to reach the waterfall which was our whole reason for the hike. By the time we reached the waterfall, I was wet and muddy and exhausted. The scenery and diversity of environments in Maui made it worth it, though. I felt like I was walking through a humid ancient jungle.
We trekked back down and by the time I reached our vans I was so ready to head back and relax at the hostel. We made a stop at a store for “refreshments” and snacks and started the drive back. On the way back we played a game called “Bridge” which basically involved yelling out “Bridge” every time we saw one and taking a sip of our “refreshments” to amuse ourselves during the long drive.
Stop 5 The Tree:
After about an hour of driving when we were about a half an hour away from getting back to Central Maui we had to stop as there were a bunch of cars stopped in front. Our guide got out to check what was going on and came back to tell us that there was a giant tree blocking the road!
“Oh we’ll all just get out and move it,” said the guys. So we all went to look at it but it was a giant forest tree, those kind of huge trees you see in places along the Pacific Ocean like in Vancouver. It had fallen directly across the road completely blocking it and there was no way any of us could move it or that we could get around it.
We didn’t know what to do and there was no cell phone service in that area. We couldn’t take the road that went along the back of Haleakala to go around the island the opposite way because that road had been washed out by rain. Worried that a work crew might not come till morning to clear it, we decided to drive back to Hana because at least there was cell phone service there and a store where we could buy food and water if we ended up needing to spend the night sleeping in the vans.
So we drove another hour back to Hana and once there called for info and found out that there was a crew on the way to remove the tree so we turned around and started the drive back again. At this point, it was pitch dark and had started raining really heavily. Thank goodness I had taken extra motion sickness medicine with me because I don’t think I would have survived. I felt bad for our guide who was now driving this normally pretty difficult drive for the fourth time that day and under pretty bad conditions. We were still playing the “Bridge” game but at this point we were pretty sick of it, remember the 54 bridges I mentioned at the beginning? We had now passed and repassed most of them 3 times. We had a close call as we drove around a curvy corner and onto a bridge and we all yelled out “Bridggggeeeeeeeeeahhh” as we almost ran into the railing of the bridge. At another point, a cow appeared wandering along the road and we drove carefully around him. We tried to keep up our energy and stay awake and play music and games like Never Have I Ever to help keep our poor driver awake.
We made it back to where the tree was and they were just clearing off the top of the tree and allowed us to drive around it in the narrow space they had made.
I have never been so glad to get back to a hostel as I was when we finally made it there around midnight ( the tour was supposed to end at 8 pm). The whole day had felt like we were flirting with danger as we went past signs that said “Do not pass”, jumped into caves, walked narrow pathways, climbed up slippery rocks to the waterfall and finaly the tree and we had survived it all! We all joked before heading to bed that the top thing we were going to remember about the Road to Hana was the Tree and how we had narrowly escaped being under it. It was a misadventure but if anything it brought our little group of travelers closer together and we can all say we “survived the road to Hana and the Tree!”