Thank goodness the industrious road-making Romans didn’t make it to Hawaii. When the Romans constructed a road, they ignored all geographical oddities in pursuit of path perfection. Ploughing into and over mountains, they were famed for creating incredibly straight routes from A to B. Had they arrived in Maui, there’s a possibility the glorious road to Hana would not be the higgledy-piggledy windy wonder that it is.
And windy wonder it most certainly is. With an impressive 620 hairpin bends and 59 bridges traversing just 52 miles, the road to Hana is a road trippers dream. The Road to Hana is one of those routes where the journey is more important than the destination. In fact, due to its popularity, several entrepreneurial businesses have sprung up along the road, making the ride or drive a day trip in itself. Stopping at the Halfway to Hana café, the Garden of Eden, Twin Falls waterfalls and Coconut Glen’s vegan ice cream shack are all part of the enjoyment of travelling here.
I cycled the Road to Hana (until I got an un-mendable puncture on my hire bike – boo), and my friend drove. So here are two variations on a very fun theme.
Cycling the Road to Hana
The Road to Hana is spectacular on a bike for two reasons;
- The scenery is epic;
- Swooping down the tarmac on two wheels on a road with this many curves is crazy fun.
The downside to all this joyous journeying is the traffic. There are cars, and LOTS of them. Being a tourist route, many drivers are paying attention to their surroundings rather than the road, and pull over where they are not supposed to or slow down to take pictures. Most drivers are considerate to cyclists, but not all. The locals especially have no qualms about going far too fast and pushing cyclists up against cliff walls. A mirror, a helmet and common sense are required to ride this road. Having said that, bad drivers are everywhere, so it’s not something particular to this road; it’s just something to be aware of.
To avoid the worst of the traffic, start your journey super early in the morning or mid-afternoon. Most road trippers leave after breakfast, spend a few hours driving to Hana, then turn around and come back late in the afternoon. Leaving early (before they do) or mid-afternoon (before they are on the return journey) means you will be subject to a bit less traffic.
The road is quite narrow a lot of the time and the first stretch has a lot of hills – in the wrong direction. Hawaiian heat and humidity is a hard companion when slogging uphill, as you will if you cycle to, rather than from, Hana. But the views are worth it. When you do get downhills, they tend to be steep, thrilling and fast. Make sure you’ve got good brakes and are visible to oncoming traffic. The road isn’t always perfectly paved, so keep your eyes open for potholes, bumps, debris and surface water.
Not only does the road hug the coast, delivering superb ocean panoramas, but it is also carved in to the cliffs, winds in to jungles, and bridges over waterfalls. If you stopped for every photo opportunity you wouldn’t get anywhere. Do, however, make stops to swim in a waterfall, eat an ice cream or just take in the beauty around you. Make sure to take sun cream and plenty of water too. It is hot out there!
I only got as far as Coconut Glen’s, as that is where the un-mendable puncture happened. Against my better judgement I had hired a road bike as it was cheaper than hiring a hybrid or a mountain bike. The hired bike had ridiculously skinny tyres which just didn’t like all the bumps in the road. I didn’t check the tool kit that came with the bike, and when I opened it up there was no puncture repair kit. Lesson learned: always check what comes in a hire kit or take your own tools. Getting the puncture sucked, as most of the ride had been uphill to this point, and I missed out on what looked to be some really fun downhill sections. However, if you’re going to get a puncture you might as well get one near an ice cream shack. Silver linings.
I didn’t get to Hana, as my friend had already arrived there in the car and had to back track to rescue me. When she did, we drove back along the Road to Hana, but in this direction it should be known as the Road to Paia. Seeing it from a car was very different – much faster, much less effort, and far less fun. Yes, struggling up a steep incline on a bike in the heat isn’t for everyone, but having air con, a radio, and things whizz by you at speed loses most of the enjoyment of travelling along a road like this – at least I think so. I know many would not agree!
Driving the Road to Hana
As mentioned before, my friend drove the Road to Hana. This is a far easier though far less fun way to do it (in my opinion), but here’s a sweet little section of the Road to Hana. We had a GoPro on the hood of the Jeep. Spoiler alert! If you want to ride this, don’t watch the vid – seeing everything for the first time on a bike rather than a video is waaaaayyy better.
The starting point for the Road to Hana is Paia, a cheery town rammed with bars, independent shops and cafes. Paia is chilled, laid back and hippie, with organic this and vegan that, some cool galleries and lots to look at. Once you’ve got your food/coffee/hippy fix, head on to the road and start making your way to Hana…
Between Paia and Hana there are all sorts of treasures to explore – just take your pick as you ride or drive along. There are plenty of stops for photos, food and local goods, from family run roadside stalls to small businesses, and loads of welcoming waterfalls to take a dip in on a hot day. Exactly halfway to Hana is a cafe of the same name, which claims to serve up the best banana bread on the route. Asides from this, top picks to visit are Twin Falls (at mile marker 2), the Garden of Eden Arboretom (mile marker 10) and the Hana Lava Tube (mile marker 31).
Hana is your final destination. It is a small town with a handful of eateries and attractions. The main purpose of going to Hana is getting there. Now you’ve done that – treat yourself to something tasty and either head to a hotel or campsite or drive back to Paia. There is a road that continues from Hana to Piilani Highway, an extremely narrow and stretch prone to avalanches and with huge drops from the road straight to the ocean. As such, it’s ranked as ‘dangerous’. I would have loved to have cycled it to see quite how dodgy and impassible it is, but that will have to wait for another day.
If you visit Maui, the Road to Hana has to be on your bucket list. It is a stunningly beautiful road with lots to see and do, but the main enjoyment comes from simply riding or driving the road itself.
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As the road to Hana is so windy, and the drivers occasionally dubious, it’s well worth having a mirror on your bike (or two). I always have a mirror on my bike, or take one with me to put on a hire bike if I rent one – I feel it is an essential piece of kit every time you cycle. It’s crucial to continue looking over your shoulder to have eye to eye contact with drivers, but a mirror gives that extra piece of mind for whatever is going on behind you!
I learned the hard way; if you don’t have a puncture repair kit, you can kiss goodbye to continuing down the Road to Hana. How did I manage to overlook something so important? By trusting the bicycle hire shop! A mistake I won’t be doing again. You only need a very basic kit to get you to the nearest town with a bike shop. Just a few patches, a pump and tyre levers will do the trick. Don’t let your ride get ruined by not having one!
This is just a fun camera to have to shoot your trips. Stick it on your helmet, on your handlebars, on your bag, anywhere. The GoPro for this post was placed on the hood of the hire car, but on other trips I’ve had it on my bike helmet, on a pack raft, a canoe, all sorts. It’s a great way to recollect memories and share your experiences with others. If you have a GoPro, it’s best to also invest in a and , just in case.
Be safe – be seen! A hi vis jacket is essential on the Road to Hana, as all the twists, turns, trees and water reflections make it hard for drivers to see cyclists – not to mention they are mostly looking at the scenery and not the road! It’s better to be safe than sorry, so don a hi vis prior to pedalling.
You Can Do It!
- When you arrive on Maui, there is an information stand at the airport. The magazines and leaflets often have discounts and savings, but they vary. Flick through them and see if there is anything worth picking up.
- There are free maps showing the Road to Hana available at the airport and tourist information centres. As it’s only one road, it’s impossible to get lost, but it’s always nice to have a map and see where you are and what attractions are nearby.
- There is very little cell phone reception along the route. Paia and Hana have reception, but much of the actual road doesn’t. However, there are lots of businesses along the route so if you get stuck (like I did), ask nicely and you may be able to use a landline in an emergency.
- Start early or late to avoid the tourist rush.
- If you want to stay in Hana, book in advance. Accommodation is limited and permits must be acquired for the campsite.
- Both bike and car hire is available in Maui. If cycling, go for a mountain bike or take a good repair kit and spare tyre!
Top free attractions
The Road to Hana itself is THE top free attraction.
Twin Falls Waterfalls (and hike to it)
Top paid attractions
Coconut Glen’s Ice Cream (Mile Marker 27.5)
Hana Ranch Restaurant
Start with a breakfast in Paia to set you up for the day. I ate at Charley’s which do huge plates of filling grub. If you’re lucky, their famous regular Willie Nelson might pop by unannounced to play a tune or two while you eat. The Halfway to Hana Café is a nice place to stop purely because it’s the halfway landmark. It’s not much more than a small building with a couple of sheltered picnic benches, a porta loo and a car park. I was imagining, from all the hype, that it would be a tourist attraction with souvenirs and was disappointed I couldn’t buy a tacky keepsake. I only ate ice cream here (if I knew I would be stranded and eating ice cream a lot more I probably wouldn’t have!) but it was tasty. They serve more substantial food too such as burgers and sandwiches. Coconut Glen’s does some of the best ice cream in the world so it would be wrong not to try it. As I didn’t get to Hana, the Hana Ranch Restaurant recommendation is based on my friends opinion. She had some sort of grilled shrimp and said it was delicious. I, meanwhile, continued to eat my way through all of Coconut Glen’s ice cream offerings while waiting to be rescued!
If you are cycling, you could do the ride over two days. Cycle to Hana on day 1, then spend the night in the free campsite at xxx, xxx miles further on. Return the following day to Paia. This way you get to spend time exploring some of the attractions en route and avoid the worst of the traffic in both directions.
If you are driving, you can easily do the trip in one day. Stay at the starting point of Paia, with its laid-back vibe and ample eateries. You can use my TRVL site to find your perfect accommodation. I get a small commission when people book accommodation through this site, so would appreciate it if you do!
Road to Hana Gallery