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What to Know Before Driving the Road to Hana

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It’s Aloha Friday, and this week you are in for a treat! On our anniversary trip to Maui, we drove the famous Road to Hana, or Hana Highway. This breath-taking drive is absolutely worth your while, but there are definitely some things to know before you go!

Know Your Options

There are three ways to experience the Road to Hana:

  • With a tour group. There are several companies that will pick you up at your accommodation and drive you on the Road to Hana.
    • Pros:
      • Someone else is driving!
      • You can look out the windows instead of watching the road
      • A local will be telling you about the points of interest that you may not know about on your own
    • Cons:
      • You’re on someone else’s timeframe
      • You may not get to see everything you want
      • You will not have time to hike the trails
  • Self-drive. You can drive yourself!
    • Pros:
      • Start and end when you want
      • Stop as often or as little as you want
    • Cons:
      • Will inevitably miss some interesting sites as many are unmarked
      • Risk getting caught on the road after dark
  • Self-drive with an app. The best of both worlds! This is the option we chose because we knew we would want to stop more often than most people, and we knew we would be up super early to start on the road before everyone else.
    • Pros: 
      • Start and end when you want
      • The app will tell you when you’re approaching an interesting site
      • The app will tell you where to park (often parking is past the site)
      • The app uses GPS but does not require data or cellular service, so you can turn off the data and cellular service in your settings, or simply leave your phone in airplane mode to save the battery and your data
      • The information you hear in the app will help you determine if an upcoming site is worth stopping for, or if it’s something you’d prefer to skip
    • Cons:
      • We did not find a free app, so you will spend $5-6 for the app
      • The app uses a lot of battery (bring a car charger or external charger for an easy fix)
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Road to Hana App Interface
Preparation is Key
  • Fill it up! There are no gas stations on the Road to Hana until you get to Hana, so be sure to start your journey with a full tank in Paia before you start!
  • Start early. Beat the crowds and enjoy the road to yourself for a little while and start your journey by 8:00am. We did this our first full day on Maui to use our 6-hour jet lag to our advantage!
  • Make a plan. You’re on vacation, you want to wing it! But you will be glad to have a rough outline of the things you want to do and see so you don’t miss out. Pick three or four “must dos” and add in a few stops that catch your eye along the way.
  • Download the Road to Hana app for your smartphone. It will be $4.99 well spent! Another popular one is the GyPSy app, so look at them to compare for yourself and get the one you think is best. This was invaluable for our drive because it works without data or cell service, and the app tells you where to stop. Many of the interesting sites on the Road to Hana are not marked, but the app will not only tell you where they are but also where to park and where to best view each site.
  • Expect to lose cell service. Don’t get frustrated, just know it’s coming and enjoy it! That’s also why it’s important to have an app. It works without data or wifi, so you don’t get lost or miss anything along the way.
  • Practice your backing skills. Seriously. The road is curvy and narrow, and in some areas you may have to back up to let someone else pass. This is not the moment to be selfish (even if you are convinced you have the right-of-way), so just make sure you can back up and keep it between the lines.
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Blind, one-lane turn on the Road to Hana.
What to Bring
  • Cash. You can support the locals, enjoy an authentic island experience, and bring home a little bit of Maui by stopping at the roadside stands along the Road to Hana, but only if you bring cash! Don’t forget to hit up the ATM or bring enough cash with you to the island.
  • Food and water. There are some awesome roadside stands where you can stop for nourishment along the Road to Hana, but you do not want to be hangry or dehydrated on this winding, often one-lane road! Bring some bottles of water, trail mix, jerky, sandwiches, protein bars, or whatever else you think you might want for a snack and for lunch. You’d rather have too much than not enough!
  • Your patience. It’s a small road, often only one lane, and there will be people driving in both directions! Be kind and considerate. Hawaiians are incredibly friendly and helpful people!
  • Your bathing suit and a towel. There are plenty of swimming holes and waterfalls to enjoy along the way, so wear your bathing suit under your clothes and take full advantage! Bring a towel and possibly a change of clothes, too.
  • Sunscreen. It’s paradise, partly because of all the gorgeous sunshine! So don’t leave sunscreen off your packing list. Remember to reapply after you get out of the water!
  • Water shoes. Those rocks at the swimming holes, waterfalls, and beaches can be slippery and rough, too! So be sure to pack a pair of water shoes to keep yourself safe.
  • Bug repellent. There are beautiful hiking trails along the way, too, so don’t forget the bug repellent! You will be itching later (and for the rest of your trip) if you don’t. It’s not a bad idea to bring some itch cream with you, too, just in case!
  • Hiking shoes and socks. Speaking of hiking trails, those aforementioned water shoes won’t cut it! Bring a sturdy pair and some socks so you can explore the rainbow eucalyptus trees and more!
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We sure had to walk an hour and a half through the mud to get here, but boy was it worth it!
Driving Tips
  • Bridge etiquette: If you come to a bridge and another car is coming the opposite direction, treat it like a two-way stop. If cars are backed up, Maui’s general policy is to let 4-5 cars pass at a time, then 4-5 cars on your side.
  • Honking: It’s not a matter of rudeness, it’s a matter of getting noticed! There are over 600 twists and turns on the Road to Hana, and some of them are so sharp you can’t see around them. The solution is to listen for a honk coming from the other side, and also honk your own horn to let others know you’re coming.
  • Don’t be caught in the dark. Be sure you are able to get back to your accommodation elsewhere on the island, or find your accommodation in Hana before dark. You want to be able to see the beauty, plus it’s less than 100% safe to be driving on an unfamiliar, winding, one-lane road in the dark!
  • Pull over! Believe it or not, there are plenty of areas where you can pull off to the side to let someone safely pass. Locals do live back here, and the slow-moving visitors can (understandably) get on their nerves. If you notice a car or perhaps several cars lining up behind you, kindly pull over to let them pass.
  • Don’t be alarmed when they honk. When someone honks as they pass you, they are just saying thank you! They’re not upset with you. Coming from D.C., this was a tip we had to remind ourselves of several times!
  • Stay on your side. This may seem obvious, but it was scary how many vehicles seemed to want to take their half of the road up the middle instead of keeping to their designated side of the road, especially when there is a double yellow line!
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Don’t be afraid to honk if you can’t see around a corner or a hill!
What to Do
  • Stop for banana bread. Every list of things to do on the Road to Hana included a stop for banana bread. And my list does, too! You won’t be sorry.
  • Get out and hike. This is the reason many people brave the Road to Hana! There are several trails accessible from the side of the road, many of which lead to waterfalls, beaches, or stunning views in the jungle!
  • Get out and look. There are any number of scenic lookout points, so don’t focus so much on getting to the destination and back as quickly as you can–enjoy the journey and take a look!
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Stepping out to enjoy the waterfalls along the way!
Our Recommendations
  • Take your time. Neither my husband Steve nor I enjoy driving all that much, so we knew we wanted to take our time and keep our stress level low. We did not want to force ourselves to go all the way through and back in just one day! So we opted to spend two nights at a HomeAway vacation rental just outside of Hana. We are so glad we did, and we recommend that you take your time, too, if at all possible. Stay tuned for our 2-Day Road to Hana Itinerary coming soon!
  • Start early. Again, get out and go! Utilize your jet lag if you’re coming from points east of Hawaii, and beat the crowds. We started on the road at 6:30am the first and second days of our journey, and we got some pretty special experiences all to ourselves.
  • Bring motion sickness meds if needed. Neither Steve nor I had motion sickness issues, but if you or someone in your car is prone to motion sickness, bring a remedy. Some of the roadside stands on the Road to Hana also offer “Hana Tonic” shots, so if you didn’t bring a remedy with you, try one of those!
  • Act like your trunk is empty. Theft is not a serious problem along the Road to Hana, but we were warned more than once, by more than one person, to be smart when they found out we’d be staying along the Road to Hana for a couple of nights. Put your belongings in the trunk, close it, and do not open it again until you reach your accommodation. Make sure you have everything you’ll need for the day available in a day pack that you plan to take with you every time you get out to hike or admire an overlook. Don’t be paranoid, but also don’t take an unnecessary chance.
  • Have a designated photographer. If you’re driving the Road to Hana with others, be sure to designate at least one person to take photos while the driver focuses on the Road. Some of the most beautiful photos can be taken as you’re crossing the one-lane bridges, and the passenger seat has the best views. Extra tip: get a FlyGrip or other phone grip if using a phone for pictures or a camera strap if using a traditional camera; your designated photographer will inevitably want to take some photos out the window, and no one wants to lose either a phone or an expensive camera!
  • Rent a car you’re comfortable driving. Size doesn’t really matter for your rental car. While researching for our trip,I saw people recommending 4-wheel drive only, convertibles, the tiniest car possible, etc. In reality, you should rent a car you’ll be comfortable driving. Huge tow trucks drive this road, so whatever you get will be smaller than that! For us, we liked having an SUV so we were sitting up higher and able to see around the overgrowth surrounding the roads and bridges. We did not need 4-wheel drive, even through we went all the way down to Charles Lindbergh’s gravesite, at the very end of the Road to Hana.
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Want to ensure you get some pictures without anyone else in them? Start early!

Are you ready for your Road to Hana journey? You can do it!

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