I read way too many reviews so I was really nervous about us doing this on our own. Motion sickness. One way streets and windy roads with a drop off down a mountain on one side. Crazy drivers and locals who won't slow down. Rental car contract violations. Some people said, they saw a lot of close calls, it was awful, scary and they would never ever do it again. Other people said it wasn't so bad. The guy running our hotel orientation scared me even more. He said we'd spend $70 bucks on gas, it was a huge risk and we should leave it to the experts. I had visions of us tumbling down the side of a mountain in a horrible roll over crash. The tours were going for $125 plus per person which is really expensive for something we could do on our own. That's part of why we wanted a rental car. Mj left the decision up to me but he was pretty confident he would have no problem. I should never have doubted him.
Hana itself is unremarkable. I barely even realized we were there. The Road to Hana is all about the journey and oh my gosh it was so freaking amazing!!! In my book it was the best day of our vacation and if you go to Maui you HAVE GOT to experience this. Here are some tips.
If you or your travel partner is a confident competent driver the road to Hana is totally doable. If not, then forget it because it's a really intense drive. I tend to be a timid anxious driver. I probably would have gotten us killed or at the very least suffered a nervous breakdown but Mj handled it like a champ. All the bridges allow two way traffic but are only one lane. There are yield signs before each bridge. Everyone is supposed to take their turn crossing it with opposing traffic. There are blind curves and narrow roads the entire way but he drove slow and paid attention and he did well. I don't think I saw any stretch of road that was right next to the side of the mountain without a guardrail. Guided tours are so structured. We like the freedom to stop when we want and spend as much time as we want on each stop. It was comforting to see the tour buses along the way. It let us know that we were on track time wise but they stopped at more places then we would have wanted to and didn't stay long enough at others. I was most looking forward to Pipiwai trail and we would not have had time to do that stop the way we wanted to if we had been on a tour. He didn't say it but I think he really wanted the opportunity to handle a drive like that. It's pretty cool to be able to say you did it. Be sure to gas up in Paia if you are low on gas because it's the last chance until you come back. It only took a little over 1/4 tank of gas in our Altima.
close call: tour bus vs car
Buy the Gypsy Guide
We decided not to do a guided tour but I didn't want to do this thing blindly. If we were going to do this on our own I wanted to do it right. We needed some guidance. I read about the Gypsy Guide on Trip Advisor. It's available for iPhone and Android and is only $5 in the app store. Once you download it to your phone no cell service is required and it's GPS based so as you drive along the narrator knows exactly where you are, gives you suggestions for places to stop and guides you along the way. On the way back it provides a lot of Hawaii history that was great for keeping us occupied on the long drive home. It was perfect! The guy has a really nice voice too. It totally enhanced our experience and was so helpful. Make sure you have a car charger to keep it going. There are free Maui guides all over and one of them will have Hana information in it. Bring that along too.
Driving the Road to Hana is an all day thing because you don't just drive there and drive back. Well, you could but you would miss out on so much. Hana itself is a typical small town in Maui but the journey along the way is what makes it such an adventure. You don't want to rush and you also don't want to be stuck driving those crazy roads in the dark the whole way back. We found out that the tour buses leave at 6:15 so that was our goal. We set our alarm for 5:45 am and left the hotel by 6:25 am. Paia is the city that leads to the Road to Hana and it took us 45 minutes to get there from our hotel in Lahaina. Once you hit those narrow one lane roads you can't drive any faster then about 20-40 miles max the whole way. With stops it took us a total of 7 hours to get from Lahaina to Haleakala National Park which was our last stop. We didn't leave Haleakala until 4:30 pm so that was 10 hours spent on the way there. On the way back we hit Paia at 7:00 pm so that was 2 1/2 hours from Haleakala to Paia and then another 45 minutes to Lahaina. So without stops the drive back was 3 hours and 15 minutes. All together it was a 13 hour excursion for us. It's basically a rain forest with a road in he middle of it. There are no street lights. It gets pitch black after the sun sets so we did get caught in the dark but only towards the end of the drive. It was the only day we had to use an alarm clock. I cannot believe we were up by 7am and moving constantly every single day we were in Europe. I don't know how we did it. I could barely keep my eyes open on the way home I was so tired. I read on Trip Advisor that a lot of people rent a hotel room and stay in Hana for the night.
Plan Your Stops
You may not have time to stop at every look out spot so decide what you HAVE to see and plan around that. I had my eye on Pipiwai Trail and the bamboo forest. It's a 4 mile round trip hike and it's the very last stop so we needed to leave plenty of time for it. We didn't stop everywhere the Gypsy App suggested and I don't know what we missed out on but the four we did were AMAZING! We did Twin falls, Three bears, Waianapanapa Park including Black Sand Beach and Haleakala National Park including Pipiwai Trail, Waimoku Falls, and the Seven Sacred Pools. There was a $10 fee per car for Haleakala.
Bring food AND bug spray
It's a really long day so you will need to eat at some point. We stopped for McDonald's Egg White Delight Sandwiches for breakfast on the way in. Along the way there are plenty of roadside stands to stop for food but I was glad that we didn't have to. It saved us time. We picked up Subway the night before and stopped at Hana Bay to eat it on the way there. Most of the shops and little highway stands close at 5pm so stop for something early in the drive back if you are hungry. The mosquito's were all over Pipiwai trail. I got about 8 on one leg alone. The sad thing is that we took the time to pick up bug spray but then never put it on. You need it. And bring it with you so you can re apply after swimming.
Wear a bathing suit AND real shoes
The trails we climbed were pretty rigorous and muddy. You need comfortable shoes. Ones you can get dirty in. Some of the trails led right through streams where you literally had to hop from rock to rock to get to the other side. At Three Bears I miscalculated and my right foot sock, tennis shoe and all went in the water. At Seven Sisters it was the left. Don't think that you are better off without the wet socks. Trust me you aren't. Wet socks inside wet tennis shoes is way better then bare foot in wet shoe. Aqua socks would have been perfect to carry along and waterproof hiking boots would have been ideal. We did our first stop with flip flops and that was pushing it. We saw people doing Pipiwei in flip flops and I don't know how they made it. The tennis shoes I brought were my older back up set and I literally threw them in the trash at our last stop. Mj planned on keeping his but after zip lining AND Hana he ended up trashing his too. If you want to experience swimming in a waterfall and trust me, you do, wear a bathing suit under your clothes. There are signs warning of flash floods but none telling you that you can't get in. We each carried really light nylon backpacks with us. The camera mostly stayed around our necks.
Drive back the way you came
Apparently, if you continue forward after Haleakala National Park and leave that way making a full circle instead of leaving the way you came there are some interesting sights. If you do that you are taking a huge risk because the roads are really bad, there is no cell reception and if you get stuck out there you are on your own. The Gypsy narrator explicitly advises you that if you go that way the Gypsy tour is over. It's so risky that it invalidates your rental contract if you break down or cause damage to the car out there. I didn't even bother to check ours. Even if we wanted to we were running out of time. I already knew it was a risk we didn't want to take. We took the longer and relatively safer way back.
My next post will be about the four AMAZING stops we did. I meant to fit Hana into one post but I just couldn't do it!
The Road to Hana Sights