The road to Hana starts here


  • July 21, 2021
  • Tips
  • By: Britt Mattie

Pretty sure whoever came up with the saying, “It’s about the journey, not the destination,” was talking about the Road to Hana. Lush, winding, curvy, steep, and sort of dangerous but totally thrilling—Hana Highway’s mile markers are a little screwy and local drivers can be a little agro, but it’s a road trip not to forgo while on the island of Maui wowie.

Although the drive only takes about three hours straight through, it’s impossible to do it all in one day. Do yourself a solid, get your ass up at the butt crack of dawn, and beat the flood of traffic and crowds—there’s a lot of literal and figurative ground to cover. From juicy pineapples, macadamia coffee, fresh ahi, and moist banana bread to sculpted lava rock, cliffs cloaked in green, misty waterfalls with pools, bamboo forests, and white, black, and red sand beaches—Highway 36 (or Hana Highway) may be just one long, narrow two-way road, but it’s easy to get lost in the right direction.


Come for the adventure, stay for the aloha. North Shore’s Pa’ia was once an old sugar cane plantation town that has since turned into a funky yet trendy haven for hippies, yogis, surfers, and transients alike. Even with one little stoplight, Paia has become an unassuming hub of swimwear boutiques, surf rentals, quaint coffee shops and cafes, art galleries, natural food markets, yoga studios, tattoo and massage parlors, unique shops, and local restaurants—a destination reminiscent of a laid-back 60’s California beach town with Polynesian culture weaved in.

The Paia Inn is a boho-chic upscale hotel is next to the Paia Fish Market and Maui Crafts Guild, and just steps from a 3-mile stretch of white sand beach and world-class waves in the hippie surf town of Paia. Enveloped in a historic cottage-like building from 1927, Paia Inn attracts romantics and vagabonds alike to enjoy simple island life in one of its open-air rooms with Bali-inspired architecture and design. Don’t checkout before heading down to the inn’s VANA restaurant, sushi, and cocktail bar. Get down on some tapas, Japanese-inspired dishes, and craft cocktails—all crafted from locally grown/sourced ingredients from the surrounding farms and waters.


Just up the road from Paia is Ho’okipa Beach—known for beastly waves and even better winds among its deep-water reef system that stretches across the whole bay. Depending on the time of year you venture here, you may get to see “Jaws” show its teeth in all its glory. Bringing in the best surfers and windsurfers from all around the globe, not to mention the local lineup of Maui’s homegrown rippers, spectators get a front-row seat to some of the best kitesurfing, windsurfing, and surfing on the island.

The Beach Park provides ample vantage points including picnic tables, an observation deck, and lookout points from the cliffs. People high and low watch the action unfold as surf’s finest scream down the face of the largest, heaviest, and fastest wave of the Pacific Ocean. In the meantime, there are usually a few food trucks with local cuisine and fresh coconuts. At sunset, head down to the rocks to buddy up to some Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles (Honu) who often come up onto shore at golden hour.


Should you pull off and get your feet dirty for anything on the Hana Highway, it should be for the Pipiwai Trail. The idyllic hike unfolds alongside a string of (many more than seven) “sacred pools” and stunning af waterfalls, framed by a verdant, lush scene of tropical rainforest. Wooden boardwalks and bridges are built to help voyagers trek across marshy ground or flowing streams which can rise significantly in flash floods and after heavy rain.
Throughout the trail, the landscape morphs into immense bamboo forests that create archways to walk through with utter zen-oneness. The final destination, being Waimoku Falls, cascades dramatically a cool 400 ft. down a plunging sheer lava rock wall shaped like a horseshoe covered in ferns and vegetation. The four-mile roundtrip hike gains 650 ft. of elevation and takes anywhere from 2 1/2 to 5 hours to hike—depending on how much nature loving you do. Lace-up in some Lems to tackle the trail.


For the snack-driven adventurer, the Road to Hana can be a rude awakening if not properly prepared. With very few places to stop and eat a full meal along the journey, Nahiku Marketplace comes as a welcome surprise for weary travelers that have been backpacking it for the better part of the day. A little more than halfway down the Highway to Hana Town, a foodie oasis and mini-village of tropical delights suddenly materializes around the bend. Don’t even think about passing by; park it and fuel up on a hot cup of Hawaiian kope and native “ono grinds” (delicious food).

Home to a strip of low-key outdoor dining options, including Nahiku Cafe, Island Chef, Island Style Tacos, Hana Highway Sorbet, and My Thai, among other local vendors that rotate in and out of the area. After some moist banana bread, a paper plate of coconut beer-battered shrimp and chips, and lilikoi flavored sorbet for the road, grab some Maui memorabilia, local art, and a vintage postcard or two.


Make this road trip a reality by keeping a weathered eye on flights, affordable deals have been popping up frequently for trips to Hawaii. When you get there, score a jeep rental and hit the concrete, and don’ forget to tag all photos with @CYTIES.