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Maui Family Travel: Days 5 & 6 The Road to Hana and Maui’s best secret

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Day 5—The Road to Hana

Me: “My goal on the road to Hana is to hike to a waterfall and eat a lot of fruit from the fruit stands.”

Jamie (driver): “My goal is to not throw up or kill anyone.”

Driving the 52-mile serpentine road along Maui’s rugged northeastern coastline to Hana was a divisive issue. Some told us “it’s pretty but after you’ve seen one waterfall you’ve seen them all” while others touted Hana as the last of Hawaii’s unspoiled frontiers. Our conclusion: if you love the remote and don’t mind hairpin turns and one-lane bridges, you will love Hwy. 36’s stunning seascapes, taro patches waterfalls, botanical gardens and verdant rainforests. 

Puaʻa Kaʻa State Wayside Park

Puaʻa Kaʻa State Wayside Park

With our guidebook Maui Revealed in hand, we had our route mapped out and planned to hike to a few lesser-known waterfalls. We quickly realized that other than obtuse mile markers, very few of the landmarks were marked, a curious phenomenon in a tourism-dominated land. We inadvertently drove past most of them in the beginning, after which we’d jokingly announce, “OK, moving on.”

Our drive wasn’t a complete fail. We did have a lovely respite at Puaʻa Kaʻa State Wayside Park’s 5 acres of rainforest with waterfalls and pools. We took frequent car breaks to play Tarzan on banyan tree vines to give my carsick daughter respite from the 620 curves on the drive.

Ching’s Pond (Blue Sapphire Pool)’s plunging pools near marker 17 was a lovely lesser-known refuge with waterfalls tucked under a bridge.  After climbing down a steep, narrow path, we dipped our toes into the icy waters that were laced with petals. To coax my daughter in, Jamie told her “Think of it as a fancy bathtub with flowers everywhere.” Or rather, ice cubes….

Our favorite place in Maui was hidden just past mile marker 25: lower Nahiku. We turned off the highway and drove 2.5 miles through a lush unbroken jungle canopy, where even the trees had plants growing on them. The road was lined with rubber trees and tropical flowers in a flamboyant Dr. Seuss-colors-meet-the -Emerald City. The road dead-ended at Opuhano Point with the best coastal views of our drive. The angry ocean pounded the lava rock, palm fronds prayed in the wind. More white than blue, white caps reigned as we marveled at Honolulunui Bay to our left. “What is this place?” we breathed.



I wished I could absorb the colors, sounds and smell of this place and throw them back at reality.

 As you get closer to Hana, there are more frequent fruit stands (many of which are left unattended and you pay by the honor system). We stopped at Coconut Glen’s and though I didn’t love the dairy-free coconut ice cream made with coconut milk (not creamy and sweet enough) the coconut candy was out of this world. If I hadn’t blown my kids’ inheritance on the marginally good candy at Julia’s, I’d have bought out the store.

 One of the most popular beaches outside of Hana is Wai‘anapanapa State Park. Famous for its black sand, we loved this 122-acre park but not just because of its small beach with black marble rocks.  We took a short hike through the native hala forest and Hadley hurled off the ledge into a fresh-water cave. We also explored the low-cliffed volcanic coastline to the natural stone arch, sea stacks, anchialine pools, heiau (religious temple) and blow holes as a seabird colony squawked overhead.



 Want to eat past 4 p.m.? Good luck finding a restaurant or food truck that is open. Need to get some money? The bank is only open a couple of hours a day. Our Hana frustrations were also why we loved it so much. Most people only daytrip to Hana but I’m so glad we spent a glorious 24 hours in this unapologetically remote, virtually untouched coastal village dotted with cascading waterfalls and sparkling blue pools, punctuated by red- and black-sand beaches.

 And tell me if the road to Hana isn’t worth every twist and turn to get there.

 Day 6—Hana and South Maui

Hike to Fagan's Cross

Hike to Fagan’s Cross

We stayed at Travaasa’s experiential resort we had our first real golf experience on the 3-hole pitch and putt golf course, took ukulele lessons, played tennis, checked out their bikes to explore Hana, swam in the pool and learned Hana’s history at the Activity Center.

On the green hills above Travaasa stands a 30-foot-high white cross made of lava rock that citizens erected in honor of Paul Fagan, founder of Hana Ranch (now Travaasa). At sunrise, I hiked the 1-mile trail through a field of cattle to Fagan’s Cross. As the sun crept above the ocean, I marveled at Hana, a tiny postage stamp of a town dwarfed by a land where mountains meet the sea. Perched above an avalanche of banyans, bamboo, breadfruit trees and a wild ginger and plumeria flowers, the summit smelled like a botanical garden and I was singing Hana’s praises along with the roosters and birds.

Hamoa Beach. We had a glorious few hours playing at this crescent-shaped hala-tree-lined beach that is consistently ranked one of Maui’s top beaches. The beach is intimate—approximately 1,000 feet in length and just over 100 feet wide with plenty of trees and vegetation for shade with sea cliffs framing it.

During our visit, the highway was closed, leaving the only parking nearly a mile away. We saw a dad drop off his family, park the car and run back. We were vacillating between Hamoa and the more easily accessible Hana Beach Park so we queried “How good is it?” He replied, “It’s the best bodysurfing you’ll find on the island. The water is crystal-clear and there are no crowds.” It was just that good.

Hamoa Beach

Hamoa Beach

Seven Sacred Pools. Just 15 minutes south of Hana on the lower slopes of Haleakala are the Seven Sacred Pools (originally coined the Pools of ‘Ohe’o). There are several hiking trails in the area and we opted for the ½-mile round-trip Kuloa Point Trail through a bamboo forest to these infamously tiered pools that are fed by waterfalls.  

Seven sacred pools

Seven sacred pools

The pools get busy but we were miraculously alone so Hadley jumped in, and despite her relentless begging, the rest of us killjoys stayed dry. And yes, would live to regret it just as she said we would.

 The Road Less Traveled. We had two options leaving Hana. We could either return the way we came on the Hana Highway or attempt the less-traveled, more adventurous route along the Piilani Highway (Highway 31). We chose adventure.

 We received many cautionary tales against driving the Piilani Highway. Sure, it had a bumpy along the 4-mile stretch of unpaved road, the occasional blind curves added an element of difficulty and the one-and-a-half-lane-hugging-cliff-hugging section wasn’t fun but we loved this adventure of it.

 At least I did: the non-driver.

Pokowai sea arch

Pokowai sea arch

But we took it slow and there were plenty of worthwhile sights along this sometimes-perilous journey that included famed aviator Charles Lindbergh’s grave, Alelele Falls, St. Joseph’s historic church, Pu’u Maneoneo Petroglyphs and Pokowai sea arch. We passed through several climate zones along the ocean as the virgin rainforest flanked by jade mountains gave way to the backside of Haleakala, ranchland, dry grassland, lavascapes reminiscent of Mordor and ultimately back into the lush green views of Kula’s cloud forest.

From Kipahulu it may be 38 miles to Kula, but it will likely take you about two hours to arrive. This drive isn’t for everyone but we appreciated the stark and dramatic scenery that was devoid of tourist infrastructure. Our guidebook referred to this part of the island as ugly but surely they haven’t driven Wyoming anytime recently.

Maui doesn’t know how to do ugly.


Join us on our week-long journey to Maui! In case you missed them:
Maui Family Travel–Your guide to 7 days in paradise Days 1 & 2
Maui Family Travel: Days 3 and 4 in the Glorious Upcountry and Beach Bums
Maui Family Travel: Days 5 & 6 The Road to Hana and Maui’s Best-kept Secret
Maui Family Travel: Day 7′s “Sunny” Wailea and a Luau Farewell
4 kid-friendly Maui hotels and resorts your family will love

Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

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