The Road to Hana

Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
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Flag of United States  , Hawaii
Monday, December 31, 2007

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The Road to Hana


If you like traveling, "The road to ---- " is a phrase that is an instant attention getter because it implies:

- the destination is worth traveling to
- the road to get there is of special interest

Today's destination - the town of Hana, located at the east end of Maui - would certainly fall into this category.

It seems to be the only destination in Hawaii that is usually prefixed with "The Road to ---". Therefore to enjoy the beauty and isolation of Hana, unless you fly or take a boat, you have some serious but interesting driving to deal with.

Well if today's drive is officially billed as "The Road to Hana", then yesterday's eight mile white knuckle drive should "unofficially" be dubbed "The Midway Drive to Waihee" based on the thrills it provided. (See previous blog.)

Getting back to "The Road to Hana", the road can be summarized with the following statistics: it is a 52 mile long road, it takes about 3 hours to drive it without stops for sightseeing and we were told that there are 612 curves in the road, many of which are hairpin curves with limited visibility.

Driving to Hana from our location in Honokowai, near Lahaina, is almost the longest distance that one can drive on the island of Maui as the drive is 85 miles from one extreme of the island to the other.

In a perfect world we would have had reservations for accommodations in Hana. This would have made the trip a lot less rushed. This was not an option as Honokowai was the only "reasonably" priced accommodation available on the whole island at the time we made the reservation in October 2007.

The Hana Highway no. 38 or "The Road to Hana" follows the north coast of Maui from the island's biggest city, Kahului to the eastern tip of the island located near the town of Hana.

Because of the 612 hairpin curves along the way, the drive is renowned throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Needless to say, 612 curves are synonymous with mountains, the sea and by default - spectacular scenery.

It was a road I would have enjoyed driving myself in a manual shift car. Neither the latter or the former were going to happen as Barbara ended up as the sole driver of our rental car (Blog ----) and renting car with a manual transmission is a rare if not impossible option on the Hawaiian Islands.

Eight miles after leaving Kahului we stopped for a coffee in the town of Haiku. Just walking around briefly looking for a coffee shop convinced us to explore this town further upon our return on the same day and we even came back a few days later. There was a good feel about Haiku.

Perhaps because of its isolation at the end of a difficult road, Hana has earned several monikers such as "the last Hawaiian place" and "heavenly Hana".

I was particularly fascinated by the "heavenly Hana" moniker. Where did that come from?

I know it is very isolated, beautiful and reflects the "last Hawaiian place". I wonder is it "heavenly" also for having one of highest beer consumptions per capita in the U.S.

Is there excessive consumption of more "happiness" inducing substances than in other parts of Hawaii? The answer seems to be "yes".

In the age group of 13-25, it is estimated that 14.8% use some form of illicit drugs and 33.8% participate in binge consumption. Hana district (East Maui) residents ranked drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and child abuse as the top three health and human concerns.

Furthermore, Hana's geographic remoteness has isolated the community in an epidemic of negative health influences (i.e. abuse of alcohol, marijuana, "ice", cocaine and "crack") that threatens the entire ohana (extended family). Perhaps the isolation of the community would make it difficult for the long arm of the law to reach in this area to deal with some of the social problems.

(source: http://www.ohanamakamae.org)

The bottom line is that there is trouble brewing in paradise. But then when it comes to drugs and alcohol, what part of the world is immune? I only have to walk a couple of blocks into downtown Prince George at any given point in time to see raw evidence of alcohol and drug abuse.

If you live in a part of the world where these problems are unknown or blended well into the background, let me know. Maybe I can arrange to move there.

So I am not quite sure whether the moniker "heavenly" is intended to have a double meaning. I opt for the side of caution and conclude that it is named thus for its beautiful geographic location and its feel of "old Hawaii".

About the drive of 612 curves, it is definitely more difficult driving to Hana than the return trip. The reason is that on the drive there, we drove inches from a rock wall around many of those curves. Visibility of course was limited and therefore every curve must be driven with the assumption that there is a car coming from the opposite direction. That requires a lot of attention and a minimum of back seat driving from me for the sanity of Barbara the driver.

Driving back was easier since the view around curves was not blocked by a rock wall since the ocean was now on our right side. That is not to say it was without danger as often the shoulder was very narrow with no guard rails to keep an errant car on the road.

Mercifully, unlike in South America, there were no wrecked cars to be found in the valleys below nor crosses by the side of the road to mark the event. On the other hand the thick vegetation would swallow up any evidence of a car pretty quickly.

The difficult driving conditions however do not dissuade on the average 300 rental car drivers daily who launch themselves onto this beautiful coastal road to Hana.

Along the way, we made a stop at Waikamoi Nature Trail to stretch our legs. There was plenty of evidence of a rain forest type of environment as a succession of hikers who came out of the trail seemed to be in competition with each other as to who could be most covered in mud.

To minimize the mud we took the advice of one party and walked along the trail in the reverse direction for about 15 minutes. Having kept ourselves relatively mud free to this point, worsening conditions caused us to quickly beat a retreat.

The drive to Hana is full of spectacular vistas to the sea below as the road undulates through torturous territory along the coast. Since Maui is an island of valleys, each valley juts towards the sea. In each of these valleys runs a stream which has to be crossed by the Hana Highway. That makes for 54 single-lane bridges which have to be cautiously crossed.

While the drive is fabulous, the end - heavenly Hana - does not come too soon, keeping in mind that on the same day we have to drive back to Lahaina.

The town is made up of modest homes built on a slope towards the sea. The center of activity is the Hasegawa General Store. It is noteworthy for its selection of merchandise arranged in the most haphazard and cavalier manner not to mention a freezer, covered in rust, that probably came from the era of the original Hasegawa who founded the store.

The other option is the Hana Store at the Hana Ranch Center. It is more orderly but also less interesting.

Beyond that the shopping options are "only" a three-hour treacherous drive away in Haiku. This would certainly lead to meticulous use of shopping lists!

The best part in Hana was driving down to the ocean and exploring the bays which yielded some incredible ocean scenery. Our first exposure to this beauty was at Hana Bay and then much more so at Koki Beach Park.

Three days would have been just right to explore and enjoy this area of Maui. After all there is still the road along the southern coast to explore.

Had time permitted we would have continued to explore Wailua Falls, the Haleakala National Park Seven Pools and the gravesite of Charles A. Lindbergh.

I was surprised to see the grave site on the map as I had presumed that he was never found. I was however confusing my aviators as it was Amelia Earnhardt who was lost forever in the South Pacific while attempting to circumnavigate the globe in 1962.

Charles A. Lindbergh's claim to fame was the first transatlantic crossing in 1927.

In one way I am glad that we had to turn back because given our past history we would probably have driven the "road" along the south coast of Maui which once again is prohibited for rental vehicles. That would have really been pushing our luck. On second thought, I think it was the information that the road was closed due to landslides which made further debate on this question pointless.

As I mentioned, the drive back was a little easier as we were on the outside lane and not glued to the rock walls as we were coming around curves.

Barbara's driving was excellent and after only two and a half hours we were back in the comfort of Haiku enjoying a coffee and walking around this lovely town.

Coming Soon:

Lahaina at Night
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