Seated in the sand fronting Mama’s Fish House restaurant in Ku’au, Maui, it’s not hard to feel like a local. Yet, this is only the starting point of the Road to Hana: the twisty course that winds 42 miles from the little town of Paia by way of nearly 500 hairpin turns and 59 bridges above towering waterfalls. There is also a slightly longer, yet much less trafficked road trip, that isn’t short on spectacular scenery, nor colorful stops en route. Traversing the backside of Maui’s dormant volcano, Haleakala, is an adventure that is gratifying and a tack away from the crowds.
The route first brings you though the colorful towns of Paia and Makawao. In each, you see laid-back artists and surfers blending well with ranchers and cowboys. In Makawao, look for the glass foundry, a bookstore, and the wonderful General Store (which serves excellent Maui Cattle Co. chili). If you want to do some more exploring here, spend the afternoon with Rappel Maui for a thrilling waterfall and ropes adventure.
Back in the car and heading down Haleakala Highway, you pass farms and ranches before turning onto Kula Highway. The ohia, ironwood, and Cook pine trees now thin out. Squint your eyes and you might mistake your location for Wyoming or Montana—yet with the benefit of gentle trade winds and salt-tinged air. A quick pit stop at Grandma’s Coffee Shop in Keokea helps bring the next hour and a half into focus, as “Grandma” is known for her selection of island coffee beans roasted to perfection.
Five miles into the road trip, you find yourself in Ulupalakua, a centuries-old ranch and that is now home to a winery. Pull into the Ulupalakua Ranch Store across the street for a hearty elk burger with a side of impeccable views. Pop the turn at the coastline and you hit the straight run along the backside of Haleakala, now called Piilani Highway. Drive through the ranch lands that skirt the most recent lava flow from Haleakala (likely 1,000 years old) down into the sea. Look out for wild horses running alongside your car.
The next 20 miles are a relative cruise, with dips, straightaways, and sun-drenched scenery. At the forested region of Kaupo and Kipahulu, stop at Ohe’o Gulch, a.k.a. Seven Sacred Pools—the Eden-like series of waterfalls and swimming holes that trickle from mauka to makai (mountain to ocean). After a refreshing dip, you pass an artists’ community, a small graveyard where aviator Charles Lindbergh is buried, and a few organic farms that offer tours. The rare fruit tour at Ono Organic Farms is a top draw.
Pass Hamoa Beach, a crystalline cove, and end the drive at Travaasa Resort in Hana, where you can immerse yourself in a number of cultural and recreational activities—such as “throwing net” (an ancient Hawaiian fishing practice), riding horseback on a scenic cliffside trail, or just committing to a signature spa treatment. The masseurs are some of the best in Hawaii, utilizing all locally sourced ingredients (coconut, coffee, maile leaf) in the scrubs, oils, and lotions that will nurture any road warrior body back to peak form.