Take the Winding Highway to Hana

May 3, 2021 Updated: May 5, 2021

Just as the queasiness in my stomach from the continuous onslaught of curves and cutbacks along the narrow uphill road began to subside, we rounded yet another 180-degree bend. The first waterfall with whipped-cream waters dripping down deep-creviced cleavages appeared by the roadside, its beauty washing away all my remaining reservations. It was the first of many such waterfalls we were to encounter.

Such is the road to Hana, which traverses the northern coast of Maui in Hawaii, from the rustic village of Paia to its destination at the eastern tip. While only 52 miles long, this series of twists, turns, dips and dives can take up to three hours to negotiate. But the ever-present views of lush greenery and ocean blues, vistas of rock and white water foaming up over the shores, and waterfalls bubbling over craggy cliffs are well worth the daylong adventure.

The road narrows even further—if such a thing is possible—as the vegetation increases in lushness and hue. I smirked at the sign that read, “Narrow Winding Road Next 30 Miles,” thinking the announcement superfluous until an immediate double hairpin turn attested to its validity. Forests of sugar cane, coconut trees, and pineapple fields abound, and the banyan trees lean forward suggestively as though to beckon you onward.

Still, take time to stop and walk. Sit beneath a banana tree enveloped by giant 6-foot-long leaves. Look out at the wrinkled brown-hued mountains lacerated with ridges created by 2.5 million years of rainfall. Look below to the ocean, so varied in color it seems to contain every shade of blue contained in even the largest box of crayons.

black sand beaches hawaii
The Black Sand Beach in Wai’anapanapa State Park is one of the wonders the island of Maui in Hawaii has to offer. (Courtesy of Victor Block)

Thus fortified, return to the ongoing challenge of the Hana Highway, certainly a misnomer considering its 600 curves and 56 one-lane bridges. Nearby Kaumahina State Park combines a Garden of Eden setting with the more practical appeal of restrooms and picnic tables. Be sure to follow the stone-cut nature trail for a dip in the natural swimming pool framed by waterfall and rock—a refreshing antidote to the heat and strain of the drive.

If you’re a flora-and-fauna buff, a stop at the Ke’anae Arboretum is a must. It’s as close to a Hawaiian jungle as you can get with a wealth of native trees, plants, and flowers visible to the knowing eye.

Pua’a Ka’a State Wayside Park—with everything an everyday paradise should have—is the next stop. The footpath, reminiscent of the road, winds in and out along streams and overlooks. Overlapping paths through multicolored bushes lead ultimately to a consortium of pools and waterfalls. Irresistibly clear, clean, cool waters flowing in, under, and around rocks entice even the most hardened holdout. A swing on the Tarzanlike hanging vines overhead adds a dimension to the tropical swimming hole most backyard pools lack.

hawaii waterfall
A waterfall on the Hana Highway on the island of Maui in Hawaii surprises and delights passersby. (Courtesy of Victor Block)

At the rise of another double-U bend in the road is a small roadside stand proffering manna in the form of a variety of native refreshments—home-grown bananas, papayas, guavas, coconuts, and pineapples. While there, we watched the owner, machete in hand, traipse down a nearby path and return with bunches of bananas to meet the demands of the lunchtime crowd. Now that’s fast food made to order!

With your spirits refreshed and stamina rekindled, a visit to nearby Wai’anapanapa State Park temporarily transports you into an otherworldly excursion before entering the tranquil town of Hana. But be forewarned: Reservations and a fee are now required for out-of-state visitors.

Although the Island of Hawaii is better known for its black-sand beaches, this park presents its own opportunity to experience this incongruous adornment to a surfside setting. A steep-stepped path meanders beneath extensive overhangs of gnarled, twisted branches so thick with growth that an eerie darkness prevails even on a sunny day. Hidden within the rainforest vegetation, cavernous rock formations envelop crisp freshwater pools connected by lava tunnels.

Lightness and color return with the approach to Hana. Large trees with red-blossom canopies, rainbow-lined sidewalks, and green-laden hillside welcome your arrival. However, considering this is the only stretch of civilization in a three-hour trek, you hardly even know you’ve arrived. A few small stores, the delightful Hana-Maui Hotel, and the presence of people who clearly are not tourists signal the change.

A visit to the Hasegawa General Store—immortalized in a 1964 song of the same name by Paul Weston—jolted me out of the tranquil reverie engendered by the town. The small store, well-known for its awesome accumulation of every conceivable item, is so cluttered and cramped that, for me, it conflicted with the airy openness of the natural beauty all around. Still, it is a worthwhile stop, if only to pick up some Dramamine—the store’s best-selling item—for the ride back.

When You Go

For more information: GoHawaii.com/islands/maui/regions/east-maui/hana. Please check ahead for COVID testing requirements and restrictions.

Fyllis Hockman is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Creators.com. Copyright 2021 Creators.com.