Beyond Hana: Maui’s Best Backroad Piilani Highway

Maui's lush eastern side.

Maui’s lush eastern side.

I’d argue that the main reason to splurge on a hotel in Hana is to experience all that lies beyond the town. This region is especially delicious before the daytrippers arrive—so get up early. Just before mile marker 50, turn makai (towards the ocean) to Haneo’o Road. You’ll pass Koki Beach, a popular local surf spot and ‘Alau Island, a seabird sanctuary, to arrive at Hamoa Beach, a perfect crescent of sand washed by blindingly clear water that is adored by surfers, swimmers, children and beachcombers.

Back on the highway about 10 miles beyond Hana, pull into the Kipahulu Ranger Station, fork over the parking fee (which is also good for entrance to Haleakala, since this is also a part of the national park) and get ready to be blown away. ‘Ohe’o Gulch, known by most mainlanders at the Seven Sacred Pools (though they are stunning, they are not sacred), is a collection of seven waterfalls that plunge into each other, creating pools that beg to be swum in. Around noon these pools get very busy, so come early. And use caution. Every year there are news reports about another collection of tourists who were swept away by flash floods, or who ended up as a shark’s dinner in the rough seas below. You can hike up Pipiwai Trail for 1.5 miles to reach a couple secluded pools through a dwarfing bamboo forest. If you choose to camp in the park, you may want to follow the lead of Georgia O’Keefe who painted these pools on her historic visit to this rugged coastline, so bring some art supplies.

A mile beyond the pools is the hippie and artist community of Kipahulu, where at Palapala Ho’omau Congregational Church you’ll stumble upon Charles Lindbergh’s grave—when Lindbergh learned he had terminal cancer, he opted to return to the land he loved to die instead of receiving treatment. He is buried behind the church.

Across the street grab your own organic tropical fruit, coffee, and spices at Ono Organic Farms, where farmers offer a tour and tastings of the goods. Between mile markers 40 and 41, Laulima Farms allows customers to hop on a bike and power the juicer to make your own organic smoothies—however you still have to pay for your pedaling. If you plan to be in Kipahulu on a Sunday evening, ask around for directions to Café Attitude, an organic vegetarian dinner and artists’ salon. While you won’t likely see Hana residents Weird Al Yankovic and Woody Harrelson, you can peep the ways in which this wild feast of nature inspires.

To continue on from here towards the rear end of Haleakala and Upcountry, you are likely violating your rental car agreement. If you are still reading, know that besides a couple blind one-lane turns, and a 4-mile stretch of unpaved road that does occasional get washed out (ask about road conditions at Hana’s gas station before heading out), Pi’ilani Highway provides both stark and dramatic scenery devoid of a tourist infrastructure found elsewhere on Maui.  Take it slow. From Kipahulu it may be 38 miles to Kula, but it will likely take you about two hours to arrive. Fill up on gas and food; it’s slim pickin’s out here. Though at mile marker 35 Kaupo Store hawks a few pricy necessities. The road winds towards Upcountry here, which is full of goodies for travelers (more on this in another post). Taking this unchartered highway to Upcountry introduces you to a slice of Maui not seen in glossy magazines, or anywhere else for that matter.


4 responses to “Beyond Hana: Maui’s Best Backroad Piilani Highway

  1. Pingback: Traveling With Kids: Choosing Which Hawaiian Island Suits Your Family | Planet Playground·

  2. Pingback: Maui’s Best Banana Bread | Planet Playground·

  3. My wife and I drove the Pi’ilani Highway in late January 2014. At first I was reluctant because of all the messages on various forums warning that the road is very difficult, likely to damage cars, forbidden by rental companies, etc. Then I saw in a guidebook, “Maui Revealed,” that all those presumed prohibitions are a myth.

    I looked further. Sure enough, Alamo had no restrictions about taking that road. It’s a beautiful road, generally smooth and wide enough. It has dazzling views of ranchland on one side and the ocean on the other. The road is lightly trafficked and largely undeveloped but hardly isolated. If we’d broken down, another car would soon have come along to take us to a phone.

    The only caveats are: There are a few blind curves, so honk as you approach them. There’s a stretch that’s not paved, but it’s only about 9 miles long and is well-maintained — no potholes, washboard surface, or any other impediment. I’d suggest taking the road west from Hana, which allows you to be on the inside lane for your entire Hana excursion.

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