4/5/22: Maui’s OMG Road to Hana!

Family & friends,

One of the ‘must-do’ activities on the Hawaiian island of Maui is the drive from Central Maui to the town of Hana on the northeast coast. Who could resist driving just 60 miles past roadside waterfalls and pools, verdant rainforests, and magnificent seascapes on a road with over 50 bridges and 600 hairpin turns? Certainly not us! Add in a lava tube outside of Hana with its own “bowling alley” and I’d bet you’d also find the Road to Hana pretty irresistible, too.

All the best to you and your loved ones on this Mother’s Day,


After driving the entire west coast of Maui the day before, Steven and I were excited to get an early start on the road to Hana, the famous drive to Maui’s easternmost town. As one tour book noted, “there are wilder roads, steeper roads, and more dangerous roads, but in all of Hawaii, no road is more celebrated than this one.” After reading that the 60-mile road would take us past taro patches, magnificent seascapes, waterfalls, botanical gardens, and rainforests, we couldn’t resist!

Our journey started in the small community of Paia, the last place we could buy gas until we reached Hana, some 54 bridges and 617 hairpin turns later but who was counting?! Once a booming sugar mill town, the 1950s skeletal mill remained after most of the townsfolk moved to bigger cities. The plantation town nearly went under but its beachfront charm proved very attractive to hippies, windsurfers, and more recently to young families.

Just down the road was the even smaller hamlet of Kuau with a one-of-a-kind fence made of surfboards. The Kuau Store had yummy blueberry/lemon bread which sustained us for a while.

Just beyond Kuau was Hookipa Beach Park where top-ranked board surfers come to test their mettle against the thunderous surf in the mornings before windsurfers take over in the afternoons.

At mile marker 16, the curves began and we enjoyed views of fern-covered hills.

The privately-owned Twin Falls was a piece of paradise with several waterfalls visible from a gravel path and then after climbing up a mini-mountain.

We detoured to the remote village of Huelo which was Hawaiian for “tail end, last.” That made perfect sense as we headed down the almost single-lane Door of Faith Road to the coral and cement Kaulanapueo Congregational Church which was established in 1853. Adjacent to the New England-style church was a small cemetery that told the history of the village in concrete and stone.

After Huelo, the vegetation became infinitely lusher as if Mother Nature poured Miracle-Gro on everything! The coastline by the Koolau Forest Reserve receives from 60 to 80 inches of rain a year that falls from further up the mountain.

This was the first of countless one-lane bridges on the long road to Hana. As we chose to on Kuaui, we again practiced aloha, the Hawaiian style of allowing up to a half-dozen cars at a time to proceed at one-lane bridges before we went.

A uniquely Hawaiian sign on the side of the road:

When we came up to lots of cars parked along the road, there was no way we weren’t going to also stop at the first roadside waterfall. We found a path through the jungle up to the falls.

We wondered what it would have been like to swim in the shallow pool but not enough to join them!

Sarah: I thought of you when we reached Kaumahina State Wayside as I know one of your favorite Foothills parks is Wayside Meadows Park! We were so disappointed that the viewpoint of the Keanae Peninsula which meant “moon rise” was closed.

We were in luck a few minutes later when we caught this magnificent view of Honomanu Bay on the edge of thepeninsula. Driving down a rutted, cinder road took us down to a rocky, black sand beach.

A view from Wailohe Point of the steep cliffs covered with vegetation we’d just driven:

The vintage village of Keanae was like a place time forgot and was one of the few remaining coastal enclaves of native Hawaiians. Taro was grown in patches and pounded into poi, the staple of the old Hawaiian diet.

Native Hawaiians still pluck opihi or limpet from tide pools like this along the coast and cast throw nets at schools of fish.

The lineup was long for Aunty Sandy’s Famous Banana Bread known as the “bread you’ve been driving for”!

At the end of the road was Lanakila, the Keanae Congregational Church that had been built in 1860 of lava, rocks, and coral mortar

Beside the church was a small beachfront park with black lava along the shoreline.

The sight of false kamani trees against the black lava and the roiling sea was stunning.

A little further on, at the halfway point to Hana, the road widened and we saw numerous, small stands selling fruits, flowers, and snacks. It had taken us four hours to reach this spot even though it was only a distance of 30 miles or so because of all our detours!

We detoured off the road to Hana again to the hamlet of Wailua to see a shrine depicting what the locals called a “miracle” at the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine. I read that Wailua men in 1860 were building a church by diving for coral to make the stone. The project was slow and arduous because the coral was far offshore so the men could only get a few pieces of coral at a time. That changed when a freak storm deposited enough coral on a nearby beach that was sufficient to complete the church. Another freak storm then hit the area and swept away all the remaining coral on the beach out to sea!

Although the shrine was easily visible from the road, I had a devil of a time finding the Coral Miracle Church after Steven parked on the street. Never had any church been so tough to find in all our travels! I wasn’t about to give up and found it only after wandering through the brush and all was revealed!

In a clearing beside the miracle church was the recently burned-down St. Gabriel’s Church.

Back on the Hana Highway was Wailua Valley State Wayside Park. Wailua meant “two waters.” After we climbed the stairs we were treated to stupendous views of Keanae Valley with taro fields and then …

the nearly vertical Upper Waikini Falls in the distance.

Then, just a mile or so down the road were a series of waterfalls adjacent to the road …

and even more, a little further at Puaa Kaa State Wayside Park pronounced pooh-ahh-ahh kahh-ahh, which meant “rolling pig.”

As we weren’t in any rush, Steven and I waited for a good 10-minutes after this fella jumped in the green waterfall pool to watch a woman jump in after him.

I felt bad for the young woman as she was obviously very worried about jumping into the pool. Lots of people watching from the side kept saying 1…2…3… to encourage her to jump in but she would have nothing to do with it for what seemed like forever and a day!

To a big round of applause from all of us high and dry on the shore, the woman conquered her fears and jumped in! I was happy for her as I don’t think I could have done it.

A two-fer waterfall!

At mile marker 27.5 – yes, half-mile markers were used in this wild territory – was what was described as the world’s best dessert at Coconut Glen’s in Nahiku. As Steven is very allergic to all nuts, we had to leave it to others to verify the claim!

We hadn’t reached the town of Hana yet but there was still a welcoming sign to “the land of the low-lying clouds.”

West of the town was Hana Lava Tube, a mammoth cave formed by ancient lava flows. These were some of the funniest signs I’d ever seen! The porta-potty was probably the most spotless one ever, too.

Outside the cave entrance were some pretty hard-hitting rules but they no doubt helped to maintain the cave for everyone’s enjoyment now and in the future.

The hole we descended into the cave was called a skylight. Generally, the cave ceiling was 30-60 feet which made it extremely strong structurally. The skylight hole was a thin spot where the ceiling collapsed. 

This lava tube was formed about 960 million years ago after molten lava spewed up from underground and flowed down toward the sea. As the lava flowed, the top of the flow cooled and formed a hard crust but lava continued to flow down under the crust for approximately two years. That effectively made the cave taller and larger. When the lava drained out, this gigantic subterranean tunnel remained. It’s the 18th largest lava tune in the world and the largest by far on Maui.

This pillar was formed when a huge boulder broke off from the wall and got stuck in the center. Lava then had to flow around it on both sides which added layers to it, making the pillar larger over time.

A sign indicated that the cracks we saw along the passages didn’t come from earthquakes but from cooling as lava shrank. Called contraction cracks, lava typically shrinks one to two percent as it cools.

The bumpy areas on the wall were called cauliflower AA, sharp, jagged loose rock seen in many places on the islands. 

Unlike other caves we’d been in, the cave temperature ranged between 66 and 72 degrees and humidity was at a constant seventy percent throughout the year. We sure didn’t need to wear the jackets we brought!

The floor surface was generally made of smooth cinders which were deposited by occasional heavy rains which caused water to flow through the cave and bring in cinders from the cinder cone on the hillside above. 

Umpteen years ago when our children were smaller, we used to bowl from time to time. But that was the last time until we got to the lava tube and found a “bowling alley” there! In many lava tubes, the last lava running through the cave stayed in the center of the tube which left a double gutter on both sides. That happened because the edges of the flow cooled and hardened which left a wall to channel the last flow. It left the appearance of a bowling alley with two gutters.

The rock that was on the floor fell – get this! – about 960 years ago and was an exact fit to the hole above. Rocks fell in the cave generally as it was cooling from shrinking or contraction cracks. Studies in caves on the Big Island show that huge earthquakes could still dislodge rocks from the ceiling.

This large room used to be the nuclear fallout shelter area for East Maui.

After cow bones from the Old Hana Slaughterhouse were dumped in the cave from 1950 to 1970, heavy rains washed them down through the cave. Since the owner hauled out 17,000 pounds of them in just nine months, the owner was presented with the highest award given by the state of Hawaii in 1999 for environmental preservation.

This volcano vent measured 45 feet from floor to ceiling and used to spout lava about a thousand years ago. The hole was a blowout from within and was caused by a big boulder that fell down on the lava flow and got jammed in the narrow passage and caused the lava behind it to back up. The pressure then caused the lava to erupt through to the surface above. 

We had to duck under this really low spot so the delicate stalactites above weren’t damaged. As we looked up, all I could think of was they looked like inverted Hershey kisses, a sight not seen anywhere else in the world! The many different colors in the lava were caused by the different elements that made up basalt rocks: red, brown, blue, green, and orange which all came from iron.

Though the private cave ended here, the cave passage extended beyond this point. The cave that had been explored went uphill for about 1.5 miles and then downhill for about .5 miles. Experts believe that only half of the cave had been discovered! When we set out that day, Steven and I certainly hadn’t figured on seeing a lava tube but I would recommend it pretty highly.

Admission to the lava tube also included the opportunity to discover our way around the attached red ti botanical garden maze. We still had a way to go before reaching Hana so we opted not to try it out but it sure looked fun.

As this was a 13-hour plus day, I’ve decided to split this post into two parts so as not to cram too much into this one.

Next post: The continuation of the road to Hana followed by another hair-raising road from Hana back to Central Maui. You’ll see why hardly anyone talks about taking the route we chose back to “civilization”!

Posted on May 8th, Mother’s Day, 2022, from Denver. Thinking of all women who are mothers or who have showered love on young people.


4 thoughts on “4/5/22: Maui’s OMG Road to Hana!

  1. What a fabulous drive! So many waterfalls and wonderful views – I’m certainly not surprised it took you so long. The lava tube looks fascinating. We went in one on Santa Cruz in the Galapagos but it was a fraction of the size of that one I reckon.


  2. I learn something new every day as I never realized the Galapagos also had lava tubes! Guess we concentrated on seeing the animals too much during our visit.

    The celebrated Road to Hana was so, so much fun even if it did take all day to drive 60 miles!


  3. What a fabulous route, that must be one of the most spectacular and varied drives in the whole world! Love the name “Door Of Faith”, like you’ve got to close your eyes and pray as you drive through! It always throws me when I see Mothers Day messages in May – Mothers Day is in March in the UK. Loving these posts , Annie – so so interesting.


  4. You made me blush reading your kind comments, Phil. Hard to think that it took us close to 7 hours to drive just 50 of the 60-plus miles of the famous Road to Hana but there were so many places that caught our attention along the way and also via a short detour. I hope my next post on the road FROM Hana will also pique your interest!

    Didn’t realize Mother’s Day in the UK was in March – I wonder why it’s later in North America!


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