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Usually when you think about a Hawaiian vacation, you don't think about fleeing the Seven Sisters Waterfalls in Hana, Maui in your flip flops in the pitch blackness of night. Nor, do you take the ultimate "road less traveled" on the way back from the road to Hana (in the opposite direction from where you started from).
Both would prove to be Maui Hawaii "vacay surprises." The first was a lesson in time management in day trip planning. The second a lesson in the consequences of thinking you know more than the warning sign you did not heed.
With so much to see and do in Maui, Hawaii you might miss surviving the Road to Hana - a road that has made popular the slogan “I survived the Road to Hana” on various tourist t-shirts and hats and other such souvenirs. It’s a day trip, and almost a right of passage for any vacation to this wonderful Hawaiian Island.
Granted, it’s not for the faint of heart. It is not for those in a hurry, especially if hairpin twists and turns on a two lane/one lane roads alongside ocean side cliffs are going to freak you out -- maybe you should consider being the passenger, not the driver. Or take one of the bus tours.
Now the Road to Hana, is at least a three hour drive one way from most points in Maui. That’s just driving time. It does not include all the stops for photo ops, exploring, etc. that you will certainly want to partake in. You’ll never see more gorgeous views than on this road anywhere else in the world!
HOWEVER -- taking your day trip to the town of Hana, comes with a forewarning -- time management on this day trip is vital. This is not a road to be driving back at night -- like Cinderella’s midnight ball deadline -- if you are not careful to head back way before sunset -- you’ll find yourself navigating a curvy often one lane highway (on the side of cliffs) in pitch black darkness. Also don’t think that you can have a leisurely breakfast and head out after 9:00 a.m. for your day, because you’ll regret that decision. A sunrise start might make a more enjoyable less hurried day.
You’ll be well-advised to fill up your gas tank before setting out, as there is only one place to do so going to Hana. Not only that, when you are the only gas station in Hana, you have no competition -- so expect much higher gas prices. Bringing snacks and water are less of a necessity, as there are food stands and small stores along the road. And while you technically could decide to stay overnight, be also advised that there are only about ten places to staying in Hana. They could be booked up and they will be expensive.
So, how did we come to have so much advice when it comes to surviving the road to Hana? Well, picture this. We laughed in the face of so many, “I survived the road to Hana” other tourists. We were from a mountain community. We were used to narrow mountain roads -- hell - we lived on a one lane two mile dirt road at the time. Nothing scared us. We’d been towed out and dug out plenty of times (albeit not in a shiny new convertible).
We had a wonderful morning feast in typical Hawaiian smorgasbords fashion -- we were staying at the Ritz Carlton Maui in Kapalua. It was less than a 3 hour drive according to our concierge. Our hearts were set on seeing what’s Hana all about. We especially wanted to visit the Seven Sacred Pools at Ohe’O.
Long story short, the beautiful drive took us pretty much all morning and we arrived late afternoon. We paid no heed that others seemed to be leaving as we arrived. So off we went -- determined to swim in each of the seven swimming holes connected by waterfalls in the Bamboo Forest of Ohe’o Gulch.
Had a great time while it lasted. Headed back when it suddenly dawned on us that the sun was going down soon. Didn’t make it back to the parking lot before darkness enveloped us. One of my flip flops broke and of course, we took no flashlight.
My husband trailed behind me at his usual leisurely pace. In the scrub brush nearby, scary noises emerged. Coming from a sometimes agricultural background, my immediate thought was wild pigs. Yes, Maui has feral wild pigs and at first I was certain - one was following me!
Then, I heard unrecognizable noises in the other dense brush around me and started hobbling out of there as fast as I could move -- all in the darkness. “Nightmare in Hawaii” was all I could think about -- until the moment I finally came face-to-face with my terror. It was a mama cow and her baby blocking the trail. They both stared at me briefly and continued on their way. Meanwhile, I was still out-of-breath shaking, exhausted, and feeling quite stupid.
As I melted into the passenger side of the convertible, my beloved husband arrives and announces that he’s looked at the map. We will take the longer road back and drive all the way around the island. Too tired to protest, when I read the first sign we saw coming out of the parking lot -- It was a warning sign - something about do not continue past the town of Hana to the Kipahulu area. There were cautions about unpaved road areas, flooding, and fallen rocks on this “backside” of Hana.
We would soon learn that warning signs did not also adequately cover boulders in the middle of the road, perilous dips in the twisting road that you could not see what was coming around the next curve, wild and drunken young men barreling past you and shouting something unflattering about tourists, or the most certain closeness of being scared of falling off a cliff into the ocean.
I can say for certain that everyone going to Maui should take the Road to Hana. It was worth our misadventure. I’ve actually been back to Hawaii and its islands eight times. I plan to go again. It’s one of the vacations of a lifetime meant to be repeated not to be missed.
One Last Tip -- Your rental car contracts do not cover the aforementioned road less traveled leading away from Hana towards Kipahulu. You will not be covered for any damages should you fail to read or ignore this stipulation.
The heavy scent of tropical flowers in a lai gifted to you with a warm hug upon arrival in Maui.
Check out these backstory glimpses from trips to other parts of Maui.