Road to Hana offers breathtaking views, but can
sometimes come at white-knuckle cost.
I wanted to
find wild Maui, so naturally, I piled my family into a
rental car for a five-hour drive on a narrow road with
single-lane bridges and curves so sharp that I sometimes
lost sight of the pavement — and oncoming cars. Horns
and brakes get a workout on this roadway. Knuckles turn
white. And, still, I decided that it was our path to
paradise, remote Maui where Hawaiians outnumber haoles (aka
mainlanders), horses graze on oceanside pastures and the
landscape drips with verdant beauty.
destination, the tiny town of Hana, was all that.
Especially the dripping part.
five inches of rain fell in an hour. We learned online
that some sections of the highway we had braved — the
legendary Road to Hana — had closed. I could think of
worse places to be stranded. But we were on Day Three of
our winter escape and had not yet seen the sun. We had
swum in a pool overlooking the Pacific, strolled a
black-sand beach, climbed a nearby peak — and also
reached for rain gear, a lot. The Seven Sacred Pools in
Haleakala National Park, where we hiked on red-mud paths,
appeared as one big gushing waterfall, the distinct pools
drowned. Sunglasses remained tucked in our bags.
after the deluge, we high-tailed it to the more populous
and, we hoped, sunny side of the island. We were ready to
trade wild Maui for better weather. But we soon discovered
that we hadn’t left rugged scenes and near-empty beaches
behind. They were all around us.
during our drive from Hana to Kaanapali, we hit
stop-and-go traffic in Paia, a surfer town, and again in
Lahaina, where we inched our way past its busy chain
grocery stores and oceanside downtown filled with T-shirt
shops and restaurants. Yes, hotels with intensely
manicured lawns line the shores of West Maui. But this
side of the island — where sunshine generally rules and
tourists flock — holds authentic, quiet, untrampled
pockets, too. And we had found one that very night,
minutes after leaving our condo, we parked the car on the
highway shoulder, where a small blue sign was our only
clue that we had found the beach; it noted that the area
is part of a marine life conservation district. We climbed
down steep stairs and over thick tree roots to a small
cove, where the only other group appeared to be Native
Hawaiians. Jagged rocks dotted the sands. Towering lava
cliffs hugged the beach. We watched as turquoise waves
curled and crashed.
hovered, but rain rarely fell during the next seven days.
We happened to be in Maui during an unusually wet winter.
But on this leeward side of the island, volcanic peaks
generally hold clouds on the far side, where our trip
all this rain. Very unusual,” the receptionist at our
Hana resort lamented. In the open-air lobby, she handed
out umbrellas and sympathy.
list of the day’s activities was pinned to a bulletin
board. Horseback riding: canceled. Outrigger canoeing on
Hana Bay: canceled.
we put on raincoats and set off for a hike in the Dr.
Seuss-like, almost psychedelically green Waianapanapa
State Park. We crossed its black-sand beach and followed
an ancient coastal trail across volcanic rock hosting a
riot of growth. We were so taken with the park’s strange
craggy charms that we almost failed to notice we were wet.
We took the
Road to Hana — this time beyond the town, where it grows
recklessly narrow and passes the churchyard where Charles
Lindbergh is buried — to lush Haleakala National Park.
in town, we walked to the Thai food truck and ate
delicious concoctions at picnic tables under a tent, where
a lazy dog hoped for scraps.
We even put
on swimsuits; then, quickly, sweatshirts over them. At the
pool, we had our pick of lounge chairs. We toweled them
dry, sat down but soon hopped in the empty pool and
settled in the hot tub.
friendly middle-aged women — yoga instructors from
Lahaina — joined us. One looked at the swirling steam
rising from the warm water and spoke of aliens among us;
we can’t see them because they occupy a different
dimension, she explained. Then she turned our attention to
something grounded in our world. Motioning to the ocean
roiling with whitecaps, she said, “Such force and power.
There’s nothing but ocean between us and South
I checked a
map later. She would be right — on the geographic claim
— if it weren’t for Mexico, the first land mass east
of Hana. No way to verify the aliens.
morning, we chartered a whale-watching sail on the Scotch
Mist, which we boarded at Lahaina Harbor.
and his skipper looked like bandits, their faces covered
to their sunglasses with neck gaiters. “You can’t put
on enough sunscreen when you’re on the water all day,”
the skipper told me. We were just happy to see the sun.
were gliding out to sea on a gentle breeze, black giants
tantalizing us in the distance.
and calf appeared, rising to the surface and flipping
tails. The baby breached several times, jumping from the
water and slamming back down. Then came the real close
pleaded with a humpback to spare the boat’s keel, a
shaft that goes deep below the sailboat. The rest of us
peered over the sides in awe as a 40-foot-long behemoth
descended below the water on port and reappeared on
starboard. An escort — a male who accompanies a mother
and her baby to ward off predators — had come to spy on
us, just as we were spying on him.
music pouring from the sound system may have intrigued the
whale, or maybe it was the sailboat’s rounded wooden
hull. One thing is clear: He kept his distance from the
other sightseeing boats on the water, metal monsters with
boats are forbidden from approaching within 100 yards of
humpback whales. Of course, they can come to us.
from the whale was a highlight of the vacation, but we had
daily brushes with natural wonders.
We saw few
other hikers during a windblown walk on the Kapalua
blustery day, we watched a lone windsurfer jump waves from
our perch at wide-open Oneloa Beach.
occasions, we snorkeled at Honolua Bay, marveling at the
abundance of fish; the waters are part of the same marine
life conservation district as Slaughterhouse Beach. Across
the street, beside a creek, we ate curries and acai bowls
from a food truck staffed by cheerful, tattooed
The day we
wound our way to the Nakalele Blowhole, we got a sober
reminder of how the astounding can turn ugly. Near the
parking lot stood makeshift memorials for people who have
lost their lives by falling into the hole or getting hit
by a wave on the low-lying lava coast. We hiked down, but
kept a careful distance as ocean waters burst skyward like
a geyser. Lava rocks on the hillside were pitted by the
periodic beating of saltwater.
On one of
our last days on Maui, we headed to Napili Bay, which,
like all of the places we visited on this side of the
island, was not far from where we stayed. Napili is known
for its coral reef and colorful fish. We’d arrived
before lunch, and already the beach was crowded with
visitors and their snorkeling gear. We squeezed our towels
onto the sand and headed to the water, where face down, we
spotted bright yellow tangs, languid sea turtles and other
creatures, including occasional fellow snorkelers.
crowded bay, nature bit back.
began to tingle and on shore, I discovered I’d been
brushed by the tentacles of a jellyfish.
saltwater can tamp down the sting. We headed to
Slaughterhouse for one last dive into its fierce waves. As
the ocean washed over me, the welts on my arm went away,
the burn subsided and the pervasive wilds of Maui proved
their powers again.