Tour of Maui: The Road to Hana

"We should see at least one other island while we're in Hawaii" "Of course!"...  that's roughly how the conversation went between Adrienne and I while we were planning this vacation.  We had no idea what we were getting into.

This tour started for us at 4am when we reluctantly forced ourselves out of our comfortable bed and prepared for a day of adventure; the tour bus picked us up from our hotel at 4:45.  The only downside of staying outside of Waikiki was that we were the first pick-up spot for a lot of tours; thus our day started extra early.  After making a number of stops at various hotels in Waikiki, we eventually found ourselves at the Honolulu Airport.  We boarded a flight which departed at 7:30 and landed in Maui at the Kahului Airport at 8:05.  The flight went something like this: we took off, the stewardess came by with a single-option beverage service of Guava/Pineapple juice, then she made another quick pass to collect the cups, and then we landed.

Once on Maui, we started the drive along the north-eastern part of Maui towards Hana.  Our driver, Jeff, explained that Maui has 37,000 acres of sugarcane on the island and that the fields are fed fresh water from the mountains in the distance by a series of irrigation streams and canals which were built nearly a century ago.  The mountain in the distance, an active volcano, receives over 300 inches of annual rain-fall, more than enough to provide the fields with the water needed to grow sugarcane.

As we passed through the fields, Jeff explained that the road to Hana from Kahului is a twisty mountainous road which, over a particular 37-mile stretch, has 163 bends.  The road, a 2-lane (and sometimes fewer) pathway carved into the side of the steep slopes, was built in the early 1900's by Chinese immigrants.  Being the quickest route to Hana, this road is used by both the residents who live in this area as well as service vehicles such as fuel and delivery trucks.  Jeff explained that this roadway has its own de facto laws which help to ensure both safety and sanity.  For example, slow cars should pull over to allow passing when possible and, when approaching one of the single-lane sections of road, "if one car goes, they all go."

The ride, while somewhat nauseating, was extremely scenic.  As we undulated around the mountain, we were treated with alternating views of the violent Pacific waves exploding on the rocky shore below and tranquil waterfalls splashing down through dense, vibrantly-colored, tropical foliage.  Our first stop was at a park overlooking daring surfers showing off in the tall blue waves:


Next, we were given a chance to explore the Black Sand Beach where we saw lava-formed caves, tidal pools and the coarse black sand formed from eons of powerful tidal forces crushing and grinding the black volcanic rock against itself.  If it weren't for the pounding waves and tourists in bathing suits, I might have guessed I was on Mars.


We arrived in Hana around noon and stopped for lunch.  Hana is a tiny town with a population of about 1,100.  As with most towns this size, there's one grocery store, one restaurant, one bank (open from 3:00-4:30 daily) and two churches; if it weren't for the tropical setting, it's very similar to Ashley, ND (where my grandmother lives).  The restaurant is at a prime location for hungry travelers; it was packed with tourist (like us) who were half-way through their trip around the mountain.  I'd bet that they have a bigger lunch-time crowd than dinner crowd by a factor of 10.  The food was good and the cool breeze which blew through the open windows of the restaurant made for a relaxing meal.

After we left Hana, we made a stop at the Seven Sacred Pools, a series of waterfalls which have carved their way through a chain of lava-formed basins before they spill into the Pacific.  There were small children with their parents playing in the lowest pools and older children (whose parents didn't want to look) doing cannon-balls into the upper pools from the waterfalls above.


As we worked our way across the southern and western portions of our route, the scenery changed drastically.  Jeff explained that this side of the mountain is in a rain shadow and gets very little rainfall.  No longer under the canopy of dense tree-cover, we were able to get a feel for how massive the mountain actually is.  This photo hardly does justice to the grandeur of the scene:


The trip is about 120 miles long, but took us a full 8 hours including all the stops that we made.  There was a segment of road about 13 miles long which was unpaved gravel.  The van jostled and shook while it roared loudly and pounded violently across the terrain.  When the van eased quietly onto fresh pavement again, there was a spontaneous round of applause as the cacophony abruptly ended.

The trip ended with another take off, beverage service, cup collection and landing.  We were back to our hotel by 9:00pm.

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