Heavenly Highway to Hana

Take a bunch of magnificent tumbling waterfalls, wrap them in lush, succulent rainforest and top them all off with smashing ocean scenery. What have you got? The prime ingredients that set the stage for the magnetic appeal of Maui’s Road to Hana. On a recent mini-break on the Hawaiian island, striking out on this celebrated coastal highway took top-billing on my to-do list. A quick glance at a map would suggest it’s a short and sweet drive, but appearances can be deceiving. I was pleased I had set aside the entire day, because you’ll absolutely need that amount time to truly savour its rolling brilliance. Truth be told, you’ll want a lot longer to linger in its myriad pockets of untouched paradise. Maui’s east coast can act like a rain magnet, so chances are the roads will be slippery. And even though the official route spans just over 40 miles, the pencil-thin highway is carved into the volcanic cliffs of the hillside.

It’s a very twisty, very winding driving affair, with over 50 single-lane bridge crossings – yet another reason to take it slowly! I set off early from Kaanapali, heading east to the gateway town of Paia, just east of Kahului airport. With its raffish good looks and bohemian shopping, Maui’s “Hippie Haven” is an ideal pit-stop to top up your fuel and grab some snacks for the road. The Hana Picnic Lunch Co. opens from 7am, for tasty breakfasts and food to-go. Their fresh fruit smoothies are unbeatable. Just two miles into the trip, the first of a multitude of waterfall stops beckons, at Twin Falls. I pulled into the turnout and took the gentle hike to reach a fabulous cascade, where I waded into the swimming pool at its base. Next up, Waikamoi, a fabulous 70 foot-long curtain of cascading water, particularly impressive after rainfall.

The steps up to the lookout were slippery – be sure to wear sturdy shoes. At Keanae, I jaunted out to the peninsuala, wreathed in taro fields. Along the shoreline, muscular breakers battered the jagged outcrops of lava rock. A beloved marker is at the “Halfway to Hana” sign, flanking the roadside and adjacent to a welcome food stall. I bought a loaf of melt-in-your-mouth banana bread from the family-owned store. It was fresh, moist and straight out of heaven’s oven. I also stocked up on their home-made beef jerky and moreish coconut candy. All along the Road to Hana, enterprising locals operate roadside stalls, selling a spree of fresh and flavourful produce. Underpinning the innocence of the area, many food stalls still operate by way of honesty boxes. Shortly past the Halfway to Hana, one of the most panoramic views shuffles into frame in the Wailua Valley.

This cross-hatch of black sand beaches, the roiling ocean and the undulating sprawl of verdant rainforest is just too good, not to snap. Puaa Kaa State Park is another essential stop, where are cluster of thunderous waterfalls will fill your Instagram feed, graced with swimming holes at their base. Falls fanatics should also pullover at the Upper Waikani Falls, a trio of towering cascades, set amid rocks, lush vegetation and crowned with a swimming hole. Disney couldn’t improve on the dream-like aesthetics. Waianapanapa is another thrilling spectacle, leading you down to a classic black sand beach, freshwater caves and booming blow holes.

Take the time to revel in a hike along the ancient coastal lava trail. Shortly past Waianapanapa, the sweet, laid-back embrace of Hana Town greeted me, with its old coral rock churches, boutique art galleries and abundance of eateries. Before the drive home to Kaanapali, I enjoyed a gorgeous lunch at Hana Fresh Farm Stand, from a bistro style menu showcasing locally grown organic produce and freshly caught fish. Their poke bowls of ahi sell like hot cakes. It’s a wonderful enterprise, with proceeds from all sales directly supporting the health and well-being of the Hana community. www.gohawaii.com/nz

Celebrating 90 years of continuous service, no airline knows Hawaii quite like Hawaiian Airlines. The Aloha spirit is readily apparent from the moment you step on-board, to you wing your way across the Pacific, nestled in the authentic warmth and charm of Hawaiian hospitality. Beyond Hawaii, I ventured further to the American mainland, and Hawaiian Airlines is the only domestic carrier that offers all guests in all cabins complimentary meals, under the guidance of Chef Chef, Chai Chaowasaree.

After enjoying a mini-break in Maui, I flew on to California, via the direct Maui service to Oakland, and returned home to New Zealand flying from Seattle to Honolulu and onto Auckland. In addition to the carrier’s comprehensive network inter-lacing the Hawaiian Islands, Hawaiian Airlines services 12 cities on the US Mainland including Long Beach (seasonal), Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle, San Jose and New York City.

By Mike Yardley.

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