Driving the Hana Highway from Lahaina, Kaanapali, Kipahulu or Kihei has become somewhat of a rite of passage when vacationing in east Maui, Hawaii and the spectacular views and places of interest along the way definitely make the trip worthwhile for any Maui itinerary. However, fewer visitors venture beyond the road to Hana, where the road turns into the Piilani Highway, which curves around the island's south coast and up to northern Maui. Rental car agreements don't cover the onward journey from Hana, unfortunately. Journey times both along the Hana Highway and the onward trip around Maui vary considerably depending on the amount of traffic and the road conditions.

The Hana Highway

Despite its reputation, these days the Hana Highway often demands more patience than courage to drive it. Which isn't to say that the hairpin bends, narrow one-lane sections and occasional poor weather conditions don't require the driver's constant concentration and attention on the road, but the experience is less hair-raising than it used to be. In its earliest years in the late 1920s, the route was a basic surface built from volcanic cinders by prison trustees housed in Keanae. The highway wasn't surfaced with asphalt until 1962, and afterward regular heavy rainfall and traffic reduced the surface to miles of pot holes. Yet from the 1990s the state has upgraded and repaired the 54-mile Hana Highway so that it's no longer the challenge it once was. What's more, the parks, waterfalls, gardens and trails along the way mean that stopping for a rest break is just about mandatory.

Though it can be stressful, drivers stick to the spirit of Aloha and never honk unless absolutely necessary. Hundreds of people make the drive every day, and the road will become backed up at times. It’s best to stay cool and simply enjoy the moment.

Hana Highway Driving Time

In good conditions with little traffic, driving the Hana Highway to Hana from Kahului Airport can take as little as two hours. Drive east from the airport toward Paia then simply follow the Hana Highway on all the way to Hana. However, hundreds of cars drive the winding road every day, and some local travel advisers say the drive can take up to 4 hours. Navigating the 59 bridges and 620 curves takes time even if the traffic isn't heavy. Leave early in the morning to beat the traffic, and for a smooth, safe drive, pull over in a safe place to allow faster traffic to pass, don't exceed the speed limit, obey yield signs at bridges and sound horn signs and don't drink and drive. Items to bring along include plenty of water, food, towels, bug spray, a camera and hiking shoes for walking the trails along the way. Also fill up the car's gas tank in Kahului and bring cash for purchases at stands on the side of the road like the famous Halfway to Hana food stand.

Hana Highway Sights

Stopping to see the sights along the way can turn a Hana Highway daytrip into a full day-long adventure. The parks include the Kaumahina State Wayside Park, the Wai’anapanapa State Park and the Pua’a Ka’a Wayside Park. There's also the Ke’anae Arboretum (Garden of Eden Arboretum) and Ke'anae Peninsula to visit, as well as the Waikamoi Ridge Trail and many waterfalls like: Puahokamoa Falls, Twin Falls and Wailua Falls. And any trip wouldn’t be complete without visitng one of the many black sand beaches like Hamoa beach, whose sand is made from lava rocks. Arriving at St. Sophia’s Church means the trip is over, but pop into the legendary Hasegawa General Store to round it off with a dip into Hawaiian culture. Many items for sale are unique to Hana.

A great idea is to book a Hana tour guide that worries about the road trip, so all you have to do is relax and enjoy the amazing sights to the town of Hana. Along the stops on the road you could go snorkeling, admire the rainbow eucalyptus trees, see the bamboo forests on the Pipiwai Trail and stop at some picnic tables to enjoy some of the world famous banana bread that is sold all along the road and all over the Hawaiian Islands.

Driving Beyond Hana

The road beyond Hana isn't paved for long stretches, but it is possible to venture along it to see more of Maui's sights and history ina. truly scenic drive. Rental car company contracts rarely cover this portion of a trip around the island, and they won't come out to rescue drivers who get into trouble. Play safe and allow ten hours or so to complete the long day trip and avoid driving in the dark. Along the way, visit Haleakala National Park, which is only 10 miles south of Hana on the eastern side of Maui. Then, just after the 41 mile marker, stop at Charles Lindbergh's grave site. The famous aviator rests in a Hawaiian-style garden cemetery in the grounds of Palapala Ho’omau Church. Inlets, bays, churches, valleys and an abandoned pre-contact Haiwaiian village at the 31 mile marker are some more sights for the adventurous who love to travel less popular routes.