Hana: not just the end of Maui's most famous road

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Road trippers consider the 52 miles, 59 bridges and 620 curves of the Hana Highway to be one of the finest driving roads on earth, and the ultimate option to chill out, ditch Maui’s tourist-heavy areas, and enjoy the emerald and azure scenery of east Maui’s coastline. But what if you’re looking to do more than log car time? Park that rental when you reach Hana and stay for a spell. This sweet little beach town is more than just an end point to a famous drive.

There’s an allure to out-of-the-way Hana once you get there. Called ‘Heavenly Hana’ by local and visitor alike, the small town has a leisurely pace that makes you feel like everything is much less urgent that you thought it was. Having to turn around after only a couple of hours to get back to your hotel or vacation rental in the west of the island seems contrary to the very essence of the place.

Meander among the lava caves or on the black-sand beach of Wainapanapa State Park, an ideal spot for swimming and snorkeling. Hana Beach Park is also a swimming option and beloved by families. One of Hawaii’s favorite beaches, Hamoa Beach is a ribbon of glistening white sand where swimmers and bodysurfers have ample room to play.

Homoa Beach, HanaHamoa Beach, Hana. Photo by navin75, CC BY-SA license.

If you’re not spending time in the water, one of the best places for some outdoor adventure near Hana is in the Kipahulu area of Haleakala National Park—about 12 miles past Hana. The lush surroundings on the drive there are characterized by more wide-open spaces than you see on the road to Hana, The Pipiwai Trail runs for about four miles along the 'O'heo Gulch, known to some as the Seven Sacred Pools. There are far more than seven freshwater pools here, fed by the Pipiwai Stream, with waterfalls of varying lengths cascading into each other.

The best time to get to the 'O'heo Gulch is in the morning; the visitor center opens at 9 a.m. It’s these quiet moments only available to overnight visitors to Hana before crowds head over from the rest of the island when you can be the only person swimming in one of the pools near the ocean, or hiking through the bamboo forest on your way to 400-foot Waimoku Falls.

Where the water meets the ocean at 'O'heo Gulch. Photo by Gautam Dogra, CC BY license.

A far calmer adventure, but one that offers a worthwhile cultural experience, is a tour through the aisles of the Hasegawa General Store. Packed with everything from lunch fixings to rubber flip-flops to fishing equipment, it’s got all you’ll need for a relaxing Hawaiian-style vacation in the rural enclave.

For a taste of Hawaiian village cuisine, swing past Braddah Hutts, a barbecue spot in the front yard of a home just past the Hasegawa General Store. The poster-sized menu offers dishes including grilled ahi, barbecue pork ribs and fish tacos. Sit and enjoy your meal in the yard, watching kids play and people try to park in the small lot so they can have what you’re having.

A great way to get your culture and hotel together is to stay at the Travaasa Hana (formerly known as the Hotel Hana Maui), where a variety of themed experiences are offered to visitors based around different interests. The adventure-minded can learn stand-up paddling or ride on horseback through the countryside. For your culture fix, you can learn throw-net fishing or how to play the ukulele. But even if you decide to play your vacation by ear while staying in a yurt at the Luana Spa Retreat, you’ll still get the best of remote Hana.

Here’s one of the best reasons to stay in Hana. When the day-trippers are gone, you become a temporary resident of this little Hawaiian village. Pick among the small handful of places to eat, or grab a bite from a local food table and a six-pack from the Hasegawa General Store and enjoy the quiet. All the natural attractions are empty and waiting for you to take your time and linger, island-style.

Jill K. Robinson is a freelance writer, whose articles have been featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, World Hum, Journey and more. Even when traveling, she can always be found online at Danger Jill Robinson.