USA, HI: Hairpin Highway to Hana and BeyondThe island of Maui is a place that is far more crowded today than when author James Michener visited Hana, writing these words about Hamoa Beach, “Paradoxically, the only beach I have ever seen that looks like the South Pacific was in the North Pacific. Hamoa Beach on Maui Island in Hawai’i; a beach so perfectly formed that I wonder at its comparative obscurity.”
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2011
The Hana Highway is reputed to have over 600 curves and 54 bridges many of them single lane crossings. Personally I wouldn’t so much call it a highway, more snake-like hairpin bends on a warped narrow road. This 52 mile (84km) trip starts from just near the Kahului Airport on Maui’s southeastern coastline and is considered one of the world’s most scenic drives.
“Take a right then right again and you’re on Daisy Way then make a left at the K-Mart,” said the Hawai’ian guy checking out the cars leaving the Hertz airport parking lot. Minutes later I was driving between pastoral fields. Then in the distance a giant skate board ramp of plantations the colour of ripe avocados sloped their way into grey curdled clouds obscuring the peaks of volcanic mountains.
The island of Maui is well known to many people, a place that is far more crowded today than when author James Michener visited Hana, writing these words about Hamoa Beach, “Paradoxically, the only beach I have ever seen that looks like the South Pacific was in the North Pacific. Hamoa Beach on Maui Island in Hawai’i; a beach so perfectly formed that I wonder at its comparative obscurity.”
On the way to Hana I stopped off at cascading streams, hiked a few trails and swerved off at key vantage points as I drove through Maui’s only coastal rainforest accessible by car. At roadside stalls with banana leaf roofs locals sold fresh coconuts, papaya, lemons, pineapples, bananas and other exotic fruit, one lady even sold toffee roasted coconut slices.
Hana is a small rustic settlement of about 700, mainly Hawai’ian population, (with approximately 700 others living in the surrounding region). Isolated from the rest of the island it’s a truly undeveloped part of Maui that has been frozen in time. Known as, ‘the last Hawai’ian place’ it is one of the few locations where the gracious spirit and gentle pace of life of ‘old Hawai’i’ still exists. Cultural and spiritual traditions are still found and experienced here. On my first night there I witnessed a Pentecostal revival meeting under a big marque on a vast lawn which went on for two days. As one local told me, “everyone here is a churchgoer, they just need reminding sometimes.”
The hotel bartender had been schooled in America, her name was Ohmi and although not from Hana, she had come here when offered a job. “It’s an extra special experience living here in Hana, everyone makes you feel welcome as though you were a local,” she remarked, “and I like ‘living off the grid.” This was a reference to living in a house with solar power and rain water tanks rather than paying for municipal utility rates.
The centre of the village revolves around the sprawling Hotel Hana-Maui with its tasteful restaurant and plush bar. There’s a post office, bank, realty office, restaurant, some snack shops, a few more churches, some smart self-catering accommodation, a gift shop, store, gas station that apparently serves the most expensive gas in America – at almost US$6 (NZ$7.50) a gallon. Then there is Hana’s oldest business which has been in the same family since 1910, the Hasegawa General Store, famous for stocking just about everything except the kitchen sink – and that was probably out back someplace as well?
South of Hana are more winding roads, hidden bays and beautiful views, horses in fields fenced by volcanic walls, mountain waterfalls, more narrow bridges and a surprising amount of beautiful architecturally designed houses behind gated walls and sandwiched between ordinary shacks of varying design and functionality. Turns out many of them belong to celebrities like Kris Kristoffeson, Woody Harrilson, Al Janchovich and even Oprah Winfrey owns land here.
Road signs are posted on some of the narrow stretches such as, ‘Caution Baby Pigs Crossing.’ Elsewhere mongooses scurried from one side of the road to the other as I headed past the popular hike to Oheo Gulch (Seven Pools). The road then turned to corrugated dirt as it left behind the rainforest. Unexpectedly I found myself driving through the lower reaches of Haleakala National Park. Here the land wore a different face as a huge swathe of volcanic lava, scoured only by deep gorges flowed into the ocean. Even a mule would find it difficult to negotiate this land of sleeping volcanoes.
In the appealing country town of Paia I stopped for lunch at Charley’s Restaurant. Joey was the bartender who saw me taking notes and remarked, “W.S.D. is my philosophy. Yeah – Write Shit Down.” Charley’s had a lot of photos on the walls of Willy Nelson and giant 18ft guitar by the swing doors. Apparently Willie lives nearby and is good friends with Charley, who I took to be the probable owner.
Upcountry Makawao is the next charming town I drove into. Its main street is fronted with a host of gift and craft shops, art galleries, cafes and a couple of restaurant pubs with a laid-back atmosphere that cries out Hawai’iana. It’s also the perfect place from which to depart the next day for the forecasted 6.08am sunrise on the top of the spectacular Haleakala Volcano.
With a 4am start I made sure I had studied my road map and directions to the National Park as the last hour or so on the mountain was mainly on unlit switch back roads to the 10,000ft (3050m) summit. It’s also wise to expect some slow traffic on the drive up as it seems half the tourists on Maui make this pilgrimage in darkness. By the time I arrived most parking lot spaces had been taken and it seemed like at least a 1000 people were wedged on the railings with digital cameras ready and waiting.
After watching a glorious sunrise from my secure vantage point I headed back down through Haleakala National Park and over to the Ka’anapali area. On my Hertz map it clearly indicated another alternative route around the top end stating, “Not suitable for Hire Cars.” This is because a good portion of the hairpin bends and one lane road is gravel with sleep cliffs and very long drop offs. Choosing not to drive to Ka’anapali in a direct route that’s where I headed. I swung through Kahului in an anti-clockwise direction on Route 30 and soon found the sinewy, twisting road was a pleasure to drive even though it was a bit of a squeeze in places but otherwise stunningly beautiful with spectacular panoramic views.
After checking into the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort I found myself exploring the nearby town of Lahaina. I’d booked a recommended oceanfront dining spot known as O Restaurant where everything on the menu looked and tasted delicious. As the sun was setting, couples talked quietly face to face across outdoor tables. On the beach some newlyweds posed for a photographer – it was all very romantic and just what Hawai’i is arguably famous for.
That night in my room I was reading an article in Maui Magazine on famous people who call the Lahaina area their piece of paradise and in that particular issue they were profiling the Maui home of Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac – and it looked a stunning house. The next morning I was waiting in line to board my business class flight to San Francisco when I saw a long pony-tail of gray hair on a man in front of me who was well over six feet tall – yes it was all of the 1.98m tall Mick Fleetwood. Then one of their tracks from the ‘70s started running through my mind: Go Your Own Way. Which having seen the best of Maui, I did so happily smiling from ear to ear.
The drive to Hana will take between 3-4 hours depending on how often you stop. Pack a picnic or buy supplies before you leave as there is little in-between Paia and Hana. Note: approximately 300 rental cars a day make this drive, so watch the road carefully and pull over at scenic viewpoints. It’s also still advisable to lock your car and never leave valuables lying in view even in casual laidback towns.
Hotel Hana – Maui
T: +1 808 248 8211
Banyan Tree House Bed and Breakfast
T: +1 808 572 9021
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, Lahaina
T: +1 808 661 1234
Shane Boocock would like to thank Hawai'i Tourism, Air New Zealand www.airnewzealand.co.nz, Hawai’ian Airlines www.hawaiianair.com, and United Airlines www.united.com for their wonderful service and support during his trip to Hawai’I
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