Should You Do the Road to Hana on Your Maui Honeymoon?

One of the most common questions from honeymooners headed to the island of Maui in Hawaii is:

“Should we drive the Road to Hana?”

The scenery on the drive is unique and breathtaking and therefore unforgettable and the full day of memories will cost you only the rental car charge, gas money and a few extra dollars for snacks and parking.  The fact that it’s effectively an all-day event though gives some honeymooners pause.

In this post I’ll share an overview, pictures and descriptions of the drive on the Road to Hana, highlight reasons you should do the drive, reasons you may want to skip it, various tips and wrap it up with a simple rule of thumb to help you make the call.

Double Waterfall in Maui on the Road to Hana
The Road to Hana is flanked by dozens of beautiful waterfalls like this one.

A Brief Overview

The Road to Hana typifies the cliche that it’s about the journey, not the destination.  It’s a drive truly unlike any other.  The journey will take you through lush forests and by botanical gardens, stunning beaches and countless scenic waterfalls.

You can experience the Road to Hana as part of a van or bus tour or by doing the driving yourselves.  The guided tour will of course save you the stress of driving but you won’t have control over the trip – where and when to stop.

Next to the question of whether or not to do the drive, the question, “How many turns are there on the Road to Hana?” is asked almost as frequently. The answer: about 600.  And those are complemented by almost 60 bridges.  Most of those are a single lane.  At first they’re a bit intimidating but by about the tenth bridge it will be second nature to you to wait on your side of the bridge if an oncoming vehicle reached the far edge of the bridge first.

There are so many sights to take in that you’ll definitely want to devote a full day to the drive.  If feasible, it’s good for newlyweds to take turns with the driving.  A good number of visitors will actually stay overnight in Hana so that they can really take their time on the drive.

Slideshow of Select Photos from Our Honeymoon Drive on the Road to Hana

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Guidebooks and Audio Tour CDs

If you and your new spouse will be making the drive, as opposed to riding along on a guided tour, you’ll want to pick up a guidebook or a follow-along audio tour CD.  Both times that I visited Maui I used the Maui Revealed: The Ultimate Guidebook in general and also specifically for the Road to Hana drive.  It is an excellent guidebook.  The descriptions are precise, the pictures beautiful, the maps clear and the commentary is even witty at points.  The author lays out all the possible stops and clearly marks those that shouldn’t be missed.  The “Revealed” series is actually the best guidebook series I’ve ever used.

There are also a variety of follow-along tour CDs including Journey Travel’s Experiencing the Road to Hana… and Beyond!

Vehicle Choice

If you’re planning to drive the Road to Hana on your honeymoon, you may just want to splurge and rent a convertible.  The unfettered view you get while driving with the top down really lets you appreciate your surroundings, even while in motion.  The full views and fresh air may help combat car sickness as well.  The only downside (besides increased rental cost of course) is that when you leave the vehicle to check out beaches, waterfalls, etc. you’ll want to make sure you either put the top up or take all your items out of the car with you.  We rented a convertible Mustang and really enjoyed having it for the drive.  You may also be able to rent a Jeep and that is great in terms of views and for bumpy sections of road (see section on driving past the Seven Sacred Pools).

Start the drive with a full tank of gas as there aren’t many gas stations on the Road to Hana!

Clothing and Items to Bring

If you’re going to go swimming, and there are multiple spots to do so including the Seven Sacred Pools, bring a bathing suit and towel.  I’d also suggest wearing sneakers appropriate for walking and minor hiking as visiting some sights will require a bit of maneuvering on trails.

You may want to bring sunscreen if you’re traveling in a convertible but for much of the ride you will likely be shaded by vegetation and clouds.  Bug repellant may also come in handy for some of the hikes/walks as you will be in a damp environment.

Absolutely bring a camera on your drive to capture some of the special moments!  Most of your stops will be sightseeing stops that don’t require any other special items.

Bring a lot of water and/or other beverages.  You can bring snacks or buy fresh fruit from roadside stands.  On our drive, Patty and I devoured some delicious Liliko’i (Passion Fruit) from a stand near Hana.

Driving Past the Seven Sacred Pools (Oheo Gulch) and Around the Island

Well over 90% of people driving the Road to Hana turn around at Hana or the Seven Sacred Falls and drive back on the same portion of the road they drove earlier.  The first time I drove the Road to Hana (years ago) I did just that.  I didn’t know what I was missing.  On our honeymoon we drove all the way around the island and the portion of the drive on the south side of the island was very interesting as it is much different than the previous part of the drive!  It’s hard to compare the north and east sides to the south side as the climates and terrain are very different.  The north and east sides get a lot of rain but Haleakala blocks much of that precipitation from reaching the south side of the island.

South Side of Maui is More Brush than Rain Forest
This photo shows the south side of Maui, much drier than the north and east sides, with Haleakala rising above some wispy clouds in the distance.

Part of the allure of the south side of the island was the lack of traffic.  On the main drive to Hana you will likely encounter quite a bit of traffic.  In the morning there will most likely be cars ahead of and behind you at many points and if you turn around in the early afternoon to head back from the direction you started, you’ll encounter moderate oncoming traffic.  However, once we left the Seven Sacred Pools and continued in a clockwise direction, we saw less than 15 vehicles over the next 30 or so miles.  It was as if we had the entire scene to ourselves at times!

South Side of Road to Hana
For long stretches of time driving the south side of the island on the way back from Hana, we had the road to ourselves. It was extremely surreal to enjoy the beautiful, quiet scenery on our own.

The reason many people don’t drive all the way around the island is that there is a section of unpaved road on the south side, shortly after you leave Seven Sacred Pools (Oheo Gulch).  Some rental car companies will tell renters that it is against their policies for renters to drive on that section of road.  Other rental car companies will simply suggest that renters avoid it.  There are sections that are extremely narrow and rough.  Of course you’ll have to make your own decision as to whether you’re comfortable making the drive.  I certainly wouldn’t recommend it if there’s been recent inclement weather such as heavy rain as the area can be prone to mudslides or rockslides.  However, I can tell you that we made the journey in a Mustang convertible and we did it without much trouble.  We were very glad we did as the south side is the perfect complement to the north and east sides.

Alternative Routing Approaches

If you decide you don’t want to go all the way around the island, another twist on the standard trip is to drive (without stopping) all the way to your turnaround point and then make all your sightseeing stops on the return trip.  This “Road to Hana in reverse” allows you to take in the scenery and get a feel for it which may help you decide which stops to make on the return trip.  It also means that for many of your stops you will find the sights void of tourists as they will have moved on to stops further east.

You Should Really Consider Driving the Road to Hana if…

  • You love waterfalls.  There may not be a spot on earth more densely packed with waterfalls than the Maui north coast.  There are tall, narrow falls; there are wide, short falls; there are multi-level falls; there are falls of just about every variety.
  • You are on a tight budget.  Maui on the whole is not cheap, so the Road to Hana is less expensive, on a dollars per hour basis, than a lot of other activities on the island.  For a memorable day of sights and experiences you will pay only for a rental car (as low as $50) and gas (about $20-30).  If you visit the Seven Sacred Pools you’ll also pay $10, though the 3-day pass will also cover a visit to Haleakala.
  • You have an adventurous streak.  The scenery is impressive but the twisty, winding road also requires attention.  At times it provokes a bit of an adrenaline rush as you round blind corners, drive along an ocean-side cliff or near a bridge so narrow that only one car can cross at a time (there are quite a few of these!).
  • You enjoy unique beaches.  The Road to Hana will take you within feet of some incredibly unusual beaches, including a red sand beach, and a black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park.
  • You are an early riser.  You don’t need to start predawn but it is best to pass through Paia by about 8:00AM to ensure you aren’t stuck behind a lot of vehicles on the drive.

You Should Consider Skipping the Road to Hana if…

  • You are prone to severe motion sickness.  The twisting road can get the best of those susceptible to car sickness.  However, Patty did just fine on the drive even though she has at times in the past had trouble with motion sickness.
  • Your time on Maui is very limited.  This is an activity you can’t rush and you shouldn’t even try to rush as to do so could be dangerous.  Maui offers a plethora of incredible activities, beaches, snorkeling, etc. so you will be forced to skip another activity to drive the Road to Hana if you have only a couple days on Maui.

The Summary

Driving the Road to Hana is an extremely common activity for visitors to Maui for a reason – it’s spectacular.  My rule of thumb for visitors in general, and particularly for honeymooners, is that it’s a “must-do” if you’ll be on the island for four or more days and you don’t have major issues with motion sickness.  If you’re going to only be on the island for three days it’s debatable whether you should devote a whole day to the drive.  If you’re on the island for two days or less, as much as I loved the experience, I would recommend focusing on other activities and saving the Road to Hana drive for a future visit to Maui.  It’s always good to have an “excuse” to return to such a beautiful island!

One last tip: Finishing off the trip with a romantic dinner at the iconic Mama’s Fish House in Paia is a great way to wrap up a honeymoon day.  If you’re going to do that, make a reservation ahead of time and bring a few toiletries to freshen up between  the drive and dinner.

Do you have other thoughts on the Road to Hana?  Have you driven all the way around the island?  If so, please share your thoughts in the comment section and, as always, thank you for reading!

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