We woke up in a bare bones private room in the Aloha Surf Hostel in Paia around 5:00AM thanks to jet lag and the sticky morning heat. Our fourteen hours of travel had us dehydrated and groggy, but that didn’t stop us from slapping on some bathing suits and hitting the Road to Hana by 6:00AM.
The Road to Hana starts in Paia, but if you start as early as we did, nothing will be open. We found that Maui is a late start/early end kind of county, which was both a pain and a blessing for those of us who like to beat the crowds. However, some of the highly recommended stops (garden centers, roadside stands) will also be closed. Still, I enjoyed the minimal traffic for the first half of the trip, and many swimming holes were free to enjoy by ourselves.
One thing is for certain: there’s no shortage of activities on the Road to Hana. Besides the many overlooks and various pull off points, there are plenty of businesses, roadside stands, and pay-for activities to eat up the daylight. From the get-go, we were pretty selective of which endeavors we pursued. If there were more than four cars or one tour bus at a given place, we usually skipped it and hoped we could swing by on the way back.
We meandered off road until landing upon Kahanu Botanical Gardens. For $10 a head, we got to take a self-guided tour among the massive breadfruit trees and other native Hawaiian flora. The moneymaker for Kahanu is apparently the Pi`ilanihale Heiau, a huge platform constructed of lava rock that serves as the largest ancient worship site in the Pacific. While impressive in its sheer size and construction, we were drawn more towards the towering coconut trees which, ironically enough, were the only plants that came with a death warning. Fact: falling coconuts kill more people in Hawaii than shark attacks. Taking a break from fruit-induced anxiety, Ty sat down with his watercolors and I did some yoga.
This is also where I lost the film camera I was so excited to use. I blame my overeagerness and how often it overrules responsibility on trips like this. But as I mentioned in my previous post, some cameras are made to get lost. To be honest, I was almost relieved when I realized it was gone. Only one camera to work with means more time to focus on its capabilities. I can only hope that whoever finds it will enjoy the negatives.
After the mini freak out about the lost camera, we continued to navigate the winding road, although the term “road” is generous considering how many times we just barely squeezed between opposing traffic and rock walls.
Traffic started to pile up on the road so we limited the number of stops we took. One of my choice spots, Wai'anapanapa State Park, was absolutely packed with double parked cars and a slow trickle of traffic waiting to get a spot. As much as we wanted to see the sights (every Maui guidebook marks this park as a “must see”), I came to Hawaii to relax, not battle crowds. We moved on, sadly but with the determination to continue our journey while the other visitors rested for lunch.
Blasting through a quick taco stand lunch, we found ourselves in Haleakala National Park at Kipahulu, home of the Seven Sacred Pools and Waimoku Falls. Once parked, we filled up on water (VERY important, as the stream water is not potable) and booked it to Pipiwei Trail, the pathway to Waimoku.
Note: The Seven Sacred Pools are an unbelievable sight to behold, but if you’re pressed for time like us, you might have to choose between swimming in the pools or taking the trail. We chose the trail because plenty of visitors already staked their spots surrounding the pools.
The first part of the trail felt like hell simply because we were dehydrated and still fully clothed. That didn’t last long; we stopped for frequent water breaks and stripped down to our swimsuits. I kept my shorts on just in case I took a tumble; scraped bums are no bueno for long car rides.
We were immediately welcomed by gorgeous vistas that overlooked the pools, but thanks to a number of “Deaths Have Occured” warning signs, we tended to stand back from the edge. Nothing ruins a trip quite like, you know, dying. The views were still pretty unreal, even at a safe distance.
Beyond the initial vistas is a massive banyan tree whose roots and branches intertwine like a tangle of ropes, offering plenty of spaces to sit and hide.
Not long after the banyan tree were bridges hanging at sobering heights above the gulch. The bridge gave us a beautiful bird’s eye view of the pools gushing below. Towering hibiscus plants added a surprising pop of orange throughout the scene.
With less than a mile to Waimoku Falls, we made it to perhaps the most other-worldly spectacle of the entire hike: the bamboo forest. Colossal green pipes shot upward towards the heavens, drinking in most of the light before it could reach the forest floor. Although the rows of trees are structurally similar, no part of the forest looked like the other. We took our time through here.
The bamboo thinned into the last leg of the hike. Tyler was soaked with sweat and I was no beauty queen either, so the cool Hawaiian breeze was a welcome gift as we landed upon Waimoku falls. The thin white water was barely a trickle compared to the pictures we saw online, but it was no less beautiful at 400 feet tall.
The sign right before the [prohibited, yet busy] trail to the falls read that “Waimoku” translates to “Waterfall that is a friend to no one.” Known for its flash flooding, Waimoku can go from a dribble to rock-busting gush in just minutes even during short rainfalls. Call me suspicious, but we decided to hang back and admire from afar. I know, I know...it certainly feels like I missed out, but had the forecast been a little less ominous, we would’ve definitely taken the chance to see the fall up close.
As soon as we turned around, we began the journey home to Paia. Like most trails, Pipiwei was much easier in reverse, but the same does not apply for the Hana road. Now driving on the blind side [and closer to the edge of the cliffs], we snailed along while dodging other cars around corners. As painful as the crawl home might’ve been some other days, I enjoyed seeing how the lowering sun painted the ridges along the coastline.
One thing we noticed while navigating the hairpin turns and unguarded cliffs was just how wild this portion of Maui still remained. Tucked between the tourist stops and “Maui Must-See Sights” were shacks overgrown with fruit-bearing trees and other lush tropical greenery. Maui has no land predators, but that doesn’t excuse foolish endeavors. One wrong turn or quick misstep in these thick tropical forests could mean injury or worse. There were a few occasions during the ride where we felt completely alone with nothing but each other and the scenery of a tropical dream. If you stop nowhere on the Road to Hana, you’ll still feel lost somewhere among your imagination.