Maui: Road to Hana and Back Again

Dawn from our lanai (balcony) at the Travaasa Hana

ON THE HIT PARADE of great American drives, the 50-mile Road to Hana, along Maui’s lush windward coast, has to be among the Top Ten. It’s full of corkscrew turns and one-lane bridges; vistas of open sea and rainforest ravines are a dime a dozen.

It’s as beautiful as ever, but as a result of its fame, the once-obscure Road to Hana has become well-trafficked. One is never alone there, and any sense of adventure it may once have had pretty much evaporates as you pass rental car after rental car.

You won’t go hungry on the Road to Hana: fruit stand and food stalls at Nahiku

It’s the journey, not the destination, people keep saying, and in fact, the remote outpost of Hana (pop. 1,235) doesn’t have a whole lot going on beyond its striking natural setting.

We spent two nights at the most luxurious digs in town, the 70-room Travaasa Hana resort, below. Our tin-roofed Sea Cottage, modeled on indigenous plantation architecture from the days when sugar cane was king, was so near the ocean’s edge that the pounding surf invaded my dreams.

Founded as a small, rustic establishment in 1946 and thus historic by Hawaiian standards, the tastefully landscaped and decorated Travaasa Hana (until recently the Hotel Hana-Maui) is sited on prime rolling acreage, with a fabulous lozenge-shaped infinity pool, below, two pleasant restaurants, and a variety of recreational activities, from tennis and 3-hole golf to hula and ukelele lessons.

We didn’t have time to do it all, but we took two lovely early-morning yoga classes in a glass-walled pavilion. I did water aerobics and met a group of lucky people who winter at the Travaasa Hana every year (well-to-do older folks, as you might imagine).

My daughter took a guided horseback ride along the coast, and we explored black sand beaches, above, and red sand beaches, though I stopped short of descending to one posted with signs warning of possible injury or death <silly me>.

We attempted to visit the Kahanu Garden, part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, but heavy rains the night before had washed out the access road, above. Instead, we happened upon the delightfully natural, privately owned Hana Maui Botanical Gardens, 10 acres stocked with a wide variety of ornamental trees and plants. We dropped our $3 into a box, signed the guestbook (we were the first visitors in several days), followed the numbered pink coconuts to the best of our ability, and enjoyed.

We had mai tais and a fine dinner at the hotel’s Paniolo Lounge one evening, and went out locally another evening to the only other restaurant in town, the Hana Ranch, for an unmemorable meal. Better was a Thai lunch of noodles, vegetables, tofu, and papaya salad at a casual place in town, below, that is little more than a tarp over a concrete patio.

Our self-catered breakfasts were sumptuous fruit platters assembled from exotic rombutans (my new favorite fruit, hairy on the outside, sweet on the inside), guava, mangos, pineapple, and several kinds of bananas, bought from the organic Ono Farms roadside stand.

The revelation of the entire Hana experience, for me, came on the return trip to our base in Lahaina at the opposite end of the island. This time, we took the south road, otherwise known as ‘the back way.’ Though I’d been to Maui twice before, this was a hitherto unexplored frontier. This road, officially Route 31, is narrow, rough, rutted, and unpaved in parts — and it has probably been left that way intentionally to discourage traffic. We encountered very few other cars.

Waterfall south of Hana, swollen with rain

After a night of heavy rain, there was uncertainty: would the road be closed because of flooding? If it was, we would have to come back the same twisting, cliffside way we came, and do the Road to Hana in reverse.

Seven Pools at Oheo Gulch in Haleakala National Park

We found out at the Ranger Station some 9 miles south of Hana (the road traverses a section of Haleakala National Park) that the road was passable. Though the park ranger said he “wasn’t allowed” to tell us to take it, we did, and found the scenery very different from the Road to Hana, and no less beautiful.

The back way started out jungly, with impressive waterfalls, then opened up to green hills and arid plains. The whole route is presided over by the black bulk of Mt. Haleakala, Maui’s central volcano, shrouded in clouds on this particular day.

Along the way, we saw a very occasional church or isolated house (where do these people shop?) and far below, the resorts of Kihei and Wailea on Maui’s golden beach coast.

1850s St. Joseph church in Kaupo, which holds services on the 5th Sunday in any month that has one

There’s no through-road to Kihei from ‘the back way,’ though rumor has it Oprah recently bought 100 acres in the precincts of Hana and wants to build one. If that ever happens, it will be over the objections of many locals who seem to like things just the way they are.

To read more blog posts about Maui from my 2009 visit, go here.

Maui: Old Lahaina Town

SEE THOSE TINY DOTS in the middle of the ocean? I’m on one now — the island of Maui in Hawaii, the remotest population center on the globe, 2,500 miles from anywhere.

I’m here to visit my daughter, Zoë. I’ve been to Maui before. I’ve blogged about the old plantation cottages and famously twisting mountain roads and spectacular sunsets, even written an article about Maui’s charms for Coastal Living magazine.

Lahaina cottage, hardly visible behind the greenery

This is the first time I’ve been here in winter, though, when humpback whales in the hundreds give birth and raise their calves in the channel between Maui and neighboring Lana’i. You can see their fins gliding through the water even from the beach. The other day, I added a signature Maui experience to my list — my first whale-watching cruise ever, on the Hula Girl, a 65-foot catamaran, below (my daughter works on the boat).

From the deck, we saw baby whales breaching — that is, jumping clear out of the water, as if for joy. It’s not known exactly why they do it, but it sure looks playful (not my photo, below;-)

In another exciting marine life encounter, while snorkeling today at Airport Beach in Kaanapali, I followed a huge sea turtle along the coral reef for about 3 minutes, coming within two feet of it.

I’m based in the town of Lahaina — a onetime whaling village, now tourist mecca — on the leeward (sunny, calm ocean) side of the island. That’s Front Street, above, early in the morning before the tourist hordes arrive.

My hotel, below, the historic wooden Pioneer Inn, feels just right.

Built by an Englishman named George Freeman in 1901, it has an authentically nautical vibe left over from the days when its bar and 35 rooms were occupied mostly by rowdy sailors.

Now it’s surrounded by shops selling aloha wear, bad art, shave ice, etc., but I don’t mind — not even The Parrot Guy taking photos of visitors posed with his colorful birds, who  create quite a racket.

Dan’s Greenhouse is a second-floor shop on Front Street selling bonsai and exotic tropical plants approved for export, along with talking birds and mini-pot belly piglets

We spent a couple of days in Hana (subject of my next post), then braved the partly unpaved, cliffside route around the southern rim of the island. But besides these classic Maui adventures, I’m getting a kick out of all the little things that set Hawaii apart from the other 49 states: roadside fruit stands selling tiny ‘apple bananas’ 5 for $1, muu-muus on a dry cleaner’s price list, unimaginably fragrant flowers everywhere. Only in Hawaii does it not feel ridiculous to pluck a hibiscus blossom or plumeria, below, and tuck it behind your ear.

Best Lahaina food discovery so far: Star Noodle, below. a cool spot in an unlikely place (an industrial park in the hills above town), serving Asian fusion in a design-y setting.

Grilled Brussel sprouts with kim chee puree, pan-roasted local mushrooms, garlic noodles, scallops and asparagus…all very healthy until the waiter foisted upon us some upscale malasadas, a dessert brought to Hawaii in the 19th century by Portuguese who came to work the farms — fried dough balls, 3″ in diameter, swathed in chocolate and butterscotch sauce, with a side of banana ice cream and a handful of chopped peanuts for good measure.

The Buddha next door: Zoë lives very near the Lahaina Jodo Mission, which also has a most impressive pagoda and massive gong that rings 11 times each evening

New-to-Market Maui Plantation Cottage 499K


THIS 1939 PLANTATION COTTAGE in upcountry Maui, an area of rolling hills and lush farmland, has just hit the market. It’s near the low-key town of Makawao, 15 or 20 minutes inland. Sweet, is it not?


Though the listing says 519K at the moment, the price on the 3BR, 2 bath cottage being dropped to 499K, with taxes under $200/month. It’s owned by Cherie Attix, who runs the Hale Ho’okipa B&B, where my daughter and I spent a few lovely days last November.


Read more about it below, and go here for the full listing and lots more pictures of the interior and the surrounding property.


The Cutest Plantation home in Makawao is up for grabs! An arbor covered walkway leads to the French doors that open into the living room. The large kitchen features a built in pantry with glass doors, an island with gas cook top, and a monkeypod bar [ed. note: ???] with a pass through to the living room. This 1939 old style charmer has three bedrooms, two baths and new addition. The addition with vaulted ceiling, sky light and hardwood beams makes a great living space, office, art studio, or a private area with it’s own covered lanai and separate entrance and yard. Addition’s bath has a walk- in tiled shower. The lot was landscaped with privacy in mind, is fenced, gated, and planted with fruit trees and flowers. From the porch swing on the covered lanai enjoy the view of the neighboring pastures and grazing horses. Only a short walk to Makawao schools, shops and restaurants. Welcome Home to country living near the heart of Makawao town. Listing Agent is owner.





Upcountry Maui Plantation Cottage 260K


HERE’S A LITTLE SOMETHING to dream on as we enter the coldest, darkest days of winter: a well-priced — no, for Maui, crazy cheap — new-to-market 3BR, 1 bath plantation-style house ‘upcountry,’ a part of the island that’s more rolling hills than rolling surf.


I was alerted to it by Cherie Attix, proprietor of Hale Ho’okipa, a historic B&B where my daughter and I  stayed for a few wonderful days last month. Cherie, in addition to inn-keeping, is a real estate agent, blogger, and all-round Maui booster, having moved there from California some three decades ago.


Cherie writes: “Here is a cute oldie in Pukalani…probably 1930s to ’40s…I have not done a walk-through, but heard the plumbing and wiring are new….super cheap, on a nice size lot on a quiet street.”


Granted, the place needs work, but it’s livable. And who wouldn’t want avocado and orange trees in the backyard?


For 26 pictures and more details, click right here. Or call Cherie at 808/281-2074. Soon.

MAUI: Over the Top from Wailuku


A WEEK IN MAUI exhausted my supply of superlatives: spectacular, magnificent, stunning, incredible…not to mention oohhh and aaahhh. Maui is all that, as was confirmed again by a 20-mile drive (at 10-15mph) on Tuesday along the island’s northeastern tip — a drive often likened for scenic beauty to the more famous Road to Hana at Maui’s other end.

This northern road, below (Rt. 340; officially, Kahekili Highway, though no one seems to call it that), weaves along an ancient coastal footpath, providing awe-inspiring views of the ocean, verdant hills dotted with the occasional cattle ranch, and dramatic rock formations.


I had been wussy about this drive at first. It sounded treacherous. The breakfast conversation at our B&B in Wailuku was all about the road: how it was vertigo-inducing and only wide enough for a single car. Many maps indicate a dotted line, with the words “4-wheel-drive vehicles only,” which my rented Ford Focus was not.

Eventually I agreed to give it a go, with my daughter Zoë at the wheel (she’d driven it before). It was thrilling, and felt perfectly safe. There’s enough land between the edge of the road and the drop-off to the water that I didn’t ever feel we were about to go over a cliff. There are railings or fences along most of it, and it’s decently paved, if narrow (we did have to back up, carefully, in several places to give those coming in the opposite direction the right of way).


Part of the fun was stopping in the remote and enterprising town of Kahakuloa, above, deep in a valley, where local residents have set up colorful stands selling dried mango slices, fresh cut pineapple  in Ziploc bags, and home-baked banana bread to sustain hungry travelers.

Having survived the drive, we explored a couple of the rugged, windswept beaches on the north shore of Maui, uncrowded except for a few snorkelers and surfers, then made our way back to Wailuku via the regular highway — roundabout but relatively quick. We had a delicious, inexpensive Vietnamese dinner in Wailuku at A Saigon Cafe.


The Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono, above, home base for my last three nights in Maui, is a rambling 1920s house inside a leafy gated courtyard. The inn’s ten large rooms and public spaces, decorated with bamboo furniture and flower prints, have an Old Hawaii feel.



The inn is quiet and comfortable, and they think of everything: roll-up mats and towels for the beach, healthy snacks available at any hour of day or night, guidebooks to Maui’s history, flowers, fish, and birds in every room. Janice Fairbanks, who runs the inn with her husband Tom, whips up banana/macadamia nut pancakes, fresh fruit salads in scalloped-edge papaya cups, and other scrumptious breakfast treats every morning. Below, our Lokelani room.


The centrally located town of Wailuku had a bustling commercial center before the advent of nearby shopping malls. Now it has a sleepy little historic district with a 1928 Art Deco movie house, below, now used for community theater productions, as its centerpiece.



Wailuku’s main claim to tourist fame is the jungle-like Iao Valley, with its 1,200-foot-tall ‘needle’ of basalt, below.


This area was the scene of a bloody battle between Maui warriors and forces led by King Kamehameha, who sought to unify the Hawaiian islands (under his own rule, of course) in the 1790s. We found the state park at Iao Valley thronged with families trekking through rainforest glades, and exploring the bite-size native botanical garden, below.



Below, how bananas begin.


A visit to Wailuku’s 1833 Bailey House, below, now a museum of Hawaiian ethnographic and missionary history, with its lovely collection of local landscape paintings done in the late 19th century by Massachusetts-born missionary Edward Bailey, was a fine top-off to my Maui experience.


Of course, I couldn’t resist snapping a few examples of Wailuku’s older bungalow-style houses, below, on our way out of town.



All good vacations must end, sadly. This is my last Maui post; I wrote most of it on the plane en route to JFK and am now back in the land of the brownstones. But my head is still in Hawaii. If anyone has Hawaii tips,  please share them in the comments. I know I’ll be back.