When we first heard about the Road to Hana, many years ago, we knew it was going right at the top of our Maui bucket list. It quite simply never entered our heads that we would not drive this incredible highway. Subsequent visits to the island have always involved repeat visits to Hana, along one of the most spectacular roads on the planet. So for us the question of “Is the Road to Hana Worth it?” was not something that ever entered our minds.
One warm evening on Maui while attending a Luau we were chatting to our new Luau Friends over, probably 2 too many Mai Tais, about what our plans were for the rest of our trip. We only had 2 days left in paradise, but they had just arrived and wanted to know what they should do. The subject of Hana came up as we were heading there the next day. It was then they hit us with the staggering statement of “Oh our friends have driven the road to Hana and said it wasn’t worth it”!!!
Naturally, this took us back a little, as it really is one of the standout attractions on the Island. After putting our counter-opinion across, we began to reflect on how some people have come to view the road as not being worth it or a poor experience. It turns out this a multi-faceted issue with many different reasons as to why someone would not enjoy the experience while others think it is a journey through paradise!
Is the Road to Hana Worth it?
Simply put, it depends. For many including us then yes the hallowed ribbon of asphalt that cuts its way through the pristine Rainforest of Maui’s far side is a joyous experience that fulfills so many of our wishlist activities while on vacation.
But for others this is not the case, they find the journey hellish, boring and with very little to show for it at the end. For some, they are right. There is a lot to see on the road, but most of it is “Samey”, if stunning waterfalls, lush tropical jungle, unforgettable vistas, and jaw-dropping coastal views are not your thing. Then there is little for you on the highway. We worry about your mental state, but the reality is that is “all” you will find along the way.
However, we worry there is a second group of people who would love the experience but are missing the point so, what. They fail to really grasp what the road is about and hence, spend several hours driving to Hana, where there is not much to see and then head home. We can understand why these people have a poor experience, but it is not a fair reflection of the highway, and there are much better ways to approach the experience.
We explore these issues below. The honest answer is everyone is different and the road will not be for some people, People’s meaning of “vacation” differs hugely and some people will not enjoy the road. We try and show you what you can expect, what might be turn-offs for you, and why the people that told you the road to Hana was rubbish MAY be wrong.
We would hate to encourage you to set off on this adventure when it doesn’t suit you, just because we like it, But we don’t want you to miss out because someone did it “wrong” and told you not to bother.
First of all, we need to define Worth. The road is FREE. It is a highway and everyone can travel down it for free. Assuming you have a hire car then the only expense is a tank of gas, snacks, and some food and drink. So this is not a monetary issue. It is one of the most affordable things to do on the islands and “dollar for dollar” has one of the best returns of any activity in the world.
The road does have a cost though. On Vacation the most valuable asset is time. The road to Hana will cost you a full day of your vacation, along with a very early alarm call. So if you are to sacrifice a whole day of your trip it better offer something incredible in return!
The road is also pretty hard work, some people are overwhelmed by the drive, and for some, that is the death of the road. Nothing could be worth the hassle of navigating the highway, and the stress takes the edge off any stunning look-out, waterfall, or pristine jungle. We explore this more in our How Scary is the Hana Highway Article here.
What is the Road to Hana?
The Road to Hana is a narrow winding highway that connects the remote backwater town of Hana to the rest of Maui, and hence the world. The town has a small airport but apart from that, the only way in or out is via this ribbon of tarmac.
The 60ish miles of the highway just happened to cut straight through a Pristine rainforest, along the edge of one of the most dramatic and lost shorelines in the world and past enough waterfalls, pools, valleys, and streams to satisfy any bucket list. Take a look at our Hana Highway stops guide to see all the incredible things you will see along the way.
However, it is not all waterfalls and rainbows. The road has a darker side. First of all, it is a long way. around 60-65 miles if you go as far as Kipihulu (the Seven Sacred Pools) That is a long old day when average speeds are 20-30 mph!
The Road is also narrow. It is a single lane for the entire length with virtually no overtaking opportunities. In many sections, the road narrows further and becomes a single lane for BOTH directions. This is usually due to a narrow bridge or where the jungle has reclaimed part of the highway through landslides. These narrow sections can come out of nowhere and the only indication the road is narrowing is a hidden sign and some paint on the road.
The road is really windy as well and for some, this is an issue. Used to arrow straight wide highways this tiny little road cutting through the dense jungle is very intimidating, the corners are often blind with just enough room for two cars (not two tour buses!). And then there are the Locals who hoon down the road with abandon! Woe betide any tourist who holds them up!
For most, the roads issues are far outstripped by its attractions but there is a sizable group of people who just don’t enjoy the road. We have broken this down into three main groups of people! If you feel like you may fit into one of these groups the road may not be for you! Or maybe you are reading this as you heard bad things about the road, Maybe the person who advised you falls into one of these groups, but that does NOT apply to you?
Why do some people dislike the Road to Hana?
It’s just too scary!
We do understand this. And while we don’t agree, for us, the road is easy to drive and alarming moments are rare and inconsequential, we do understand if your tolerance to this sort of road is minimal the stress and fear could easily ruin it.
If every blind bend causes you to tense up and grip the wheel (or ****-it handle). If the gasps are of horror at the plunging drops rather than delight at the visits, and if your heart rate and anxiety are at peak levels the whole time there is little to enjoy.
We explore this in-depth in our how scary is the road to Hana Article. As we know some people just do not handle the road very well. Unfortunately, we can only attribute this to irrational fear. There is nothing to fear about the road, but like all irrational fears, such as fear of spiders or flying, knowing they are irrational and being told there is nothing to fear does little to allay the fear and makes it feel no less real and terrifying!
The best plan if the road strikes terror into your heart is to entrust the driving to someone you trust. If that is not someone in your party, it is time to look at professional drivers. There are many tours and guides that will drive you along the highway in their own transportation, be it private car, mini-van, or small tour bus.
We like exploring the road ourselves and find guided tours rob you of the expiration and adventure driving yourself allows. But if you just can’t face it leaving the driving to those who do it daily is a good way to overcome the fear.
It’s just waterfalls, trees, and a few look-outs, what’s the big deal!
We are all different, and for some, this is just a boring drive through some pretty countryside. Not everyone is enamored with stunning views and countless pretty waterfalls. While we do struggle to empathy with these people, there are things they probably enjoy that we do not, for instance, we detest opera and ballet, but for some, these are enthralling passions!
We have many photo’s of what to expect in this article and other posts about the Highway, especially out Hana Highway Stops post! If these images fill you with childish wonder and a desire for exploration and discovery like they do with us then you are going to low the highway, but for some, it’s a case of, “yeah some trees, so what?”
It’s too long and there is little to see when you get there.
Bingo, this is the perfect explanation of why people get it wrong. There is no “there”. From the moment the road begins you are already there. Every corner brings a new vista every pulls out a chance to witness a stunning waterfall, every trailhead leading to a new wonder (well almost). The road is littered with fruit stands, banana bread sellers, and wondrous plants and trees.
It is a road of discovery into a lost rainforest, filled with moments of exploration and wonder. You need to take your time and stop often, it takes around 2 hours to drive to Hana, but if you do it in under 4 hours you have gone too quickly.
Stop often. Admire everything. Explore and relax at the myriad of waterfalls pools and wayside parks. Take at least one hike and enjoy a day of adventure.
If you are waiting till you get there, you will not enjoy the experience. Hana is definitely so so, especially for a Day Visit. Nevermore so is the saying “The Journey IS the destination” more true than on the Road to Hana.
Why we LOVE it and think you should too
As we said at the beginning, we love the Road to Hana. It jumped out to us on our first-ever trip and has been an enduring love affair ever since. But that is partly because DIY adventures, road-trips, and exploring are what we thrive off. If that is you then you are going to LOVE the highway, assuming you take it slow and take-in all the road has to offer.
But even if the thrill of adventure is not completely your thing, the drive is still insanely rewarding. The road really takes you to a part of Hawaii that you may think only existed in your imagination and film. The dense jungle is straight out of Jurassic Park, quite literally, and the views and vistas down the coastline are unlike anything found elsewhere in the world. We have driven miles in other locations to get to a local waterfall, considered a landmark and of huge local pride, only to find something far less spectacular than some of the more basic Hana Highway falls. The three bears Falls, Waimolu Falls, and Lower Puihokamoa Falls are simply mindblowing sights that are worth any amount of traveling on their own, you get all three (and more).
On top of this you get a glimpse of the old Hawaii, things here operate very differently from the rest of the world. Time moves slower, the things you hold so importantly do not matter. It is a remote and timeless place that demands you dial things back, take your time and let it all soak in.
The wonderous sights really never stop. If you take your time and look for them there are endless wonders on this small strip of tarmac. For a Single day of Vacation, we can not think of a single place in the world that offers more mindblowing sights, vistas, locations, and moments of sheer awe than a trip along the Hana Highway. It crams SO much into its short length, and things come so thick and fast it is impossible not to miss things. Every single trip we have done has ended in regret that we skipped something, didn’t take long enough at that perfect pool, or missed out on one hike or another.
Many think the drive is long we frequently reach Hana or Kipahula and are dismayed at how fast we have got there. Time evaporates on the road as you enter another world, a lost world, one that time forgot. Returning to the resort areas, which you thought were peaceful and relaxed, is quite jarring. Suddenly the western lifestyle has returned, Your phone will kick back into life, people’s worries and anxieties return, and focus turns to the mundane and to things that didn’t matter hours ago. Very soon your mind wanders back to the time when all you had to worry about was finding that perfect pool under a waterfall!
So, is the Road to Hana Worth it?
We started this article by saying we think so, but not everyone will agree. We have tried to explain what the Hana Highway has to offer Honestly and we feel you will probably have developed a sense of if that is for you. Maybe it has lit a fire in your belly and the time between now and when you get to hit the road will be torture. Maybe the descriptions leave you cold and you would prefer to just sit back by the pool with another cocktail. And quite probably many of you are somewhere in between.
The Road asks a lot from its travelers but it gives SO much back. If nothing else it is unique and you can buy a “We Survived the Road to Hana” t-shirt. Unless the thought of pristine rainforest, jaw-dropping waterfalls, and endless vistas leave you cold, or you really really can’t face the endless tight twisting tarmac, we urge you to give the road a try. This is the REAL Hawaii, a remote wilderness just dripping in unimaginable beauty.
Have Your Say
Have you driven the Road to Hana? Let us know your thoughts on the drive. Was it worth it for you? was the effort and time away from the sun lounger worth the payoff? or were you left cold and disappointed? If you didn’t enjoy the drive, Why not? was it just too long and boring, was the stress of the road too much, or did you rush to Hana and not see much on the way? Was it something else that made the trip undesirable for you? We would love to hear your feedback! let us know in the comments below, and if you have any questions just fire away.