Day 7 on South Maui: The Road to Hana

The first of the pools we found at O'heo Gulch on the Road to Hana

The first of the pools we found at O’heo Gulch on the Road to Hana

It’s 4:51 in the morning, I have no good reason to be awake right now, except the room was too dark to find my way around when I momentarily woke up and now I’m too alert to return to sleep. Worse, we’ve decided to take a path to Hana that puts us just a bit closer to the cliff’s edge, which is causing its own special brand of anxiety. It’s likely to be nothing, and well worth the slightly elevated blood pressure at the moment, but damn. I’m reminded that a couple I know (Ben and Alex) drove this area–and that Ben probably had great training at the Fire Department to navigate tight corners. Yet another reason I should have been a fireman. Alas.  On to the adventure that was our Road ‘from’ Hana.  If you decide you want to go back to the March 2013 10-day index, click here and a new window will pop up.

I decided to do this post a little differently than the first six days. First there is a quick run-down of the day for those who are wondering how long it takes to get from Wailea to Haleakala Hwy to the Road to Hana the back way. After that, I circle back and give a little more insight about why Victor from Star Noodle was mostly right about going counterclockwise (the “back way”), and why Komoda Store & Bakery in Makawao and Braddah Hutts BBQ Grill food truck in Hana are, in fact, amazing. With that…

The synopsis

Okay, we set out to experience the Road to Hana at about 6:45am. I’ll circle back, but the rough route went like this:
6:55 – arrive Kihei Caffe and order breakfast burrito and two lattes
7:10 – officially back on the road
7:30-7:42 – reach Haleakala Highway, then take quick detour to very tasty Makawao bakery (see below)
9:20 – arrive first tiny trickle of waterfall on route
9:57 – pay $10 and enter 7 sacred pools
11:00ish to noon – fail to find various sites on road to Hana, but experience several near-death moments on one lane road
Noon – arrive in Hana (it felt much less magnificent than something with a whole experience named after it should be)
12:02 – stop at Braddah Hutts BBQ for some BBQ pork that was the best we’ve had so far (update – Effing delcicious!!)
12:35 – finish licking fingers and get back on the road
12:37 – stop at roadside Ono Organic Farms stand hoping for info about the tour
12:41 – leave when dude is too busy to answer our questions – no farm tour for me
1:42 – 1:30 – fail to find Ching’s pond access and locate again an actual waterfall and pool that had been overlooked by other tourists (yes!)
2:20 – reach overcrowded 4 falls and decide to skip it (mile marker 6.5)
2:58 – arrive Paia and debate stopping at Flatbread Co I mentioned here (yes, again)
3:30 – arrive Makena Beach in Wailea for snorkeling – road from Hana complete.

Ruminations on the Road Less Traveled
As mentioned in this post from Day 5, Victor back at Star Noodle told us to buck conventional wisdom and go to Hana counterclockwise.  While preparing for our trip, my wife got on the Interwebs and found this helpful site where a couple drove the road to Hana a bunch of times apparently to help the rest of us.  Not a bad site, I must say.  The first thing any reasonable person traveling to Hana but who is not actually from Hana ought to know is that it isn’t like windy roads on the mainland.  We have the 67 and rural parts of the 94 out near the border crossing in San Diego and they pale in comparison in terms of potential for turning grown folk into quivering children and also potential for falling.  Okay, slight exaggeration, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

It was cool to go “the back way” (the name apparently given to going counterclockwise) because we ran into almost no traffic as we bumped along the two-lane, mostly paved road.  The lack of traffic helped when we were going over the unpaved portions that required us to go slow-ish and also the initial windy portions that required me to go very slow and of course, the hairpin, one-lane blind corners on cliff’s edges, of which there were many.  (Aside: Attached on page 2 and elsewhere of the Caltrans Highway Design Manual gives you an idea about how roads are designed in ideal conditions – and here is a simpler discussion).

I don’t have any pictures of the road because, well, I was concentrating on the far too limited amount of road surface and Wife was not exactly focused on the sight-seeing, if you know what I mean.  A couple useful tips.  First, if you are bent on seeing Hana, know that we have ridden the stretch that the car companies claim not to cover on two trips and had nary a problem.  This is NOT an endorsement of ignoring your rental contract, but just know that our little Chevrolet Malibu handled the road like the titan of American automotive engineering that it is. (Go ‘Merica!)  Seriously, no problems for us to speak of either time.  Second, there is no place to use a traditional “bathroom” (why in quotation marks?) for the first couple hours, so bring TP and a ziplock bag.  Using nature as the occasional pit stop is not the end of the world – leaving behind your not-so-biodegradable extras, however, just might be.  Plus, it’s very uncool.  Third, if it hasn’t rained much the week you arrived and you take the back way, just drive straight to the O’heo Gulch Pools (a.k.a. Seven Sacred Pools.  Parking on tiny, windy roads with marginal turn-outs is hard enough, but made worse when you schlep the family down a path hoping for a glimpse of natural beauty and find a dry riverbed.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a Hawaiian dry riverbed every day and twice on Sunday, just that if you have the option to get to some of the really great pools it’s worth some focus there.  More specifics below.

Breakfast & Baked Goods
We are, I believe, officially experts on Kihei Caffe.  I’m not even kidding.  We had breakfast there every morning in Wailea, including this one.  Four out of the five mornings we had the breakfast burrito

The housemade salsa on the left was way better than expected - very tasty

The housemade salsa on the left was way better than expected – very tasty

Before you get all “Hawaii isn’t a place for breakfast burritos” on me, please just indulge me for a moment.  Wife and I live in a town that is famous for its burritos.  You can get very good ones at almost every “-berto’s” in town, ditto for Lalo’s in Hillcrest, Cardamom Café in North Park and the list goes on.  And I love a good breakfast burrito.  They are easy to manage, combine essential food items like bacon and eggs and potatoes, and unless you go to some fancy schmancy hotel they are typically not too expensive. It is also hard to do a breakfast burrito really badly, which is a bonus.  Kihei Caffe struck the right tone on its version. Good ratios of egg to potato and bacon, probably not fresh but still very serviceable tortilla and served hot each time.  Perhaps the best little nugget was the salsa.  I am surprised to report that the salsa tasted like it was made in the kitchen that morning and it was quite good.  Wife and I almost had to rock-paper-scissors our way into the last little chunk when we were too lazy to battle the line for a second one.

If you go to Kihei Caffe, go early.  By early I mean definitely before 9AM, ideally like 7:00 or 7:30.  Then you can be assured plenty of space, no waiting, relaxation and general feelings of contendeness that match how one should feel with the Ocean across the street and actual work or life issues thousands of miles away.  Also, as of our trip it was still cash only, so, ya know, plan accordingly.

We wrapped up a quick bite and were back on the road, for us the first “sight” was Komoda Store & Bakery.  Here’s what it looked like from the outside

As old, err historic, as it looks.  In a good, charming way

As old, err historic, as it looks. In a good, charming way

We walked in and I immediately went to documenting the goodness of this little time capsule.  There were various and sundry items of note.  No, when I say sundry, I mean sundry

Yes, I did wonder how long this had been a display here

Yes, I did wonder how long this had been a display here

I found this funny.  But, not to be too off course, I also grabbed a shot of this

Wasn't possible to eat everything, though here's what you'll find

Wasn’t possible to eat everything, though here’s what you’ll find

And of course there was the treasure chest of goodies we left with

Stick donuts and more in an awful styrofoam container

Stick donuts and more in an awful styrofoam container

The one and only downside I could immediately observe was the wretched Styrofoam container in which the items were packed (why styrofoam is bad).  When we go back I’ll either bring my own reusable container or buy one and donate it to our condo.  Such a waste and not good for the environment—but I digress.  The actual items—a guava malasada, a crème filled tart thing and some stick donuts—were delicious and well worth whatever relatively low price we paid.  I wouldn’t recommend a steady diet of these goodies, but at least once is good.  Neither the drive nor the treats will disappoint.

Specifics on “the sights”

Back on the road out of Makawao we started on the long trek eastward through a desert-like portion of Maui that you might not believe existed without making the drive.  I didn’t take photos because, like I said, I was tasked with keeping us on the road.  The road was certainly an experience, one no amount of description can adequately represent.  Honestly, I could tell you how there were a couple times Wife thought I was going to slide down the cliff because I nudged over slightly to let someone pass and she couldn’t see the ground, but that won’t give you the true sensation.  Or I could tell you how odd it was honking the horn behind blind, one-lane hairpin turns with only what I’m fairly certain was non-standard guardrail standing between us and a bad episode of When Vacations Attack.  I could even tell you to think about that sensation you have after getting wrapped up in a very intense thriller and you don’t realize you had scrunched up your shoulders and neck until the scene is over—and then imagine that sensation being the norm for about three hours.  That last one might get close.  Now, to be fair, I am not trained to drive in crazy, narrow places.  In fact, unless it’s the hills of Tuscany I’m not what you’d call a particular fan of driving at all.  I’d prefer a bike or my feet.  So take these tips about the somewhat less than exhilarating sensation of cliff-hugging with a grain of salt.

Still, we did see a few cool things once we got pretty far out there.  First, we stopped at this bridge

CAM01027

It was on one of those random turn outs I mentioned.  And then we hiked back up through this

The bushes we thought would lead to first cool waterfall

The bushes we thought would lead to first cool waterfall

Until we arrived at our first waterfall…*drumroll please*

Our first "waterfall" of the trip--the water really isn't "falling" much, though

Our first “waterfall” of the trip–the water really isn’t “falling” much, though

This is nature folks, not an amusement park.  So sadly if there hasn’t been much rain there isn’t much water to actually fall.  So this first one didn’t work out so well.  Still, it was early in our trip and felt like an adventure to get there, so definitely worth it.  Plus, it’s less than five minutes from your car, so it’s not some arduous trek only to find no water falling.  We smiled at the quaint trickle coming off the rock, breathed in deeply in thanks that our biggest difficulty (besides staying on the road) was not getting enough of a thrill from the waterfall.  And we were on our way.

Next stop, Seven Sacred Pools.  According to our handy Maui Revealed book, there is nothing sacred nor numerically accurate about this little stop.  No worries, it turned out to be well worth the paid parking and the stop.  I know people have differing views about guide books on travel.  Some people think they cheapen the experience, others love them.  My take is that I only have a finite amount of time to enjoy my trip and even if I can ultimately enjoy exploring and finding nothing, I’d rather maximize the number of really enjoyable experiences.  Hiking/dining/ziplining in the shoes of people who have tried it before can be a helpful aid.  It doesn’t work so well with food, but I’m serious when I say there are several places we wouldn’t even have known to look for without the book.  So, do what works for you, but I was glad we had it.

When we arrived at the pools there were probably less than 20 cars in tiers of parking lots that I think could have held at least 100 cars.  This was a good sign.  Chalk one up for Victor, we like a relatively empty attraction.  There were exceedingly clean bathrooms at this stop, so fear not if you decide to hold it all the way until you get here.  As we descended the pathway we saw this.

Proof of my contention that it can easily be walked by virtually all walkers

Proof of my contention that it can easily be walked by virtually all walkers

Which I included to confirm that it’s a pretty gentle decline that you don’t need to be particularly fit to manage.  Then we got to the craggy rock opening with a staircase, which was fine and I didn’t snap a photo.  We hopped down into the riverbed and then climbed over to this

CAM01040

This water is much colder than the Pacific Ocean, so be forewarned.  Also, something I learned from our first trip, just because it looks like a swimming pool at a resort doesn’t mean it has a swimming pool bottom.  Seriously, take note of this point.  Last time, in another pool, I almost got my leg stuck.  The rocks that make up the “bottom” of the pool are not always even and although I didn’t come across any sharp ones, having a set of aqua socks or tabis isn’t the worst call in the world.  Nevertheless, feeling emboldened by, I dunno, stupidity I guess, I plunged out into the pool and swam towards the other side

CAM01041

Swimming in a random natural pool with an actual waterfall is just plain cool.  I am completing this post from the safety of a chair in a room and the memories of sheer cliffs are far enough removed that I almost think it’d be worth doing again.  But the point is that if you are going to do it, make sure to stop here.  I also got this shot

I had to bust out my cat-like climbing skills to take this one

I had to bust out my cat-like climbing skills to take this one

That photo I got after summoning the strength to do a small amount of rock climbing.  It was only a few feet, but the rocks were slick which made it tricky.  This is a reminder to buy a disposable water proof camera.  So very worth the money.  You will see this in my underwater dolphin shots later in the week, but for now, this will do.  On our way out, you actually have to walk up a moderate hill, but at least you get one more shot of the pool

CAM01046

We thought about doing the slightly longer hike to one of the other six (strike through) couple pools but really by now it was close to lunch time and we were ready to find something in Hana.  What we didn’t count on was the dearth of options for food prepared by others in Hana.  We zoomed past a little roadside food truck and a roadside fruit stand and started looking for restaurants.  Wrong turn here, wrong turn there, lovely red beach in the distance, back up the hill…just an Asian place mentioned in the book (Thai, I think), but we weren’t in the mood for that.  Wife said we should just call it good and go back to the roadside food truck—and thus was born our stop at Braddah Hutt’s BBQ Grill.

I did take an actual shot of the truck, but think the menu gets to the heart of the matter more quickly

I did take an actual shot of the truck, but think the menu gets to the heart of the matter more quickly

Bruddah Hutts killed it.  This was just like a food truck we might find in the mainland, except not expensive, not mobile, not having marketing glitz or artwork and not having discovered Square.  But Dear Lord Baby Jesus this was good (aside to my Christian friends and family, please don’t be too offended by Mr. Farrell, it is just comedy).  Back to Braddah Hutt’s, what this place lacked in unnecessary extras it made up for in very, very good barbecue pork.  See

Self-explanatory.  Even Chef Hanis at Carnitas Snack Shack would be proud

Self-explanatory. Even Chef Hanis at Carnitas Snack Shack would be proud

Technically it came with other stuff but I have no memory of anything but the pork.  Well, the pork and the County workers who had come for a quick lunch.  And the family running the spot making a living.  This was delicious.  Well worth the drive.  I also snagged these cookies from Auntie’s, which was really just a dude quasi-subletting a chair under a tent.  But they were homemade and tasty.

Yes, it's random to put a photo of the bag of cookies. Sorry, I try to avoid overkill but wanted to remember these very tasty cookies

Yes, it’s random to put a photo of the bag of cookies. Sorry, I try to avoid overkill but wanted to remember these very tasty cookies

This is a completely random aside, but along the trip Wife and I talked a bit about Strengths and Strengths-based leadership (the “S” is capitalized because it is a ‘thing’ and she helps leaders be better using this concept). It came up in the context of large corporations, but really happens in all sorts of fields.  The basic idea is that the classic management model is to sit someone down, tell them everything they do well, everything they don’t do well and how to focus on the things they don’t do well.  A Strengths-based approach essentially says let’s maximize the stuff you do well and are naturally predisposed to like and be good at and minimize the rest.  In practice, think about the number of people you know who are promoted from journalist to editor, from associate to partner, or from salesperson to manager because that seems to be the logical next step.  But the Strengths that might make someone a tremendous salesperson are not necessarily the same ones that make a good manager or a good leader.  As a society, we generally don’t do this very well.  We’d be better off if people found what drives them and then were able to find a path to do exactly that.

(Update: Since coming back from Maui I actually met a guy in this course called Beyond Law I took who seemed to be living the reality Wife and I were talking about and ironically enough, doing it in Hana.  This guy, Roger Lane, coaches some of the most successful businessmen and women on the planet (not an exaggeration, by the way).  He was, not surprisingly, very impressive.  In part because of his success but even more because he is a good lesson about choosing the life you want to live and then making decisions that support that life.  It’s impressive to see people really actualize the life they want.)

Okay, back to the Hana story.

We wrapped up our lunch and I had been really itching to go on a tour of Ono Organic Farms.  We didn’t make it to the actual farm because of the timing, but instead found this

The Ono Farms fruit stand where we almost bought stuff to take back to the hotel

The Ono Farms fruit stand where we almost bought stuff to take back to the hotel

I had grand designs on purchasing some fresh produce and learning as much as I could about whether the farm was open, how many locals were employed, if the farmers could make a decent living, really as much as I could get.  Unfortunately, our friend operating the stand was a bit overwhelmed by an overly picky tourist who was upset about her coconut and the few others who’d just shown up.  You’ll note the “GMO free” zone sign.  I point this out because it reiterates the point that not all expensive legislation is good and there are other ways to guard against GMO, if that’s your thing.  Things are expensive enough.  Okay, since we didn’t buy anything, here’s a photo of what we almost bought.

CAM01065

We decided to skip it in hopes of maybe making it back to the other not-so-secret pools at mile marker 6.5 on the way back to the other side of the island.

The road back and the night

We braved the road back around and actually just got more and more glad to have gone “the back way” because there was a lot of traffic coming in front of us that we missed.  This was important for two reasons.  First, it meant that we’d visited our previous spots in a much less crowded condition than they were about to be.  Second, since much of the counterclockwise cliff’s edge turns are driving downhill we had the right of way (other road to Hana tips here and here).  Actually, I can’t find any proof that last one is a rule, or even a guiding principle, so please don’t assume because you read it here I am right.  I tried to find some sort of conclusive proof, but it’s beautiful outside right now and I want to wrap this up and ride my bike down 30th Street in North Park, San Diego to one of several bike-friendly, kid-friendly, pet-friendly establishments that serve quality craft beer (I know, technically I have no kids and no pets, but in case YOU ever come to San Diego, you’ll know where to tell people to take you).

The biggest tip I could suggest for the drive isn’t too surprising—respect the locals who are trying to get home.  Most of the people who appeared to be locals were very friendly when we pulled over to let them pass.  Oh, and don’t panic if you get in a scary situation.  As my Dad always said, “never drive faster than you feel comfortable.”  Words to live—and stay alive—by, I tell you.

Our not-so-secret mile 6.5 spot was crowded by the time we go there, so we made a beeline for this

A nice spot for seeking out sea turtles back in the comfort of Makena in south Maui

A nice spot for seeking out sea turtles back in the comfort of Makena in south Maui

This was all the way back around south of our hotel in Makena.  A not typically crowded beach with easy parking and plenty of room—and good snorkeling.  Highly recommend if you are staying anywhere from Kihei southward.  If you are in Lahaina or Up Country or Wailuku its kind of a stretch, actually.  It was good to relax, secure in the knowledge that we were not going to get run off the road and we could just while away the afternoon.  We capped it off with dinner, which will be in a separate post because this one is way, way too long, and this charming image from our hotel room.

This is one of the better photos I've ever taken.  Thank you LG for making me better at this than I really am

This is one of the better photos I’ve ever taken. Thank you LG for making me better at this than I really am

The Road to (or in our case “from”) Hana was something most people who want adventure will probably do at least once.  I’m cool on ever doing the whole loop again.  In fact, Roger (mentioned above) told me when we met that there is a 15-minute flight from Kahului that costs $100 round trip.  This isn’t a cheap option necessarily, but you gain a bunch of time on your day and if you can arrange a car when you land in Hana (an open question, as far as I can tell), it beats the hair-raising craze of the many hairpin, cliff’s-edge turns.  To go back to my index of our March 2013 trip click here.  Thanks for reading!

3 thoughts on “Day 7 on South Maui: The Road to Hana

  1. Sounds like you had an awesome time doing it the “backwards way”. We love the backside of Maui. It’s great that few people do it. We do understand how your wife felt. That’s why it’s the divorce highway. What first caught my attention with your post was the solitude in your Pools of Oheo image. You normally only get that when you camp right in the park and get up early.

  2. Dude you missed the entire Hana experience…I am a local and we go to Hana as often as we can. First of all definitely do not start out going the back way. Leave your hotel or condo no later than 6:00 AM. Purchase a CD from the Shell station on Dairy Road right before you turn right on the Hana Highway. This gives you a personal tour guide on the Road To Hana. The guide goes over the history of the island, how plants got there, tells you about secret stops, etc. it makes the drive really enjoyable. You stop at the black sand beach, tour the Lava Caves which are unbelievable, then go to the Kahanu Gardens to the the ancient Pi’ilanihale Heiau( this is a giant volcanic pyriamd that looks like the Mayan Ruins in Mexico) most people never see this, but it is spectacular! Stay a night in Hana…there is no place on the island so magical. Hike up to the top of Fegan’s Cross, it an amazing view of Hana and the Bay. Then drive out to the Oheo Gulch(Seven Sacred Pools,) but don’t go to the pools, instead, cross the highway and hike up the Pipiwai trail through an amazing bamboo jungle(and you will love this the most) to the grand daddy 400′ waterfall Waimoku Falls…this is what feeds the pools at the bottom. So see it here first then after you are back down, go to the seven pools. They seem like nothing now. Have your lunch and then drive back going around the other side of the island. Stop on the way back at the Winery and then on your way home, call Leoda’s and order unbaked chicken pot pies…cook them in your condo and relax for the evening. That is how you do Hana…next trip to Maui, try it out!

    • Diane thanks for the tip! We’d gone clockwise the last couple trips and were curious. I was glad to have less traffic going the other way and it might just be my imagination, but I think there are more blind curves and one lane stretches towards the ‘end.’ Still, really great tips that I’ll have to consider when we are back in the fall.

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