Even before leaving the car rental office at the Kahului Airport on the North shore of Maui, everyone is warned that taking a rental car on certain backroads near the ocean cliffs will violate their rental car contract. Being a natural adventurer and a race car driver, such a warning only peaked my interest, and I was sure that I would soon be exploring those roads!
Though it would be several days before I had a free day, I began surveying local maps, formulating a plan, and recruiting another adventurer to navigate. Due to time constraints, it was decided that we would attempt a “figure 8” of the entire island in one day, something which we were told was impossible by knowledgeable Maui travelers.
We were staying at the beautiful Napili Kai Beach Resort, which has to be the quietest beach area along the northwest shore of Maui due to its ban on motorized water vehicles in that bay. It was the ideal starting point for our journey. All we had to do was take a left out of the resort and follow our noses!
This exciting backroad around the most-northern tip of Maui is Highway 30. It begins as a normal road from Napili, passing the pineapple fields near Kapalua before reaching Honolua Bay…considered the best winter surfing area on Maui. As the road climbs, visitors are treated to more and more beautiful vistas. Shortly after Highway 30 becomes Highway 340 a sign to Nakalele Point marks the site of an old lighthouse and a famous surf-powered blowhole.
From that point on, rental car drivers are no longer protected by contracts or insurance. The road becomes very narrow in places, guard rails are mostly nonexistent, and the pavement is often poor. Nevertheless, for anyone who has ever ventured out on any mountain road in the west, or driven the red clay dirt roads in Georgia, only good common sense is needed to survive one of the most beautiful drives in the Hawaiian Islands. If one is cautious, the only real danger I noted was the possibility of being hit by falling rocks from the cliffs above. I would not suggest driving this road during high winds or stormy weather.
Almost half way through this picturesque sojourn, one passes by a church while descending into the fishing village of Kahakuloa, one of the oldest communities on Maui. Continue on to mile marker 11 where the road begins to widen again and your rental contract magically activates as you reenter civilization.
As quickly as possible, we rushed through the urban areas of Wailuku and Kahului, turned onto Highway 37, and climbed towards the Haleakala volcano. Though we bypassed the volcano on this occasion, (catching the sunrise from atop Haleakala is a must on any itinerary), we traversed around the west side of the extinct crater at a high enough level to enjoy some great views of Maalaea Bay and the resort areas of Wailea. It wasn’t long until the road led us to Maui’s only winery known as the Tedeschi Vineyards, which is in the heart of ranch country and produces some really top-quality wines.
The Ocean Along The Lava FieldsFrom here, the highway turns to the east as it descends slightly into more than ten miles of lava fields with tremendous views of the ocean below. But at Huakini Bay, the rental car again turns into a pumpkin with no coverage and continues for more than five miles along desolate, often one-lane roads near the ocean cliffs. Again, the only apparent danger on this road would be from water coming down the mountainside during a very heavy rainstorm.
It is truly amazing how much the landscape changes in a few miles as one moves from the lush, fertile fields near the winery through the desert-like moonscape of the lava fields. Then, as the shoreline becomes steeper on the east side of the volcano, fast-flowing mountain streams are encountered complete with waterfalls, pools, and colorful flora.
The next area is Kipahulu which is special for several reasons: the least of which is that one’s car rental contract becomes active again; The best of which is the Maui Stables experience!
Native Hawaiian guides escort visitors on horseback through hallowed trails as they weave a beautiful tapestry of the history of this area with words, ancient prayers, and native chants. Guests climb high into the hills above the crashing ocean to a sacred place above a floral valley to view almost 500 foot-high waterfalls that feed the fertile valley below. It is by far one of the most touching and spectacular experiences on the island of Maui!
If one has the time, a visit to the final resting place of Charles A. Lindbergh, the first aviator to fly the Atlantic Ocean alone, is possible. He is buried in a simple grave beside an old church near Kipahulu below a plain, dark-brown cross.
As the highway turns north again and becomes more passable, the remaining twelve miles to the ancient city of Hana bypass several roadside waterfalls and pools as well as parks, old structures, and beautiful landscapes.
The old village of Hana probably supports the largest population of native Hawaiians on Maui. It has remained virtually unchanged, and is better known as the end of the famous Hana Road. Other than a few small shops, the Hotel Hana Maui, the famous Hasegawa General Store, and a few independent B & B’s, there are few places to stay in Hana and not much to see. The road back from Hana to Paia, however, is a different story!
According to everything I had read before going to Maui, the trip from Hana to Paia usually takes most tourists 3 to 6 hours to complete, and some locals had claims of doing the trip in around 2 hours. The best I had heard, however, was an account by a sports writer who claimed completing the winding road in 90 minutes.
Since the day was beginning to fade, most of the traffic had subsided, a light rain was falling, and we needed to cover lots of ground quickly if we were to finish the “figure 8” of Maui in one day, I decided to go for the record. Navigating more than 50 miles of switchbacks, tricky turns, one-lane bridges, a one-way construction area, and thousand foot dropoffs in a poor handling, front wheel drive, rented convertible made the wet road almost as exciting as sky diving! Nevertheless, I made the daunting drive in just 80 minutes, which should have a established me as the new record holder!
Though we had left the rain behind on the Hana Road, darkness was approaching, and time was of the essence. So, I drove quickly past the airport again to Highway 380, south towards Maalaea Bay and back on Highway 30 heading west.
The highway is mostly four lanes along the southwestern shore of Maui. Despite the presence of many swimmers, surfers, fishermen, and plenty of traffic, the views all the way to the historic town of Lahaina are very pretty. The remaining miles from there to Napili Kai Resort are dotted with expensive lodging properties, which I drove through as quickly as possible to finish the one-day “figure 8” of Maui.
In retrospect, it was a major undertaking to cover so much diverse territory in a single day, and I know that many wonderful side trips could be experienced if the “figure 8” were made in several days. However, with the time constraints we faced, it was the only way for us to see those fantastic roads and views that few ever know. Besides, it satisfied that instinct to explore the road less traveled, it allowed enough time for some unforgettable photography, and we tasted the forbidden fruit of life that rejuvenates an adventurer’s spirit!
For more information go to www.visitmaui.com. Excellent lodging is available by calling Napili Kai Beach Resort toll-free at 1-800-367-5030. See ancient Hawaii on horseback by calling Maui Stables at 808-248-7799 or visiting their web site at mauistables.com.