A Note (10/6/2016): Local’s have stated that they don’t like tourists driving this back road. Also, keep in mind that driving through the unpaved portion of this road may void your rental contract. The unpaved road and pot holes will make driving through this area during heavy rains very difficult. Be respectful of the area and do not stop and park where you are not supposed to. Pack out what you pack in…don’t leave your trash around!
Hana is a sleepy, quiet town, but driving to get there via State Highway 36 can be challenging for some. The drive through Hana Highway features many hidden waterfalls, but is also well known for its narrow single vehicle lanes and bridges. Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the number of twists and turns that define the Road to Hana. It’s no wonder that most visitors to Hana leave the town with a t-shirt declaring that they Survived The Road to Hana.
I don’t care how much you love nature, if you get car sick, then you won’t enjoy the Hana Highway. An alternative is to drive through upcountry Maui, though Kula, Kaupo, and and Kipahulu. Most people avoid this route to Hana, and most tourist are told that they shouldn’t even attempt to drive through it. Car rental companies wiIl tell you that driving through this stretch of road will void your rental contract. Hesitant, I decided to take a look for myself using Google Maps Street View. Although uneven, it didn’t look as bad as everyone made it out to be. Sure, it looked bumpy on Google Maps, but hey, it’s not like we would be driving a horse carriage.
The closest landmark to us was the Tedeschi Winery. Looking at a road map, it was obvious that Waimea was very close to the winery. Unfortunately, what should have been a 10 minute ride to the winery was extended to an hour drive through Kihei, Kahului, Makawao, and then Kula. Unfortunately, the part of Highway 31 that goes through Wailea, does not connect with the part of Highway 31 that brings you to Hana. So, we basically had to drive through the middle of the the island in order to connect to Highway 37, which then becomes Highway 31.
The drive through Highway 37 and 31 is a twisty, up and down roller coaster of a ride. This stretch of road (counterclockwise route) can induce as much (maybe more) car sickness when compared to its Road to Hana counterpart (clockwise route). The main difference? You’ll encounter far fewer cars with this back route. At around mile-marker 25, the hilly up-and-down road ends after you cross a very small wooden bridge. From here, the road becomes a single lane road. You’ll know that you’ve reached this part when you notice that the yellow median line has disappeared. Follow this road and you will come to a beautiful lookout point at around mile-marker 27, just before you hit Manawainui Valley Bridge.
Continue on Highway 31, and just beyond Manawainui Valley Bridge, you will reach the dreaded restricted area. If you dislike potholes, then you will absolutely hate this part of Highway 31. It’s not a gravel road, instead, it looks more like a very old paved road that’s been patched over and over and over again with asphalt. Yes, the emphasis was needed there. You’ll have to take it slow. For this 8-mile stretch, we probably drove at around 10 mph. It was a snails pace. There’s nothing much on this stretch, other than some residential homes, farms, and old St. Joseph’s Church at mile marker 33. The gate to the church was closed, and there were state trucks and maintenance men around, so we didn’t bother to check it out. In retrospect, we drove all the way out there and endured the torturous road. We should have gotten out, trespassed, and snapped a few photos.
At mile marker 35, you’ll have reached the historic Kaupo Store. This is where the bumpy road torture sort of ends. When we finally reached the Kaupo Store, we both quickly stepped out of the car and jumped for joy. Our rental car had survived the no-no road. And so did we.
Stepping into the Kaupo Store is like take a step back in time. The walls are lined with antique bottles, clocks, and signage. I was immediately drawn to the wall behind of the rusty cash register. Vintage cameras that belonged to the former owner of the Kaupo Store, Nick Soon, were neatly displayed next to each other. Established in 1925, the historic store now caters to bewildered tourists looking for a slice of civilization (usually in the form of ice cream, candy, or Coca-Cola) after having just endured the Road to Hana. The story behind Kaupo Store and its owners is an interesting one and this article from Maui Magazine offers insight into both.
From the Kaupo Store, we would drive the seven miles to Haleakala National Park. We would reach our destination at around 1:45PM. The drive from Wailea through upcountry Maui took approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes. The drive was indeed a unique one. Would we do it again? Well, Michelle and I both agreed that we wouldn’t. But hey, we said the same thing about the traditional Road to Hana and I’ve been through that road twice since making that promise. Honestly, I’d love to return to Hana. I’ve got a love/hate relationship with Hana, but there are so many things that I have yet to see. So many waterfalls to check off of my list, people to meet, and roadside fruit to taste. Maybe we’ll fly in next time.
Back Road to Hana Landmarks and Mile-Markers:
- Tedeschi Vineyards and Winery (between mile-marker 14 and 15)
- Ulupalakua Ranch (mile-marker 15)
- Start of one lane road (just beyond mile-marker 25)
- Manawainui Valley Bridge (mile-marker 27)
- Bumpy Pot Hole Filled Road Begins (mile-marker 27; just beyond Manawainui Valley Bridge)
- Huakini Bay (mile-marker 28)
- Nuu Bay (mile-marker 31)
- St. Joseph’s Church (mile-marker 33)
- End of Bumpy Pot Hole Filled Foad (mile-marker 35)
- The Kaupo Store (mile-marker 35)
- Alelele Falls (mile-marker 38)
- Popoiwi Heiau (mile-marker 38)
- Haleakala National Park (mile-marker 42)
[Note: We totally failed to photograph most of the drive through Highway 37 and 31. I was focused on driving through the winding and bumpy road and Michelle got a bit car sick. Thank goodness for Google Maps (see below)! Our cameras did come out, though, once we reached Maunawainui Valley Bridge at mile marker 27.]