Surviving driving the Hana Highway, Maui

620 curves. 59 one-lane bridges. And a full-on 13 hour day. 

It is actually quite tough to think about leaving our villa in Kapalua on the north-east coast of the island. We have a beautiful beach at our feet and we can whale watch over breakfast (yes, it’s a tough life). But for many people, the Hana Highway is one of the highlights of a trip to Maui and I wasn’t keen to miss out, so I dragged every out of bed bright and early!

For what seems like such a small island, it sure can take a long time to get around Maui. Don’t be fooled by what the map looks like – if you’re coming from the Kapalua region then getting to the bottom of the island then prepare for a full day of driving and adventuring to get to Hana.

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A grove of painted eucalyptus trees

We were up and out the door for 5.45am, cruising the blissfully quiet road through Lahaina to our first stop, Paia. Luckily, Anthony’s Coffee Shop was open for us to grab a quick breakfast – although unluckily it was also pouring with rain at this point – not the ideal start to the journey! The optimists within us hoped that the bad weather would put people off today as their ‘Hana highway’ day – and I think it worked. There were several stops where we had the place all to ourselves and the weather brightened and darkened all through the day – only adding to the atmosphere.

I’m just going to take a moment to shout-out to the GyPSy app for the Hana highway. I’d done a ton of research before going (very typical of me) and written down the specific mile markers of things that I wanted to see. However, I’d read a little bit about this app and thought it worth a risk at £3.99 – and it definitely was worth it. We christened the friendly voice of the app ‘Jeff’ and he became our tour guide for the day. When you only have a day to do the Hana highway, it was really great having him point out the most worthwhile stops at the exact locations (his commentary was tied to our location via GPS – no data required) and saved us a ton of time and aggravation.

Our first stop was Hookipa Beach lookout, where we watched surfers as the most perfect full rainbow appeared.

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A full rainbow over Hookipa beach

 

After Hookipa beach, the famous section of the Hana highway really begins, and the roadside flora changes dramatically from windswept coastline to lush rainforest and the most beautiful trees (our favourite were the painted eucalyptus). I’ve never seen so many Jeeps and Mustang convertibles as on the road to Hana – they must be the most popular rental cars on the island!

We pulled over at the Twin Falls – unfortunately, this is where we had the worst of the weather and we were completely drenched only halfway to the falls. We gave this one up and ran back to the car to wait it out. When we arrived at the Waikamoi Ridge, the weather cleared and we stopped to hike the trail. This was really beautiful and took us through a gorgeous bamboo forest – but if we had to do the Hana highway over again, I would skip this and save more time for the end, as we ran out of time (and daylight) to do the brilliant-looking hike called the Pipiwai trail.

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Bamboo forest

 

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Stunning trail through Waikamoi Ridge

 

Our next point of interest was the aptly named Garden of Eden. Although our guide ‘Jeff’ recommended waiting for the (free) Keanae Arboretum, we paid (£15pp initially, but the lady at the front let us off with two ‘children’ in the backseat so we paid approx £10pp) to be allowed into these absolutely stunning gardens. This was completely worth the fee as not only were the gardens immaculate but also informative – and we learned a lot about the different plants we would see through the rest of our journey. My favourite were the bright orange African tulip trees and the myriad types of bamboo. We also saw the rock from the opening scene of Jurassic Park. I’m not sure how impressed I was about that – but the boys loved it.

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Jurassic Park rock view from Garden of Eden

 

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Staring intently at the Jurassic Park rock

 

It was now about 10.30am and we were definitely hungry for some famous Hana highway banana bread. Again, I’d done my research and found that the best stop was ‘Aunt Sandy’s’ on the Keanae peninsula. When we arrived there was already a bit of a queue and we had to wait 15 minutes… but that was plenty of time to look around the peninsula with a wild and wet lava rock beach and a tiny little lava rock church. When we returned to Aunt Sandy, we had loaves of banana bread waiting for us, hot straight from the oven. Oh so delicious.

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Home of delicious banana bread

 

Lava rocks no the beach, by Evan George

Lava rocks on the beach, by Evan George

Now we came to a secret place that even Jeff didn’t know about. If you’re reading this and about to head to Maui (lucky you), make sure to make note of this little stop. Just past mile marker 23, two turnouts on the left, park your car. You’ll see a little hole on the side of the road – it doesn’t look like much. But it opens out into an awesome (secret…ish) lava tube. I think all my passengers were impressed with this! It really opens up once you’re inside so there’s no tight places to crawl through – and you come out into the jungle which leads right around to the main road where the car is parked. Perfect!

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The start of the lava tube, by the side of the road

 

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Entering the lava tube… dun dun dun

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And out into the jungle

 

Although it didn’t seem that long from the banana bread, we were all getting a bit hungry. The Nahiku Market Place was the perfect place to fill our tummies (especially as the rain started again) with fresh island fish tacos and delicious Maui coffee. There were some men who were cycling the highway – now that’s impressive!

We lingered at the Waianapanapa State Park, which would be an ideal place to stop and camp if you were doing the overnight version – as the sights just got better from here on out! We wish we had reserved more time for the latter end of the Hana highway, but there are just too many things to see. Waianapanapa had some very cool caves, but they were crowded with swimmers – I suppose it was one of the few places that you could swim that day, because many other of the waterfall pools were completely overrun with rain water and flash floods from the mountains. There was also a black sand beach here, which was very cool, and a sea arch. We watched one brave little boy snorkelling the black sand beach as waves pounded the rocks around him – I’m not sure that I would have dared.

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Cave in Waianapanapa

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Black sand beach, Wainapanapa

 

Past Waianapanapa is the town of Hana, but we didn’t stop – we carried straight on through. We turned off to view Koki beach and Hamoa beach – and we really lucked out as some professional surfers were catching some waves on Koki beach! They had an entourage of photographers with big long lenses – but even with our little point and shoots (and our phones) we got some good snaps. There was a lot of skill on display!

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How professional surfers wipe out!

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Pro surfers on Koki beach

 

The final stop on the Hana highway for us was the Haleakala National Park, and the Oheo Gulch (or Seven Sacred Pools – the more romantic, though inaccurate, name – there’s apparently nothing sacred about them). These are a series of (ordinarily) gentle pools running down to shark-infested ocean waters, but today they were raging waterfalls fed by the rains. No swimming permitted! If we’d had more time, we would have hiked the Pipiwai trail up to the Waimoko Falls but it was already 3.30pm by this time and we wanted to be back to Hana by 4pm to avoid travelling in the dark.

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The raging Oheo Gulch

 

At this point, there are two options – to turn around and drive back down the Hana highway, or to continue on through unpaved roads around the bottom of the island. I’d normally be loathe to come back the way we came, and we entertained the idea of driving the unpaved path – but the park ranger warned that because of all the rain, it was likely some of the road would be washed out. That finished off that idea – the unpaved road was technically illegal to drive our rental car on so we didn’t want to risk getting stuck. But actually, we were pleasantly surprised by the drive home. You see the highway from a completely different perspective, and you’re able to stop off at any roadside waterfalls that you missed. Since you’re not on the look out for stops and sights, you notice more of the lush jungle all around you, and appreciate every twist and turn in the road, the drama of the volcanic coastline. We loved it!

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Stunning Wailua Falls

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Upper Hanawi Falls

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The road to Hana, cut into the coastline

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A final painted eucalyptus, because they’re awesome

 

Back in Paia, we stopped for some much deserved gelato for the driver, before making our way back to Kapalua. Maui, so far you’ve been top notch.

 

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Waikiki Beach… the start of two weeks in paradise

It took us almost 24 hours, but some destinations are worth the journey.

Hawaii is the perfect meeting-up point for my family, dispersed as we are all across the globe (L and I, from the UK; my parents from Canada, my sister and her bf from Australia). We started as most people do – with a couple of nights on Waikiki beach. And what a place. Full of life and action, Waikiki is not what I would refer to as ‘chilled out’ (and especially not where my parents were staying, the frenetic and huge Hilton Hawaiian Village) but it is so much fun.

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How else would I sum up Waikiki?

1) It’s a surfer’s paradise

The time difference between the UK and Hawaii is 11 hours – so long it’s almost meaningless. We were up early the first morning, but still not as early as these surfers – who hit the water at first light.
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2) It’s a shopper’s paradise

Along Kalakaua Avenue, you’ll find every luxury boutique you can think of (although who wants to wear stuffy designer clothes in laid-back Hawaii? I’ll never know. I’m thinking of permanently ditching all footwear for flip-flops for the rest of the trip). We did do some sale shopping (of course!) in Ala Moana shopping centre, but if you have to shop anywhere, doing so in a bright, breezy open air mall is the way to do it.

3) It’s a foodie haven

We were only there for two days, but we ate some of the most amazing food – and not at ridiculous prices. My highlights were the ahi katsu at Chai’s cafe. Food this good should not be served in a box (but when it does, hallelujah!). Chai Chaowasaree is a world class high-end chef but this restaurant of his is no frills. Perfect for eating top quality food while not changing out of your sarong. Also delicious was the Luau Eggs Benedict from Tropics cafe in Hilton Hawaiian Village with kalua pork and a purple taro roll. Yum.

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4) It’s ridiculously beautiful. 

Who knew a major city could be this gorgeous? With sunsets like this, it’s tempting never to leave. But with Maui ahead, I’m looking forward to some major R&R…

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Party/Beach/Culture

For backpackers, Koh Phangan is known for one thing: full moons. Not that it is inhabited by a bunch of werewolves (although from stories I’ve heard, you wouldn’t be half wrong) but for the crazy parties that are held once a month when the moon is brightest. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there for one of these full moons, but we did arrive on the day of a half-moon party. After checking into another cute bungalow on the beach and exploring the full moon beach of Haad rin, we headed into the jungle for the party. Immediately we are bombarded by thai men and women armed with glowing body paint. It’s impossible to resist; Sarah gets a butterfly on her shoulder and I get a Canadian-UK flag on my arm (yes, I was feeling particularly patriotic that day!) The music wasn’t entirely mine and Sarah’s thing – heavy trance and house musi. But it was accompanied by some awesome firedancers and generally we had fun partying into the wee hours of the morning (although not as wee as Adam – at least we got some sleep!)  

We recovered the next morning back at Haadrin, where there is more action. Unfortunately there was also a lot of clouds, so we passed the time in a “Friends” bar (non-stop Friends episodes, feels like home!) and then by watching the movie “The Beach.” Having just read the book in NZ, I was keen to see the film. Certainly having been to Th Khao San I can say the portrayal is pretty much accurate, although we are staying in a nicer hostel! And as for the beach itself, it doesn’t exist…

Turtle Island

While Phangan might be famous for parties, Koh Tao is famous for diving. You couldn’t walk three steps without stumbling over yet another dive shop. While wandering the streets we were spotted by Katie (it also seems to work like that: completely random) and so we stayed with her at Crystal Dive Resort. There was no diving for me this time – I wanted to do it in the Similans but it is the wrong season.

It also happened to be Katie’s birthday! We had a chilled out night sitting on the beach at Lotus bar and almost got lost walking home. We walked home because we didn’t want to shell out 70Baht for a taxi… about the equivalent of $2! Needless to say, we are anxious not to get ripped off in Thailand, even though getting ripped off is still about a quarter of the price (or an eigth, if you’re English!) we would pay at home.

Our stay at Koh Tao was short but sweet. Sarah only has a few more days in Thailand and we had to make sure we arrived in Bangkok on time so we didn’t miss our flight. Ironically, after having heard so many stories of late buses and missed connections, our bus ended up arriving in Bangkok 2 and a half hours early! Wandering Th Kao San at 3:30am is an interesting experience… everyone is awake still – chatting in bars, drinking, wandering, shopping, eating – as if it were 3:30pm. We weren’t even charged for the extra night, even though we reached the hotel and crashed on the beds. We weren’t up for joining the much-too-alive Bangkok night scene after the long bus ride. Tonight may be different though!

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From Beach to Sun-drenched Beach

Coastal drives seem to be the thing to do in NZ. All the North Island Kiwis we’ve met up with (some of whom have put us up for the night – thanks Mike and Jodi!) say “South Island has the mountains, but we have the beaches.” This is a claim we are willing to research thoroughly! Between Auckland and Whangarei (pronounce “wh” as “f”), there are so many nice beaches that it is almost torturous to those who have to stay in the car and drive by without stopping…

But we had to reach the Bay of Islands. Paihia is where our cruise departs from but it is more than just a pretty place. It is also home to Waitangi – the birthplace of New Zealand as a nation. Sounds cheesy, and it is. Especially after learning how badly they treated the original founding document (known as the Treaty of Waitangi – it was almost completely eaten by rats). But some insightful person realized just how unique this agreement between the Maori and the British really is. I’ll skip all my contemplation on how Canadian Aboriginal people could have benefited from such an accord.

The treaty grounds are beautifully restored and the Maori maere (meeting house) is awe-inspiring. The inside is covered by intricate wooden carvings and marginally creepy “tiki” dolls with paua shell eyes. We explored until it was time to head down to the wharf for our cruise.

Aboard “The Rock”

It turns out that our cruise is on board a very odd-looking, rust red converted car ferry. We met our dorm mates (assuredly two members of the Russian mafia torn straight from the pages of “Night Watch,” the Russian vampire novel I was reading at the time). Right away we are thrown into the fray and there’s a shooting contest – at which I am truly crap – and fishing off the back – I have photographic evidence that I caught something HUGE! Dinner is a bbq, complete with the fish (snapper) just freshly yanked from the water and some of the most enormous green lipped mussels I have ever seen. Delicious!

After tea, they pull some kayaks down into the water and we paddle into the night. The bay is home to bioluminscent algae. In English? Magic. As our paddles cut the surface, bright sparks of light jump through the water. A fish gliding through the dark looks like a shooting star. I feel like I’ve entered some kind of twilight zone where every movement I make in the water is accompanied by a glow of light.

It’s even better when we go for a swim. The water is cold but it’s hard to resist swimming with the phosphorescence. Underwater looks like a fireworks display. I wish it were possible to photograph the phenomenon, but it’s just something I’m going to have to remember, and talk about to everyone.

The next day, bright and early, we anchor close to a little shelf of rock and dip in the water. It’s here that we are diving for more of those great big green lipped mussels we ate earlier. Well, really it’s the crew that are diving for them – when they bring them up they split them open and hand them to us, so we can feed the fish with the insides. The fish come right up to our hands and chew at the mussel. Some of them end up nipping my fingers but its all in good fun. A couple of us try to dive for mussels ourselves – I can’t get down deep enough in one breath and once when I did, it is impossible to rip those buggers off the rock! Some are successful – not without a few scratches on their hands though.

We landed on one of the islands in the area and are treated to a little history of the area. After spending time kayaking around the coastline exploring caves and relaxing on the beach, we get back on the boat to taste some seafood delicacies – including sea urchin eggs and raw mussel muscle. Not too bad, but I wouldn’t pay $800USD/gram!

The Far Far North

A day in Maitai Bay is the perfect remedy to long drives. Located at the very tip of the karikari peninsula, it is a stunning curved bay with a campsite right on the beach. It is an uber cheap campsite too ($8 for both of us!). After that, we zip up Cape Reinga to the northernmost point in New Zealand. It is rainy and windy but that’s the perfect weather in which to see the Cape in all its wild and untamed glory. The very tip of Cape Reinga is sacred as the entrance to the Maori underworld… spooky.

The West coast of Northland is known as the “Kaori Coast.” Kaori are absolutely massive trees and forests of them used to cover the whole of New Zealand. Now, only a few exist, but the ones that do are absolutely enormous. We go out of our way to see the biggest and second biggest trees in NZ, both around 2000 years old.

The last stop on our beaches tour of Northland is Piha, on the outskirts of Auckland. The sand is dusted with an iron black coat, and the beach looks rugged and forboding. The surfers are amazing, taming the rips and tides we’ve been warned against swimming in. We arrive at sunset and take in the pinks and oranges that dance across the beach. I draw a huge map of the world in the sand. 

Unforunately for us, there is no petrol station in Piha. As we pull into the campsite, the fuel light gleams an ominous red. Come on Sunny! When we leave Piha the next morning, its a nerve-wracking 30km drive to the next fuel station, with me at the wheel absolutely petrified of breaking down. Never again!

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There are no monkeys at Monkey Mia

Amy and Sarah in fly hatsAustralia is huge. Yeah I know, obvious, right? But it’s not until we’re barrelling down the highways, swerving against kangaroos and blue-tongued skinks in a WesternXposure minibus, that I truly realize it. The number of flies slapping against the windscreen is unreal. Outside is worse. Desperate times call for desperate measures and both Sarah and I fork out for army green outbacker hats, complete with full frontal fly netting. We are just that cool.

The bus that is taking us from Perth to Monkey Mia is a mix of nationalities – Scots, Japanese, Spanish, Swiss.  For the first couple of days we travel with another bus that is going further north, to Exmouth. Having the two buses side by side makes me realize how much your enjoyment of a trip is up to chance. There are good groups of people – like those on our bus. Then there are those who seem in a permanent state of drunk or grump or both. Would it kill the girls on the other bus to crack a smile? Since they never dare to try it, it is easy to think so. Our bus is lucky. Well, except for the poor unfortunates who have to put up with the “When we were in Africa…” girls.Amy and the WesternXposure bus

The big ticket stop on the tour is Monkey Mia and its wild dolphins. Not that we don’t see other things along the way: the Pinnacles desert with its eerie cemetery of innumerable limestone headstones; the reptile infested Murchison Gorge; our great great great ad infinitum grandparents, the 3.5 billion year old stromatolites; Hutt River Province, Prince Leonard’s own country (I have a new stamp in my passport); or have our first taste of kangaroo. But no one is kidding themselves; we are here to see Flipper.

After days of driving through horrendous storms in places that haven’t seen rain in years, the day breaks on the Peron peninsula clear, sunny and bright. The water sparkles as if its been polished for our arrival, a mix of aquamarine shallows and emerald deeps. There are dark figures frolicking by the pier. Even at 7am, they have attracted a line of admirers. Sarah lets out a small squeal of recognition as the apparitions solidify into dorsal fins and bottle-noses. We both drop our bags in the sand and run to join the crowd.

They are so close you could almost reach out and touch them, although we are under strict orders not to. This is especially paramount with the sighting of a one-month old calf playing in the water beside his (or her) mother. Watching the babe is a rare treat, and the slightest disturbance could send the calf and its mother fleeing.

Baby Dolphin and its motherCalfs have about a 50% chance of survival in these waters, the ranger tells us. Tiger sharks are abundant; Shark Bay is no misnomer. I look down at my toes, into water that is neither aquamarine nor emerald  but crystal clear and wonder how there could be any danger. They say that whenever you swim in Australian waters, you’re always within 100 metres of a shark. But tiger sharks are so well fed on the West Coast, humans don’t need to worry about falling accidental prey. Seeing the baby dolphin attempt a leap over its mother, I hope s/he doesn’t have to worry much either.

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