The Hana Highway

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Where can you get an adrenaline-fueled rush while driving 20 mph? Even a snail's pace can be dizzying on Maui's narrow, snaking road to Hana.

Build an entire vacation around this Hawaiian isle's northeast side and the famous road with its blind turns, one-lane bridges, secluded beaches, waterfall-fed pools, and rain forest splendor. Settle into a private cottage or bed-and-breakfast in the hamlets of Huelo, Haiku, or Hana itself, and savor rural surroundings far from the tourist-packed resorts. Or enjoy hotel convenience and, as most do, come out for an adventurous one-day spin.

Kick off in colorful Paia, a surf town with spots to pick up a picnic lunch. Pull over at nearby Hookipa Beach Park to see surfers and windsurfers jockeying for killer waves. Then get ready for waterfall after waterfall. If time is precious, save stops for later in the trip: The best falls, beaches, and pools are near Hana. But don't pass up the splendid Keanae Arboretum and the nearby Keanae Peninsula, a wave-battered hunk of crumbling lava that people actually live on. A stone church (circa 1860) was one of the few buildings to survive a 1946 tsunami.

Along the way, don't expect restaurants and shops. The best sustenance to be had is the banana bread at the Halfway to Hana stand, just past Keanae. It's necessary nourishment for a rigorous endeavor. The road to Hana is either an out-and-back trip (52 miles each way, starting at Kahului) or an intimidating but rewarding circular route (110 miles), which includes the barren back side of Haleakala, the dormant volcano. Some guidebooks still give the impression that this back road is impassable. Not true. But do check your rental car company's policy. Whichever way you go, allow six hours at a bare minimum.

Of course, the enchanting old-plantation town of Hana can beguile you into staying the night, or a week, or a lifetime. An overnight here gives you a morning's jump on popular sights nearby: the spectacular pools at Oheo Gulch and the solitary grave of aviator Charles Lindbergh at Hoomau Church.

When to go: Early morning to beat the crowds. Before you go, check the road repair hotline at (808) 579-8276.

Who will like it: Anyone who dreams of frolicking in a tropical paradise and doesn't mind a serpentine road.

What to bring: Full tank of gas, guidebook, mosquito repellent, lunch, and beachwear.

Illustration by Michael Klein

This article was first published in March 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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