The Road to Hana
The title of this story may sound like it should be a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movie, but it was just a little outing during our Honeymoon in 1996. We were staying on the beautiful island of Maui and were trying to do and see as much as we could.
When in Hawaii you really should do as the locals say and, “Hang loose brudda!” That means that it really doesn’t pay to try and do anything at all in a hurry, it’s just not going to work that way. Life on the islands was best lived “Aloha style” which is slow and easy.
We had been hearing about the “Road to Hana” in all the places that we frequented on Maui, and had seen several T-shirts about the road trip. Everyone said it was a beautiful drive and that “You can’t go back to the mainland without going to Hana.”
I looked at a local island map and measured it out using the map legend mileage key; it was less than 60 miles. That wasn’t very far and it was all paved roads, so we should be able to make the trip around Maui, see Hana, and get back in time to go out to dinner in Lahaina. The trip should only take a couple of hours.
It was around 11:00 a.m. when we left the hotel and started off on our road trip. Traffic was heavy everywhere we went, especially through the center of activity around the airport and commercial district; lunch time rush I guessed. We crawled along in traffic until we passed the business areas and then things opened up and we felt relieved; we didn’t come to Hawaii to sit in traffic all day!
As we entered the coastal highway (state highway 360) we saw our first sign for our destination “Hana 54 miles,” and the road was four-lane and nice. We followed the coast and made our turn southward going around the eastern side of Maui. Out in the ocean breakers of Maui’s north shore we saw some crazy surfers.
I say crazy, because there were big rock outcroppings sticking up out of the water and a rip tide that would either drown you, or throw you into the rocks. We watched one young fellow riding in on one wave and when another broke across it, he kicked over to the second wave. By doing so he avoided a deadly collision with some very unforgiving rocks by a margin so close, that everyone on the highway stopped.
We were sure that he would be crab bait, but he never even slowed down. It’s good to surf your own break, you know what’s up and what to avoid. It reminded me of shooting (surfing through) the pier at Dania Beach in South Florida. If you didn’t know it intimately, it was best to leave it alone.
I had just formed the idea in my mind that we were going to be in Hana in about an hour, when the next several road signs changed that thought completely. They came at us in such rapid succession that we could barely read them: ROAD NARROWS, SPEED LIMIT 35, ONE LANE BRIDGES NEXT 53 MILES, WATCH FOR SLOW MOVING TRAFFIC, WATCH FOR TRUCKS ENTERING HIGHWAY.
What had happened to our cool scenic highway? With a speed limit of 35 mph it was going to take a bit longer than I thought. Quickly, the road narrowed until it was only wide enough for two very friendly vehicles with no mirrors or door handles sticking out.
When the first sign stated, “ONE LANE BRIDGES AHEAD,” I had no idea that there were 54 one lane bridges in the next 53 miles. It became even more “exciting” as we saw that the road was (just barely) carved out of the side of the mountain.
State highway 360 followed the contours of the terrain with absolutely no thought of “level.” That word was evidently not in the vocabulary of the engineer who constructed the coastal road. If you were into thrill rides it might be considered kind of cool the way they made it. It was a roller coaster ride of unbelievable length!
It was in a way fortuitous that Anna was a photographer on this road of endless curves. Frequently she would get “woozy” from the back and forth motion of the car on the curves, blazing along at speeds approaching 20 mph, (sometimes we would go that fast, but not very often.)
I would find a place to literally jam the car into the bushes and stop, so she could recover. When I did so, she pulled out her camera and she forgot all about being sick. That camera worked better than any drugs we could have used for motion sickness.
She doesn’t have any trouble on airplanes and nothing happened when we went out on the water in a dive boat; it just seems to happen in automobiles on curvy roads. For whatever reason, we knew that it would happen and found ways to deal with it.
Somewhere about the half way point on “the Road to Hana,” there was a Botanical Garden on the inland side of the road (which even had places to park.) It was the Keanae Arboretum where there were plant representatives from all the Pacific Rim Islands and other countries which had influence on the development of the Hawaii that we know today.
There were many different varieties of trees and plants, but the one that impressed me the most was the species of tree known as the “Painted Eucalyptus.” These trees were tall (about 50-60 feet) and very straight in the trunk. There were no limbs until the top (or crown) similar in that respect to some of the pine tree species of south Florida.
The most interesting features of this tree was their absolutely smooth surface, and color marks like someone had gone wild in the forest with different colors of paint. Those marks were mostly vertical and the same colors were present on all the trees of this type. However, the marking pattern was individual to each tree.
After a brief stop we left the trees and continued our journey towards Hana. We discussed our options before pulling out onto the road and knew that the smart thing to do (time wise) would be to turn around and go back to the hotel. But, we were determined to reach our destination and refused to quit.
There were many more one lane bridges to go. At each one we were behind slow trucks and invariably encountered people blocking traffic standing in the middle of the road. They were tourists (just like us) and wanted to get a better look at each one of the thousands of little water falls that decorated the hillside. The problem was that the cascading rivulets were on every hillside, all the way down the fifty-four miles of road.
The tiny waterfalls were pretty, but they each looked almost exactly like the one before and the one after. I doubt that you could pick out one from another in the millions of photos taken of them. But hey, tourists are like that! That was also still in the time of film cameras and I can only imagine how much revenue those little trickles of water engendered for Kodak and other film developers. They were liquid gold!
Finally, the tiny community of Hana came into view. We had arrived, along with the many other “Hana Trekkers” that had been in a conga line all day. Anna decided that she was hungry, which was not unreasonable, given the amount of time since breakfast.
It was around 3:30 p.m. by then and as we meandered around the little village of Hana, we came to the realization that there really wasn’t much of a choice for dining. There was a little convenience store with packaged munchies, a couple of food stands (that were closed,) and then there was the Hana Hilton. So we opted for the Hilton.
The Hana Hilton was truly a beautiful place, located on some very breathtaking real estate, both from the stand point of view, and cost. The clientele was very exclusive and were most often flown in by helicopter to their private landing pad.
Some of their guests did sail in on their yachts, dropped anchor in the private cove, and were then picked up by Hilton speedboats. This place was a secret hideout for the rich and famous, or infamous as the case may be.
We were informed at the desk by a fellow who acted like he needed a bath after speaking with me, that lunch was over and dinner would not start “seating” until 5:00 p.m. … and me without my Tux! I was not impressed by his attitude.
As we were about to leave a younger, female “junior desk clerk” (according to her tag), spoke up, (a bit hesitantly it seemed, probably out of apprehension that her superiors would not approve) and said, “You can get snacks or maybe a sandwich in the lounge.”
“Lounge” being typical hotel speak for the bar. That would fit the bill rather nicely actually, a sandwich was more what we were after anyway. She asked permission to show us to the lounge and got a back-handed wave from the senior desk clerk. I apologized to her for any trouble that being nice to us might bring her. She just smiled.
It took forever to get waited on, and we got lots of strange looks from the bartender and staff, who finally broke down and got us some iced teas. We were determined to get something to eat after waiting all that time. A man and his family of six came in and sat down without any staff escort. They took one look at the menu and got up and left again; too pricey for that many folks on one ticket I guessed.
It was a good thing that we were prepared for “ridiculous” as far as price went, because two turkey sandwiches on sliced wheat bread (like from the grocery store) and two iced teas, with NOTHING else, cost over thirty ($30.00) dollars before the tip. It was a rare privilege, that dining in the Hana Hilton Lounge in 1996 … one that I shall not repeat.
After our “fabulous” lunch, we had one more destination to see. That was a place called “The Seven Pools,” which was a little further south along the road past Hana. It was reputed to be a favorite spot of the Hawaiian Royal family in their glory days.
We found the spot and it did indeed have seven (actually more) pools of water, which were rain and run-off filled on the upper ends, and tidal on the lower part. There was a bridge over the largest of the upper pools; actually it was highway 360, the same road we had been traveling on all afternoon.
This bridge was notorious for kids jumping off of it into the pool some 40 feet or so below. It looked like a great spot for it, providing the pool was deep enough, but I had no way of knowing that detail.
The only policeman that we had seen all day (on the entire trip) was parked on that bridge. He was hassling the kids and eyeballing the girls in their bikinis (I guess that’s the same wherever you go.)
There was a sign that read “No jumping from bridge” but it didn’t seem to stop anyone. Frequently we would see a group of kids gather in front of the cop to block his view while someone jumped; impressive team work for a bunch of kids. It was a very steep hike back up the trail on either side of the bridge to jump again, but the kids kept doing it.
It had been raining all day off and on and there were some pretty impressive waterfalls along the road south of Hana. Unlike the ones north of town, these were high volume gushers. We were concerned with a couple of those falls because we could feel the road shaking beneath us while we were in the car. We read later that a section of the road we were on collapsed.
That road really was single lane (as in one car width) from a point about three miles south of Hana; to much farther than we could drive in that rental car. It turned into jeep trail within a mile after Seven Pools. A friend, who rented a jeep while on vacation four years after we went, drove that “jeep trail” section of the road around the island. He said that he would never do that again as it nearly destroyed the underside of the vehicle.
We had to start back. I was concerned with our gasoline situation and the thought of driving that crazy road in the dark was not creating the mood of lighthearted fun that I had anticipated on this road trip.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much the traffic had lightened up on our return trip. It was much easier to see when someone was approaching the bridges that you were trying to cross. It was very, very dark on that road.
There was an unexpected plus to it being dark; Anna wasn’t bothered by the motion of the car at all… it must be a visual thing, like vertigo.
We made much better time going back to the Kaanapali Shores hotel and pulled in to the parking lot at 9:30 p.m. Our “couple of hours” road trip to Hana had taken us ten and a half hours. But, we still had time to visit our room and get to the hotel restaurant for some yummy cheesecake before they closed at 10:00 p.m.
As for the trip to Hana, it was a “been there, done that” and you can bet your last nickel that we got the T-shirts, which read (and we understood why):
“I Survived the Road to Hana!”