Last Family Vacation

On Hawaii’s Road to Hana

article and images by Carole Terwilliger Meyers

family in red Mustang convertible on the road to Hana in Hawaii
family in red Mustang convertible on the road to Hana in Hawaii

With my son scheduled to leave home for college at the end of the summer, starting down the road to independence, I felt that it was important to squeeze one last family vacation into our mutual memory banks.  It had to be someplace really special.  Someplace both he and my preteen daughter could enjoy without their peers.  He rejected Europe in favor of Hawaii.  I fine-tuned the trip to include a stay in mysterious, remote Hana.

I had stored in my heart for years the promise of secluded, hard-to-reach Hana and the Seven Sacred Pools located just beyond.  My husband and I had started down the famous road leading there once, long ago when our son was a toddler we had left behind with grandma and grandpa.  But we had made too many stops along the way . . . to swim in natural pools fed by waterfalls . . . to feast on intoxicatingly fragrant exotic fruit picked on the side of the road . . . to savor the magnificent scenery . . . and so we never did reach our destination.  Because we had no lodging reservations, and because this “highway” is not one we wanted to traverse in the dark, we had to turn around before reaching our destination.

The idea of finally getting there, with my entire family, was very exciting.

differing opinions

When mentioning the trip before we left, I discovered that many people knew of the road.  I was surprised to find, however, that there were an amazing variety of opinions about it.  Everyone saw the road a little differently.  (Upon reflection I have come to believe that how you view the road could act as a litmus test of your personality.) 

traffic jam on Road to Hana on Maui in Hawaii
traffic jam on Road to Hana on Maui in Hawaii

Some called the road to paradise “hellish” and claimed it wasn’t paved.  (Though it wasn’t at one time, this road–hacked out by hand with a pick and shovel in 1927–is now well- maintained.  In fact, we ran into several traffic jams caused by maintenance crews removing fast-growing tropical underbrush.  This upkeep is a mixed blessing.  Removing the underbrush cuts down the problem of cars slipping on rotting tropical fruit, but it also made it impossible for us to find any of the free-for-the-picking wild guava we remembered, and longed for, from our first trip.) 

Some said it wasn’t worth it.  (It definitely was, but not if you had to rush.  Though only 52 miles long, the road is said to have approximately 56 bridges–each with room for only one car to pass at a time–and more than 600 curves.  You must drive very, very slowly.) 

Some said it wasn’t the destination, but the journey, that was important.  (I disagree.  I think that both are worthwhile, and time should be allowed to savour each.)

One said, “Hope your kids don’t get carsick.”  (They don’t, thank goodness, but they do squabble.)   

The most encouraging person said, “It’s like the road to Stinson Beach (in Northern California), only about ten times as long.”  (Actually, it’s not as wide, and it must be at least twenty times as long.)

I booked us in on a flight arriving around noon at Kahului Airport on Maui.  Anticipating that if ever a person should be driving a convertible it is on the fabled road to Hana, I splurged and reserved the red Mustang convertible requested specifically by both children.  And I made reservations in a private hale (cottage) in Hana for two nights.

starting out

The timing was perfect.  We picked up our red convertible–a Sunbird instead of the coveted Mustang, because we were assured by the helpful Dollar car rental clerk that we would have more trunk space.  (Even in the Sunbird we were cramped.  We fit three suitcases and a carry-on in the trunk and a fourth suitcase between the two kids in the back seat.  That fourth suitcase turned out to serve as a fortuitous barrier to sibling eye contact and the resultant screechy, nerve-frazzling complaints.) 

With the top down and the wind in our hair, we hit the highway hungry.  So everyone was ready for a picnic pick-up stop in quaint, hip Paia.  Located about five miles from the airport, it provides the last chance for gas and supplies until Hana.  At Picnics (now Cafe Mambo), we selected a delicious take-out lunch from their menu that doubles as a helpful map of the Hana Highway.  (A few days later our son told us we could have also gotten some Maui Wowie to go.  Apparently someone had tried to sell our suitcase-guarding teenage malahini (mainlander) some of the island’s famous pot while the rest of us were inside buying food.)

Not able to wait more than ten minutes to eat, we pulled off the highway at windy Hookipa Bay–reputed to be one of the world’s premier spots for wind-surfing.  We were entertained by the colorful sails of wind-surfers streaking like butterflies across the horizon. 

Tummies full and expectations high, we were finally in our red convertible driving down that fabled road heading to Hana.  And so were many other people.  It seems that red convertibles are part of everyone’s dream.

in Hana

Four hours later, after a very leisurely drive, with several stops for swimming in waterfall-fed natural pools, we arrived at our hale.

swimming in natural pool on the Road to Hana in Maui, Hawaii
swimming in natural pool on the Road to Hana in Maui, Hawaii

When I saw the unobstructed ocean view from its front room, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

ocean view from hale in Hana, Maui
ocean view from hale in Hana, Maui

But I was alive in Hana and able to hear the pounding surf in our front yard and enjoy the five-minute walk to a nearby black sand beach.

black sand beach in Hana, Maui, Hawaii
black sand beach in Hana, Maui, Hawaii

During our stay we experienced stormy nights, wet mornings, and glorious sunny days. 

We prepared simple meals from goods purchased at local stores.  (There are only two stores in Hana:  the tiny, but well- organized, Ranch Store and the cluttered, but famous, Hasegawa’s emporium.  I was shocked at the price of a 15-ounce box of Kellogg’s Corn Pops, and my husband still marvels at what we paid for a single local Maui onion.  But Yick Lung shrimp chips and local mini-bananas were delicious bargains.)  One evening we purchased a fresh take-out pizza at the Hana Ranch Restaurant–a service they had just begun on Thursday nights only. 

the Seven Sacred Pools

On our one full day in Hana, we started out after breakfast for the Seven Sacred Pools.  I had been advised that if we wanted to see this legendary spot when it was at its best, we should go either in the morning or in the evening.  This would allow us to dodge the crowds brought in by van.  (Though this advice was good, tour vans must load real early on the other part of the island.  We saw plenty of them, but they weren’t nearly as annoying as some local teenage punks who showed up with a blaring beat box.  There is trouble, unfortunately, even in paradise.  But there is also justice.  These rude teens were later cited by a park ranger.) 

Seven Sacred Pools in Hana, Maui, Hawaii
Seven Sacred Pools in Hana, Maui, Hawaii

Located almost at the end of the paved part of the road, these pools are spectacularly beautiful and worth the journey to experience.  Especially if you don’t have to rush back down the highway afterwards, but can instead return to a cozy plantation house like we did.  (The one-way ride on the Hana Highway takes approximately three hours, plus another hour to return to the more populated sections of Maui.)

evenings in the hale

Since there is nothing much to do in Hana, we found ourselves settling in with books and games in the tranquil evenings.  Our spacious hale did have a TV, but the kids voluntarily kept it off most of the time.  They preferred to just sit and enjoy our unobstructed view of the ocean and listen to the pounding surf.

One night we shared the discovery of rats climbing the coconut palm in our front yard.  We formulated theories about why they were doing this.  (Later when we saw wide metal bands around some of the coconut palms at a resort we stayed at, we asked if this was to keep the rats from eating the coconuts.  “No,” we were told.  “It’s to keep them from having the opportunity to fall out of the trees and into the laps of guests.”)

My fantasies of family togetherness were realized.  The whole family was sitting in the living room interacting– cuddling, laughing, talking.  Even the teen!  Completely away from our usual distractions, we were enjoying that proverbial elusive “quality time.”

On the day we left, the kids composed their own entry for the hale guest book.  They wrote, “This was the most funky, fresh, chillin’ place.”

Mission accomplished.

(; copyright Carole Terwilliger Meyers)