Are you looking for the ultimate Road to Hana guide? This article from Hawaii local has everything you need to know – including which mistakes to avoid.
The Road to Hana is one of the most popular things to do in Hawaii. With its colored sand beaches and cascading waterfalls, it’s undoubtedly one of the most scenic drives in Hawaii.
While most people research stops to see along the way, very few look up Road to Hana mistakes. And these mistakes can make or break your adventure. But don’t worry! This Road to Hana guide from a Hawaii local is here to help!
Trying to Do the Entire Road to Hana And Back In One Day
The first mistake that most visitors make is trying to do the Road to Hana in one day. The Road to Hana is LONG. From the official starting point in Kahului, it’s 64.4 miles. Plus, you may not be starting in Kahului – many visitors start in Lahaina or Wailea – which means the drive is even longer.
On top of that, you have to drive slow, because 1) the road is very curvy, 2) there are lots of one-way bridges so you have to stop to let others pass, and 3) the speed limit is 25 miles per hour.
That means that if you managed to start in Kahului and drive all the way to Hana at exactly 25 miles per hour without stopping, it would still take you a little over 2.5 hours one way. So just to get to Hana and back – again, without stopping – would take over five hours!
Simply put, if you want to make stops (which you most definitely should), you should NOT do the Road to Hana in one day. Rather, consider making it a two- or three-day trip.
Luckily, there are a few different places to stay in Hana to make this multi-day Road to Hana trip possible. The Hana Maui Resort is by far the most popular place to stay, but you can also stay at Hana Kai Maui, the Bamboo Inn on Hana Bay, or one of the few Airbnbs.
Getting a Late Start
Another one of the worst Road to Hana mistakes is getting a late start. If you’re certain that you only want to do the Road to Hana in one day, you’ll need to leave EARLY. As in be out the door by 7 a.m. If you don’t, you’ll end up rushing through your stops and driving the Road to Hana at night (which is pretty terrible).
If you’re doing a multi-day Road to Hana adventure, you have a little more wiggle room. But you still want to get an early start, because there are so many wonderful stops to see before you get to Hana!
Forgetting to Fill Up Gas in Paia
Paia is the last place to get gas before heading to Hana. And you’ll want to make sure your gas tank is FULL, because the next gas station is 44.3 miles away in Hana. It would kind of be a disaster if you ran out of gas on the Road to Hana.
*Note: The gas stations in Hana sometimes close at night. Keep this in mind when you’re calculating when you need to fill up gas next.
Relying on Cell Service for Information and Navigation
Cell service on the Road to Hana is spotty at best. It’s pretty much non-existent for most of the drive.
Since most of us rely on cell service for information and navigation, this lack of cell service can be pretty inconvenient. But all you have to do is plan ahead! You can use Google Maps to download the Road to Hana area ahead of time, plan out your stops, and save articles with valuable information (like this one!).
*Pro Tip: Make note of the mile markers during your Road to Hana trip planning. Otherwise, you may miss some of the coolest stops!
Forgetting to Pack Snacks
While there are some food stops on the Road to Hana, they are few and far between. Plus, there are a couple that you’ll likely drive right past without even knowing it! And, since the Road to Hana is one of the more remote parts of Maui, these food stops are small, so there isn’t an extensive array of snacks to choose from.
Simply put, you’ll definitely want to bring snacks on your Road to Hana adventure. Pack all of your favorites! And if you’re looking for some local recommendations, this Hawaii food bucket list should help.
Not Noting the Bathrooms
Like food stops, there aren’t a lot of bathrooms on the Road to Hana. And there are even fewer that are well-maintained. So before you head off on your adventure, be sure to note where the bathrooms are.
This Road to Hana guide has a few bathroom stops listed below to get you started:
- Garden of Eden Arboreum (Paid)
- Kaumahina State Wayside Park
- Puaa Kaa State Wayside Park
- Waianapanapa Wayside Park
- Loads of stores in the town of Hana
- Oheo Gulch
Not Giving Locals the Right of Way
While most people think of the Road to Hana as a tourist attraction, there are locals who live there and need to drive the road to get to work or home. They’re not going for a leisurely drive. So be sure to give locals the right of way, so they can get to their destinations in a timely manner.
Being a Reckless Driver
The Road to Hana is no easy drive. The roads are windy, often have blind spots, and frequently have one-way bridges. It’s no place for a reckless driver. If you try to speed around turns or race ahead of the driver in front of you, you may end up endangering yourself, the other people in your car, and the other drivers and passengers on the road.
If this doesn’t sound like a drive that you want to attempt on your own, there are many tours available. I’ve listed a few recommendations below:
- Road to Hana Full Day Tour with Mahalo Tours
- Road to Hana Adventure with Polynesian Adventure Tours
- Small Group Road to Hana Luxury Tour with Temptation Tours
- Small Group One-Way Road to Hana Luxury Tour with Return Helicopter Flight with Temptation Tours
Driving the Road to Hana in the Dark
Like I mentioned earlier, driving the Road to Hana in the dark is pretty terrible. The streetlights aren’t really sufficient, so it’s hard to see all the twists and turns. It’s best to start your day early enough that you won’t end up driving the Road to Hana in the dark.
Doing the Road to Hana on a Rainy Day
And you won’t want to drive the Road to Hana on a rainy day either. First, the rain will obstruct your view quite a bit. Second, it’ll make the already dangerous roads slippery. And third, the Road to Hana is prone to flash flooding, so you won’t want to get caught in that.
Not Making Reservations at Waianapanapa State Park
In 2021, Waianapanapa State Park introduced reservations in order to curb tourism. For years prior to that, the uncontrolled number of visitors was having a negative effect on the natural landscape. So if you want to visit Wainapanapa State Park (which you most definitely should – there’s a black sand beach, after all!), you have to make reservations in advance.
Now, the reservation system for Waianapanapa State Park is quite confusing. First, depending on who you’re traveling with, you’ll need a different type of reservation. Hawaii locals can get in for free, but their out-of-state companions can’t. Luckily, your Hawaii local friend still gets you free parking, but you’ll still need to book an “Entry Pass with Hawaii Residents Only” for each non-Hawaii resident.
If there are no Hawaii residents in your vehicle, you’ll have to book a “Parking & Entry” pass. Be sure to get separate entry passes for each person in the vehicle!
Then, you’ll need to reserve a specific time to visit. Each day is divided into four time slots, but things can still get tricky, considering the fact that it’s hard to precisely time your Road to Hana drive.
While this reservation system isn’t ideal for scheduling purposes, it’ll mean that you’ll get a bigger slice of Waianapanapa State Park all to yourself!
Leaving Valuables in Your Car
Throughout most of Hawaii, petty theft is a problem. As a matter of fact, I snagged this point from my list of mistakes to avoid in Hawaii in general.
If you leave valuables visible in your car (or even something that could hold valuables), there’s a pretty good chance that your car will get broken into.
For peace of mind, it’s best not to have any valuables in your car at all. But if you really need to stash your valuables somewhere, you can put them in the trunk of your car, in the glove compartment, in the center console, or under the front seats (airplane-style).
Bothering the Animals
If you’re lucky, you may see a few animals on your Road to Hana adventure. Turtles and monk seals are both regular visitors.
While you may be tempted to get an up-close view of these animals, remember that they are WILD. Not only is it illegal to get close to these animals, they also don’t like it when you invade their space.
It is important to note that these wild animals can be violent if you provoke them, so give them their space, don’t chase them, and don’t feed them.
Stepping on the Coral
There are a couple of opportunities on the Road to Hana where you can go for a swim or snorkel (depending on the season and ocean conditions).
If you do decide to take a dip in the ocean, try not to step on the coral! By stepping on the coral, you inadvertently harm it and destroy the algae (a major source of food for marine life) growing on it.
To avoid this, try to swim when you’re over coral. Or simply avoid going over coral in the first place. If you need a break, find a patch of sand to land on instead.
Using Chemical Sunscreen
I have to start this section by saying please wear sunscreen. I’ve seen tourists burned so badly that they can’t move. That’s not the way you want to spend your visit to Hawaii.
That said, it’s important that you use reef-safe sunscreen rather than chemical sunscreen. Many of the chemicals in traditional sunscreen are extremely harmful to coral and marine life. As a matter of fact, these chemicals have been proven to be harmful to humans as well! These consequences are so far reaching that I wrote an entire article about reef-safe sunscreen to help you learn more.
Ignoring the Power of the Ocean
The beaches on the Road to Hana are very different depending on the time of year. Sometimes, they’re great for swimming and snorkeling. Other times, you definitely should not go into the water.
It’s important to remember that the ocean is a powerful, potentially dangerous force. If you understand it and respect it, it can be amazing. But if you don’t take the time to educate yourself about the ocean, it can be very dangerous.
To get you started, here are a few key tips:
- Know how strong of a swimmer you are. And don’t try to overestimate your abilities.
- Don’t enter the water if the waves are large! Anyone who has been in the water with large waves can tell you that you can get quite a beating.
- If waves are crashing on the rocks, don’t go to the edge of the rocks. Stay a safe distance away from the edge.
- Do a little research on the beach in advance for rip currents that you may not be able to see. These rip currents can pull you out without you even realizing it.
Forgetting About Leptospirosis
But the ocean isn’t the only place that you can swim on the Road to Hana. The many waterfalls make for ideal spots too!
But before you take a dip in these pristine freshwater pools, you’ll want to know about a strain of bacteria known as leptospirosis.
Leptospirosis can only be harmful if it enters the body through an open cut (so if it’s scabbed over, you’re fine) or by drinking it. While some cases of leptospirosis may have bad flu-like symptoms, others are asymptomatic.
If you would like to read a bit more on the bacteria, here’s a page from the CDC.
Ignoring “Kapu” Signs
If you’re particularly observant, you might notice a few “kapu” signs along the Road to Hana. If you do see these signs, don’t continue past them.
The word “kapu” is a Hawaiian word, which at its simplest means “forbidden” or “sacred.” It was originally used by the ancient Native Hawaiians as a term used to describe their laws. This set of laws governed every aspect of life and breaking any part of it would lead to some form of punishment, even death.
Now, the word “kapu” is often accompanied by the words “no trespassing” on signs in order to keep people from entering the area. However, these words do not equate in meaning to locals.
“Kapu” still has an air of sacredness to it. The reason you would not enter an area marked “kapu” is out of respect. Respect for what or whom you ask? The answer isn’t definitively clear from simply “kapu.” Perhaps nature, the Hawaiian gods, the night marchers (mythological Hawaiian ghosts), the ancient Native Hawaiians, or even the Native Hawaiians of today.
Ignoring Local Advice
If a local gives you a piece of advice, listen to it. Hawaii locals have been exploring the Road to Hana. We know where people usually take wrong turns on hikes and where to get the best Road to Hana snacks (spoiler alert: it’s Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread). Treasure whatever information a local gives to you, because it’s pretty hard to get.
There are so many cool stops on the side of the road on this iconic drive, so you’ll likely be tempted to park illegally. Please try not to do that. The Road to Hana is already quite squishy and dangerous, so parking illegally just heightens the dangers and difficulties of the road for other drivers.
Ignoring Warning Signs
One of the worst Road to Hana mistakes that visitors often make is ignoring the warning signs! Yes, it may seem cool to venture past the warning signs, but they are there to keep you safe.
There are shocking statistics comparing the deaths and injuries of tourists and locals in Hawaii (Spoiler: the locals’ numbers are pretty low. I can’t say the same for the tourists.) So please don’t ignore the warning signs that you see on the Road to Hana.
Making All of the Stops on the Way TO Hana
One common Road to Hana mistake is that people tend to make ALL of the stops on the way to Hana. But don’t forget! You have to drive back the way you came, so you may want to leave a few stops for your return journey. After all, you won’t want to drive the 64.4 miles without stopping.
Trying to Do the Reverse Road to Hana in a Rental Car
Technically, you don’t have to come back the way you came on the Road to Hana. But I would recommend doing so. That said, there is something called the reverse road to Hana or the backside of the road to Hana.
The road past Oheo Gulch (which is about 11 miles past Hana) becomes a dirt road. This is the backroad to Hana. It’s extremely bumpy and becomes particularly difficult to drive when it’s raining and/or without a 4WD.
But the main reason that you should not drive the reverse road to Hana is because Maui’s car rental companies don’t allow you to do so. If you end up having car issues because of the rugged road, there’s no quick solution. On top of that, your insurance probably won’t cover anything.
Simply put, I’d recommend just doing the out-and-back Road to Hana experience. BUT if you REALLY want to have the reverse road to Hana experience, I’d recommend taking Hoaloha Jeep Adventure’s Reverse Hana Road Tour.
Forgetting that the Road to Hana is About the Journey, Not the Destination
The Road to Hana is all about the stops along the way – from the beautiful waterfalls to the stunning beaches. But people often forget that and expect Hana to be the El Dorado of Hawaii. That’s not the case.
Hana is a sleepy little town. Other than the beaches, the main highlight of the town is the grocery store. It’s a place where you go to get away from the hustle and bustle of life.
Taking a Flight to Hana
Along the same lines, DO NOT take a flight to Hana! There’s been an increase in (more) affordable flights from Kahului, Maui to Hana, Maui, so I’ve noticed people recommending flying to Hana rather than driving. But that doesn’t make any sense to me, since you won’t get to see any of the amazing stops along the way, and those stops are the whole point of the Road to Hana.
Disrespecting the Land and the Ocean
So far on this Road to Hana guide, I’ve listed quite a few ways to respect the land and the ocean. But it’s often the little acts that make a big difference. Using a reusable water bottle, cleaning up the trash on hikes, and picking up the plastic on the beach are all small, but impactful ways to take care of the nature on the Road to Hana.
Did you make any mistakes the first time you drove the Road to Hana? If you did, let me know in the comments below! Maybe I’ll add it to this list of tips to help out future visitors.
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