There is no doubt Maui’s Hana Highway is an exhilarating drive. With more than 600 curves and roughly 59 bridges, it is one the most famous scenic roads in the world. Although the drive will leave you stunned, it is getting out of the car and hiking Haleakal? National Park at end of the road that is the true reward.
When we left our beautiful resort, the Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea, for the road to Hana, we had no idea that by the end of the day, we would have completed our favorite activity on Maui.
We left early so that we could avoid the crowds, and after grabbing a Maui coffee to go in Paia, we set off on the two-and-a-half-hour thrill ride that is the Hana Highway.
The drive is as spectacular as everyone says. There are stunning views, small waterfalls, and many places to stop and enjoy Maui life. It’s the reason so many people take this drive.
But for us, it was arriving at ’Ohe’o Gulch in Haleakal? National Park, which is another hour’s drive past the town of Hana, that got our adrenaline going.
Most people come to this area to see the “Seven Sacred Pools,” which are a short half-mile hike from the parking lot. While we found these to be beautiful, we wanted to get away from the crowds and explore more of the area.
Luckily, the P?p?wai Trail, which leads the opposite way from the pools, offered just what we were looking for.
Viewfinder Tip: Bring plenty of water and sunscreen for this two- to three-hour hike.
Before we set off on our hike, we checked in at the visitors center to verify the trail conditions. It’s always a good thing to do, as rainy weather can make the hike more difficult and flash floods can be dangerous.
With the sun shining and a clear forecast, we grabbed our backpacks and started out on the four-mile P?p?wai Trail. There is something magical about hiking through the rainforest when no one else is around. The smell of fresh water and the silence that is broken only by the gentle breeze can make you forget that you are hiking a well-trodden trail.
The most surprising sight that we came upon was the bamboo forest. The last thing we had expected to encounter in Hawaii was bamboo. And let me tell you, this is a huge forest.
The sun peeking through the bamboo forest
As you cross a small bridge, the opening to the forest is laid out before you. It’s like an entry into another world. Bamboo closes around you as you walk through the path and the sounds change from rushing water to the musical melody of a thousand bamboo wind chimes blowing in the breeze.
We craned our necks, looking for an opening above as we hiked the well-marked pathway. Every now and then, we would get a peek at the sun as it pierced the bamboo canopy above. This was truly a unique experience.
The bamboo forest seemed to go on forever. We stopped frequently for photos and to just take in the scene that Mother Nature had so graciously laid out before us. We didn’t think it could get any better than this.
Then, as the bamboo forest thinned and gave way to the lush rainforest, an unusual humming sound filled the air. Like a swarm of bees was approaching in the distance. It grew louder and louder as we rounded the next corner where Waimoku Falls revealed itself.
The falls at the end of the hike
This behemoth of a waterfall plummets 400 feet into the valley below and is a sight to behold. We spent a good 45 minutes just sitting and watching this wonder of nature thundering over the cliffside like a giant waterspout. Then, as if on cue, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds and suddenly the fine misty wisps that lingered in the air turned to colorful shimmers that danced all around us. At that moment, it was clear why people make that four-mile hike.
As we left Waimoku Falls, we were filled with wonder and excitement, and during the walk back, time seemed to pass more quickly than ever before. Suddenly we were back at the parking lot and it all seemed like a dream. Driving back, we reminisced like giddy teenagers about the day and how this was definitely one Maui experience that will always be remembered. Maui has a way of doing that to you.
What’s the best hike you’ve been on while traveling?