The road to Hana is often said to be more about the journey than the destination itself.
And while it's true- the waterfall studded, 50-plus mile Road to Hana is one heck of a journey, this outlook frames the town in a lackluster light. However, the opposite is true. Titillating ocean vistas and spilling waterfalls might grab your attention during the drive, but Hana Town itself is one of the most culturally rich destinations on Maui.
If you look hard enough, there's plenty to do in this East Maui outpost, from exploring subterranean tunnels to browsing the finest artworks in Hawaii. Here are the top ten things to do when you reach Hana Town.
Road to Hana disclaimer: East Maui is home to isolated communities, and Hana Highway serves as a lifeline for Hana residents to get to and from work, grocery stores, school, and medical care. Always pull over for others, and don't let a line of cars stack up behind you. Only park in safe, legal parking areas to keep the road from becoming congested. Also, avoid trespassing on private property. The residents of East Maui appreciate respectful, mindful travelers!
Situated on the outskirts of Hana Town, Waiʻanapanapa State Park is Hana's most alluring visitor attraction. Best known for its wild volcanic coastline and glistening black sand beach, the 122-acre state park is also peppered with hiking trails, lava caves, camping areas, and cultural sites like heiaus and petroglyphs.
To make your visit even more memorable, read up on the lore and history of the park, such as the eerie legend of Popoalaea. Keep in mind reservations are required for out-of-state visitors, so plan accordingly.
As you begin your trek into these barren parts, two points of interest remain just past Oheʻo Gulch.
The sprawling cavern at the Hana Lava Tube is one of East Maui's most intriguing yet overlooked stops. In a region marked by waterfalls, beaches, and jungle, the Kaʻeleku Cavern offers travelers a fascinating, subterranean change of pace. The underground passageway twists for miles underground, and portions of the tube have yet to be explored. However, visitors can traverse a 0.3-mile section of the tube on a self-guided exploration.
A $15 fee grants you entrance to the gaping cavern and a flashlight to illuminate rare stalagmites, different lava flows, and other unique geological features found within. Portions of the cave are equipped with railings and informative plaques. In addition to the cave, the premises are also home to a red ti leaf maze, picnic areas, and restrooms.
While the Hana Gold Cacao Plantation may seem like a rather unassuming stop at first glance, the grounds and friendly owners offer a welcome respite from the crowds and chaos that often consumes travelers on Hana Highway. Stop by and reward yourself after the long drive with Maui's only 100% branch-to-bar sweets, or take an hour's tour of the sprawling grounds and learn about the different types of cacao on the premises. For chocoholics, the plantation is nothing short of the promised land.
A visit to Hana is comparable to stepping back in time. Due to the region's isolation from the rest of the island, many Hawaiian traditions continue to thrive in East Maui. At the Hana Cultural Center and Museum, a team of dedicated volunteers works to preserve Hana's storied past, offering visitors a glimpse into East Maui's traditional way of life.
The museum houses authentic artifacts like Hawaiian quilts, Kapa, fish hooks and nets, poi boards, and much more. In addition, the museum's 'Faces of Hana' display tells compelling stories of some of East Maui's most influential people.
The historic Hana Courthouse is also located on the premises, as well as a replica of a pre-contact Hawaiian village dubbed Kauhale, and a gift shop. (The museum and gift shop are closed due to covid-19, but hope to reopen in the future).
Located just a mile outside Hana Town off Haneoʻo Road is Hamoa Beach. Framed by jungle-coated cliffs, this velvety crescent of sand is easily one of the most idyllic beaches on Maui. On calm days, the crystal clear sand-bottomed waters resemble a swimming pool. When the swell is up, local surfers flock to the reefs on the outer edges of the bay, and bodyboarders fling themselves into the whomping shore break. Several trees and overhanging foliage provide plenty of shade to go around.
Hamoa is also equipped with showers, portable toilets, trash cans, and two easy beach-access points. However, be careful; the currents can be strong at this beach.
It should also be noted that parking here is less than ideal. There is one small dirt parking lot that fills up fast. Otherwise, there is only parallel street parking on the narrow road. So park with aloha, and be mindful of other drivers and the residents of Haneoʻo road.
Situated in a nook in between Hana Elementary and Hana Bay is East Maui's most flavorful eatery. Thai Food by Pranee serves up heaping Thai dishes brimming with color. Order at the counter (go for the Crispy Opakapaka with green papaya salad) and grab a seat at a picnic table or under the covered patio. Enjoy your feast while taking in views of the verdant Hana countryside, or take it to go and picnic at Hana Bay down the street.
Pranee's can get busy, so bring your patience as wait times can sometimes reach up to 45 minutes. Just chalk it up to island time and know that your meal will be well worth it. Or, beat the crowd and stop by when they open at 10:30.
Protected by a large headland, the shallow sandy waters at Hana Bay are a great place to get your feet wet or go for a quick dip. Hana Bay is a favorite local hangout, and on sunny weekends you might find gaggles of local kids jumping from the pier. Hana Bay is a fully outfitted beach park with picnic tables, showers, pavilions, and restrooms, making it a great pit stop for a swim and a picnic.
The large hill that towers above Hana Bay is also shrouded in history- this was the birthplace of Queen Kaʻahumanu, one of Hawaii's greatest queens. Queen Kaʻahumanu played a pivotal role in Hawaiian history by abolishing Hawaii's kapu system in 1819. Before then, women were forbidden to eat certain foods like bananas, taro, and coconuts and were prohibited from dining in men's presence.
Spanning a whopping 484 acres, the pristine Kahanu Garden showcases the life-giving plants of Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia- from breadfruit to taro. However, Kahanu Garden's biggest attraction (literally) is the imposing Piʻilanihale Heiau, believed to be the largest ancient structure in Polynesia. Construction began in the 13th century and took over 300 years to complete.
In 1974, the land was deeded to the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, and work began to restore the heiau and clear the encroaching jungle from the area. Today, the gardens, heiau, and nearby replicas of traditional dwellings are in pristine form. Kahanu Garden offers visitors one of the richest introductions to Hawaiian culture on Maui. Reservations to the garden are appreciated.
Hana's food options used to be sparse at best, but the rise of the food truck era has ushered in numerous places to eat. Hana Town has two main food truck lots and several outlying food trucks. The first lot is located just before Hasegawa General Store. Here you can find burgers, Thai food, burritos, smoothies, and more. A few meters down the road, just past Hana's sole gas station, is the second lot offering plate lunches, coffee, fresh fish, among other things.
However, we can't forget the famous Braddah Hutts, located less than a 10-second drive down the road. Braddah Hutts is known to have some of the island’s best bbq plate lunches and the most ono mac salad in Hana. If you're somehow still hungry after eating your way through Hana Town, head to Koki Beach for some fresh grilled Huli-Huli chicken in an oceanfront setting.
Despite its location in the most remote town on Maui, the Hana Coast Gallery is lauded as Hawaii's most respected cultural arts gallery.
The expansive 3,000 square foot space features breathtaking Hana/Hawaii-inspired oil paintings by renowned artists such as Herb Kane, koa wood sculptures, fine Hawaiian jewelry, and countless other works of art. Strictly devoted to Hawaiian artists, the gallery has been called a "visual passport to the Hawaiian culture" by International Art Review.
At the same time, other travel outlets deem Hana Coast Gallery to be the most significant attraction in East Maui. The Hana Coast Gallery is located in the Hana Maui Resort.
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