Posted by: kerryl29 | January 20, 2020

Hawaii Day 9, Part I: Prelude to The Hana Highway

Advance warning:  my account of Day 9 is going to be a two-parter.  Rather than just toss up images and a brief account of this day, I want to provide some background information, for context, regarding the Hana Highway.  As a result, the images that accompany this post will be from the sunrise shoot on that day, prior to my time on the Hana Highway.  Images from sites on the highway itself will appear in the succeeding post.  As I was planning this write-up, it became clear to me that if everything I wanted to say on this subject, along with the imagery, appeared in a single post it would be absurdly long.  Hence, I decided to split the material into two parts.  I thank you in advance for your indulgence.

Having transitioned to Maui, there were three principal locations on the island that I wanted to visit:  West Maui (north of Kapalua); Haleakala Crater; and the Hana Highway.  I figured that all of these locations would dominate a full day, at least.  (Actually there was a fourth location I wanted to visit:  Iao Valley State Park, but I figured that would take only part of a day–probably no more than a few hours on the ground.)  There were other spots I wanted to visit, but none of them figured to command as much time as the three mentioned above.  All of these locations are in a different part of Maui and none of them are particularly close to Kihei, where I was staying.

If you take a look at a map of Maui, it almost looks like two islands fused together.

Map of Maui

And, in fact, Maui is made up of two volcanic hubs:  Mauna Kahalawai, a.k.a. West Maui Mountain or West Maui Volcano (the former a.k.a. is how it’s generally referred to) dominates the northwest part of the island.  Haleakala is the most notable feature in the southeastern part.  (The separate island on the map above, in the lower left, is Kaho’olawe, the smallest of the eight major Hawaiian Islands and the only one of the eight without a permanent population.)  The town of Kihei, where I was staying, is located on the southwestern coast.  As my hotel was in extreme southern Kihei it’s probably more useful to use the town of Wailea on the above map as a a rough approximation of my base.  Haleakala Crater, located in the main section of Haleakala National Park, is nearly a two-hour drive from where I was staying.  The West Maui area I was most interested in visiting was, depending on traffic, probably a hair less than an an hour’s drive.  The Hana Highway…it’s difficult to estimate because the Hana Highway itself  technically runs for well over 60 miles but–again, depending on traffic–it probably takes at least an hour to reach the northwest point of the highway that marks the beginning of the photo-worthy locations of that region, which begins well to the east of the town of Paia.

At this point you may be asking, “why did you stay at that location if it wasn’t near any of the places you most wanted to visit?”  (I know that I would be asking that question.)  It’s a twofold answer.  The first part has to do with the fact that there really aren’t any locations that are particularly accessible to all of the places I wanted to visit.  Take another look at the map of Maui.  The three spots mentioned are nowhere near one another.  What would be ideal for one would be terrible for the other two.  The place I selected was a decent, if less than hypothetically ideal, compromise.  I suppose the best real world base camp would have been somewhere in Maalaea, 10-15 minutes north of the spot I selected.  There are a few accommodations there but–and this takes me to the second part of my answer–they weren’t in my price range.  Most places in Maui, in fact, were not in my price range.  In the end, the place I selected was the best compromise regarding location and cost.

Some background on the Hana Highway.  As I mentioned in a previous post, this wasn’t my first time on Maui.  My family took week-long trips to Hawaii in 1978 and 1980 and on both occasions we spent a few days on Maui.  In 1980, we drove part of what was then known as “the Road to Hana.”  Even if you’ve never been to Hawaii, you may have heard of the Road to Hana; it became quite famous…or, perhaps more accurately, infamous.  Back in 1980 (and prior to that), the maintenance for this road–given its name because it leads to the small town of Hana on the east coast of the southern portion of the island–was the responsibility of Maui County.  The county did…let’s say they were a bit lax in their responsibilities because the road was notoriously bad.  Back then, souvenir shops on Maui sold “I Survived the Road to Hana” t-shirts, and with good reason.  Not along after we visited–I want to say 1982 or thereabouts–the State of Hawaii took over maintenance responsibilities for the road; it was renumbered with a state highway designation and at some point thereafter the common parlance name transitioned to “the Hana Highway.”

Somewhat remarkably, given that nearly 40 years have gone by, the road’s reputation for dreadful conditions has hung on.  But the truth is that the state has done an excellent job; the road is in very good physical condition.  The days when concerns about pitted potholes causing flat tires (and worse) are a thing of the past.  But there was always another part of the road’s reputation that went beyond maintenance:  the road is winding, hilly and, most notably, extremely narrow in places.  The route is littered with one-lane bridges, forcing motorists to cooperate to allow traffic to flow.  And, on other spots on the route, the road is simply too narrow for two vehicles to easily pass one another.  Again, cooperation is the name of the game.  Regardless of specifics, it’s impossible to safely travel very quickly on the Hana Highway.  It takes a long time to get where you’re going and just as long to return to the starting point.

There is, quite bluntly a great deal of interesting subject matter to photograph, and that subject matter is remarkably varied:  ocean overlooks, thick rain forests, countless waterfalls and streams, grottoes, historic buildings, beaches–including black and red sand varieties.  Some of these subjects require a hike, some of them are right by the side of the road.  Basically, if you can’t find interesting subjects along the Hana Highway, you probably need a personal reboot.  And there is so much to see and photograph that it’s literally impossible to come close to doing all of it in one day.  It probably isn’t doable in two full days.

There is a problem with all of this, unfortunately, in addition to what I noted about the nature of the road itself:  the area gets crowded.  And given the infrastructure (see above and below), it doesn’t take nearly as many people for things to get crowded as you might think.  One of the consequences of the better road maintenance and the seemingly ever increasing number of tourists in Hawaii is that more and more people are heading to the Hana Highway; it’s kind of a double whammy.   And one of the most intriguing features that makes up the highway’s subject matter is the sheer number of waterfalls that are visible from the road.  Many people like to do more than just look at the waterfalls; many visitors like to swim in the pools below the waterfalls.  Doing this takes time.  People need to find a place to park their vehicles.  Guess what?  That’s right…there are very few suitable places to do this near many of the highway’s most captivating subjects.  Merge this fact with the aforementioned sheer number of visitors to the area and the extremely narrow, twisting mountain road and you have…well, you can imagine what you have.  Backups, crowds, people walking in the road in front of vehicles…you name it.  During the “tourist hours” (roughly 9 AM to 3 or 3:30 PM), much of the area can be sheer chaos.  This is true seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, as best I’ve been able to determine.  I should also point out that this is the wettest accessible part of the island.  It rains here frequently.

But it’s remarkable how much quieter things are along the highway early in the morning and late in the afternoon.  Things go, seemingly at the snap of a finger, from overflowing to vacant later in the day (vice versa in the morning).  If I ever get back to Maui, I would try to stay in Hana (there are accommodations) for most, if not all, of the time I’m on the island.  The opportunity to be relatively close to all of these phenomenal photo locations is tantalizing.  On this trip, I ended up spending most of two full days in this area (including the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park–more on this in future posts) and there were numerous subjects I had to forego due to time constraints, crowds or both.  Being able to start–and end–the day in Hana would make it immeasurably easier to squeeze as much as possible out of the Hana Highway than when staying anywhere else on Maui.

And, with that as background, allow me to tell you a tiny bit about what I did on Day 9 before I reached the Hana Highway.  The best way to access the highway’s subjects is from the north, by way of Kahalui.  So, that’s what I did.  I was hoping for a sunrise shoot that day, so I researched locations along the way and discovered Ho’okipa Lookout.  Located about a mile past the town of Paia–technically on the Hana Highway, but before the part of the highway containing all that I detailed above–the lookout is an outcropping right on the ocean.  My research suggested that 180-degree views are available from this spot, so that’s where I headed in the pre-dawn darkness that morning.

It was still dark when I arrived.  There is a formal overlook with a guardrail, but there’s also a trail that heads down to a rocky promontory much closer to the water with far greater options as regards compositions, so that’s where I headed, just as the light was starting to come up.  I was treated to a very nice seaside sunrise location from which I was able to look down the shoreline to the east as well as across the water to West Maui.

Ho’okipa Lookout at Sunrise, Ho’okipa Beach Park, Maui, Hawaii

Ho’okipa Lookout at Sunrise, Ho’okipa Beach Park, Maui, Hawaii

It wasn’t the best sunrise sky of the trip, by a long shot, but it was pretty nice.

Ho’okipa Lookout at Sunrise, Ho’okipa Beach Park, Maui, Hawaii

Ho’okipa Lookout at Dawn, Ho’okipa Beach Park, Maui, Hawaii

Ho’okipa Lookout at Sunrise, Ho’okipa Beach Park, Maui, Hawaii

Ho’okipa Lookout at Sunrise, Ho’okipa Beach Park, Maui, Hawaii

Ho’okipa Lookout at Sunrise, Ho’okipa Beach Park, Maui, Hawaii

Ho’okipa Lookout at Sunrise, Ho’okipa Beach Park, Maui, Hawaii

Once the sun came up and I began to lose the light, I gathered up my things, returned to my vehicle and headed east on the highway, toward the day’s principal interest.  In the next entry I’ll detail my experiences on the Hana Highway itself.


  1. I wish I could go there

    • Thanks!

      I hope you get the chance to visit some day.

      • Hope so….

  2. Hawaii is such a mystery to me, so I am really appreciating not only the beautiful imagery, but also the descriptions of the locations.

    • Thanks, Ellen. FWIW, I think the sites along the Hana Highway, which I will detail in the next installment, are among the most varied and interesting in a single area, of any place I visited on Maui or Kauai. It’s a bit of an apples to oranges comparison because the Hana Highway stretches for such a long way. In theory, all of these places can be visited in a single day; in practice, however, it’s not possible to do so.

    • BTW, if you–or anyone else–has any questions about locations, please feel free to ask about them in the comments and I’ll do my best to provide answers.

  3. Nice pictures of Hawaii.

  4. I so want to go to Hawaii and these photos are only making me want it more. Just that flight and time changes for me… yikes!!!

    • Thanks!

      Yes, the travel to Hawaii from the Midwest can be rough. I had a direct flight from Chicago to Honolulu–roughly 9 1/2 hours in the air–then a relatively short layover before an interisland flight to Lihue, Kauai (20-25 minutes in the air). Truth is, the return was much worse because there’s no way to avoid a red eye unless, for instance, you fly back to the West Coast, stay overnight, and take a second flight the following day. During the months of daylight savings time, the time difference is five hours (six for those in the Eastern Time Zone), and given the elapsed time of the flight(s), the red eye return simply can’t be avoided. I ended up flying out of Kahalui, Maui directly to Denver, arriving at something like 6 AM, then had about an hour layover before flying back to Chicago. But you know what? I’d do it again in heartbeat.

      • From Ohio I don’t know what route we’d take but I know there’d be a layover or two. How did you manage the jet lag????

        • The exact route would depend greatly on which carrier you’re flying with which, in turn, may largely be a function of exactly which airport you fly out of. Cincinnati used to be a secondary hub for Delta; I don’t think Cleveland or Columbus are hubs for any of the airlines. But, best case, it would be a direct flight to some West Coast destination–Los Angeles or San Francisco most likely–and from there a direct flight to whichever island is your initial destination (which would hopefully absolve you of the need for an inter-island flight right out of the shoot).

          Jet lag…it was a non-issue outbound. I arrived in Kauai at something like 9 PM Central Time (around 4 PM Hawaii time). It was a long flight but it conformed pretty well with a normal time cycle, The return was another story. The flight left Maui after 8 PM local time; it arrived in Denver at something approaching 2 AM Hawaii time and when I got back to Chicago it was something like 6:30 AM in Hawaii. I dealt with it by more or less collapsing some time that afternoon. 🙂 I’d had almost no sleep, at that point, in roughly 30 hours and my body just said: “enough.” I was mostly okay by the following day.

        • Yikes!!! We will fly out of Columbus and hopefully get a direct to the west coast, a bit of a layover and then onto the island. Spouse wants to see the volcano national park and whatever else is on the big island. Not sure we will do island hopping. Right now we need to check into our miles with AA, United and Southwest to see which gives most bang for buck.

          We’ve gone to England a couple of times and I sorta slept on the flight over but once on the ground I was ok for a few hours until I had to just pass out for a bit an then it was all good. Coming back it took me a couple days to regroup.

        • There’s a great deal to see (and photograph) on the Big Island, arguably more than any of the other islands, at least in terms of sheer volume. It’s also a much, much larger land mass than any of the other islands. I believe the Big Island is larger, in terms of area, than all of the other islands put together.

          I have a lot of trouble sleeping on planes. I’m pretty sure I briefly dozed off on the red eye from Maui to Denver, but briefly is the key word.

          There’s no question about it, the worst part about a trip to Hawaii is dealing with the flights. (The cost is the second worst part. 🙂 )

  5. […] Last time I provided some background to the Hana Highway as a photographic location, along with some images from the sunrise shoot that proceeded my time along the road.  This time I’ll present the images I made during the rest of that day and flesh out the specifics of the highway as a photographic experience based on what I saw when I was there. […]

  6. […] the west, rather than doing that I had done the previous day.  As I noted in the first installment covering Day 9, I made the clockwise drive; heading from south Kihei, I photographed sunrise at Ho’okipa […]

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