This article by Kelsey Dundon first appeared in the travel section of The Province, BC’s most-read print publication.
These days, the Road to Hana isn’t exactly the one less travelled. Thanks to its place of honour on many must-see, must-do and must-experience lists, it’s easy to get caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way to the remote town.
But there’s another scenic drive on Maui that’s far less crowded: the road around the north side of the island.
It’s a trip that hotel concierges seem loathe to recommend and for good reason: one-lane roads, steep cliffs and limited guard rails make driving conditions sketchy.
Naturally it went to the top of my must-do list.
I started the trek in Ka’anapali, where long stretches of golden sand are broken only by dramatic Black Rock, a spot where daring swimmers leap off the cliff into the frothy waves below. It’s the most prominent feature of the Sheraton Maui, sheraton-maui.com, the first resort built on the now-famous beach almost 50 years ago.
Today Ka’anapali is lined with full-service resorts including not one, but two Westins, one of which I called home for a few days: the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas, westinkaanapali.com.
Traffic started to thin around the time I hit the first spot beautiful enough to spend a whole day: Honolua Bay, a Marine Life Conservation District that I would return to the following morning on a snorkelling trip with Teralani Sailing Charters, teralani.net.
With a protected reef and sea turtles galore, it is considered one of the best snorkelling spots on the island.
But there was no time for that now so I continued down the windy road — no longer part of the State Highway — to Honokohau Bay, where I bought a half-dozen homemade oatmeal cranberry cookies from a couple at a roadside stand. I nibbled away as my toes played tag with the crashing waves.
Back on the road the terrain changed from rolling green hills that look like they could have been transplanted from Ireland to jagged oceanside cliffs that looked like, well, they too could have been transplanted from Ireland.
Soon it became clear why the locals don’t recommend this drive to visitors — the road narrows to one lane, without guardrails to protect you from the steep drop to the lush valley far below.
If I encountered a vehicle coming from the other direction, one of us would have had to reverse and delicately dance backward along this cliff-side trail. But the driving gods were with me so I was able to keep moving forward toward the postage stamp-sized town of Kahakuloa where roadside signs proclaim Julia’s Banana Bread, juliasbananabread.com, the best in the world. Truth in advertising? I can’t say, but it was pretty darned good.
Happily refuelled, I hopped back in the Jeep to climb the cliff that would lead to Kaukini Gallery, kaukinigallery.com, a sophisticated artisan gift shop with fine handmade jewelry and local artwork a beautiful as the shop’s view. The quiet road stretched for miles before I arrived at another gallery, Turnbull Studios, turnbullstudios.org, a sculpture garden that marked the return to well-populated Maui.
From there it wasn’t far to Paia, a picturesque surf town east of the Kahului Airport that houses high-end clothing boutiques, coffee shops that serve organic drip and cafés offering vegetarian curries.
It’s a sleepy town despite the fact it flanks the highway. A road that, if you’re up for it, will take you all the way to Hana.