The Road to Hana makes the Tail of the Dragon look like a Go-kart Track
In daydreams about my Hawaiian honeymoon, I negotiated Maui’s snakelike, iconic Road to Hana in a sleek, red Mazda Miata. Reality in the form of the Dollar Rental clerk at the airport had other ideas. My fate was a Hyundai Sonata.
The Road to Hana, with its 620 turns and 46 one-lane bridges, is a car enthusiast’s dream. Although it’s 52 miles as the crow flies from Kahului to Maui’s eastern point of Hana, the infamous road is a 64.4-mile stretch of coastline highway that takes about three hours to drive. And if you have Ford Fiesta ST or Mazda Miata, it’s a perfect stretch of road. Unfortunately, Dollar Rental had another car in mind for me — a 3,500-pound whale with 185 horsepower 2.4-liter engine. A car that can barely get out of its own way was going to be our surfboard for one of the best driving experiences in all the world.
But that doesn’t matter right? It’s about how you use it, or something like that. And that’s mostly true. Except the Hyundai Sonata is truly a boat that I hope one day sinks like the Titanic. Most of the road is only meant for one car, so a wide car can be an issue. Remember there are 46, yes 46, one-lane bridges and 620 turns. For reference the Nurburgring, one of the most famous tracks in the world, has 120 turns. So five times as many turns as Nurburgring!
How to navigate the Road to Hana like a local
When you start on the Road to Hana, you’re lulled to complacency because it is easy to navigate, at first. Then it goes straight to difficulty level 10. The average Road to Hana straight goes like this: blind U-turn corner after blind corner after blind one-lane bridge. Then there’s a waterfall distraction with tourists everywhere followed by an off-camber sharp right turn. Then, it’s back to a blind turn one-land bridge. It’s like this for 50+ miles. By the end of the road, I was dizzy – my wife, on the other hand, was ready for more. Who is the enthusiast here?
To make things worse, the road is filled with tourists taking pictures (in places where you are not supposed to stop). And to make things even worse, the locals despise the tourists and will do everything to make it hell for them. At one point I had a Mazda5 minivan riding my bumper so hard you’d think the driver had somewhere to go. But that’s the thing – isn’t the point of Maui “aloha,” “good vibes,” “chill”? You don’t find those “vibes” on the road to Hana.
And being new to the Road to Hana and having no clue where I was going, I really needed some of those “aloha” vibes. At another point I had TWO short wheelbase school buses riding my bumper. Yes, a short bus was doing better than I was. And it was easy to tell who was a local versus a tourist because same rules apply as in Kailua. Mustang convertibles rule supreme out here in Hana, but little did those drivers know that it rains quite frequently (about 400 inches a year!). Plus a Mustang convertible isn’t exactly something I’d be using for canyon carving, I’d take my 1994 Mazda Miata ALL DAY.
The key to driving the Road to Hana is to take your time. Pull to the side if you think someone wants to pass you. The Road to Hana isn’t the time to show off your weekend autocross skills, even though I longed for something that better reflected my superior driving abilities. The Road to Hana is meant to be driven slow and enjoyed. There are road side stands where you can grab some ice cream and local treats (check out Glen’s Vegan Ice Cream). And there are waterfalls like New Jersey has exits on the Turnpike – plentiful.
I’m honestly quite surprised there aren’t more car accidents on the Road to Hana. My beautiful wife and I drove the road twice and not once did we see a Mustang or Jeep Wrangler on the side of the road. Or a local in a Toyota Tacoma crashed into a Hyundai Sonata. There must be some magical force because if there were ever an accident, the road would have to be shut down. It’s too narrow to handle any sort of mistakes.
But it was all that fear at every blind corner and every near miss with a Jeep Wrangler that made the trip fun. It made those views a thousand times better when we arrived in Hana (because we were counting our blessings). It’s not always about the destination, sometimes it’s just about the journey. Next time though, I’ll take a Mazda Miata on that journey, please.