For people who love to explore the world from the road, the back route to Hana is a rewarding journey through the most desolate part of Maui. There are no stores, very few houses, and only the occasional passing truck or cattle guard to remind you of people. Desert grasses and shrubs dominate this side of Haleakala, and the rich red soil and black lava rocks stand in sharp contrast to the greens and blues of the upper slopes and ocean. The air feels dry, much like the Western Continental U.S., and as the road winds its way through land reserved for the Hawaiian people for its spiritual and cultural significance, you can't help but think what the island must have been like before those first New England missionaries began to influence Hawai'i. Big sky, sweeping vistas, and a dirt road that forces you to slow down and watch the view make this one of the best drives on Maui.
Most guidebooks recommend traveling this road from Hana to Kula, but we believe it is better to go the opposite way. If you start early, you can stop at Grandma's Coffee House in Kula (153 Kula Highway) for excellent breakfast, snacks, and homegrown organic coffee for the road. Traveling in this direction, you will avoid the late afternoon line of disgruntled drivers going the opposite way - the stark beauty of the Hawaiian desert and the adventure of a rough road tend to be lost on those who have spent too much time in a car. Finally, the Kaupo General Store is usually open later in the day. It's a nice place to stop, stretch your legs, grab a snack or drink, and help sustain the meager local economy.
If you can, plan on staying overnight in Hana so you can hike, visit a beach, and drive the Road to Hana (Highway 360) the following day.
From Kahalui take the Haleakala Highway (Highway 37) to Kula. Bear right at the fork in front of Grandma's Coffee House in Kula. Eventually the road changes names and becomes the Pi'ilani Highway (Highway 31). The five miles of road before Kaupo is graded dirt, which may be very rough or washed out in some places. In the past year, Maui County has been doing a much better job of maintaining the road and it is almost always passable. Please drive slowly and cautiously and pull over to let locals by.