Forget the traffic lights, busy intersections, condo complexes, and brand name resorts, the strip malls, Costcos, Walmarts, and ABC Stores. East Maui, instead, is characterized by raw, unfettered nature. This delicate balance of power, beauty, and energy gushes from every waterfall and stream, breezes through trees, plants, and flowers, rushes from mountain to sea, and beats down with the rain that binds everything together. And amidst these natural wonders, small communities carry on harmoniously with their tropical surroundings.
Hana is a classic "everybody knows everybody" town in a unique tropical setting. It's actually the most populous and most "bustling" community in East Maui, hosting the area's only medical clinic, fire station, police department, post office, gas station, and schools. A couple of general stores, a handful of vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts, a few restaurants, several churches, a hotel, and an athletic field breathe life and character into the narrow seaside streets. The friendly, slow-paced vibe here could be your ticket to true relaxation and peace of mind. There's even an airport in Hana for those who wish to skip the chaos of Central Maui and fly directly to remote island paradise. A few miles before town, you'll see a turnoff for Wai'anapanapa State Park, where you'll find Black Sand Beach and some fresh water pools. Visit Red Sand Beach, a rugged nook of crimson at the far end of town, and Hamoa Beach, a popular local recreation spot a few miles past town, to indulge in the pleasures of heavenly Hana. The town is also known for hosting an annual three-day Taro Festival, which usually takes place in April, to celebrate Hawai'i's sacred plant through food, music, crafts, and educational programs.
Hundreds of years ago, Hawaiian ali'i, or royalty, prized Kipahulu for its fertile land and abundant waters – so much so that thousands of people inhabited the area, thriving sustainably and harmoniously with the natural environment. Today, roughly 150 people populate Kipahulu and continue the tradition of respect for the 'aina, or land. Residents are largely self-sufficient. They maintain their own water and electricity systems, sustain themselves with locally grown fruits and vegetables, and make occasional trips to Central Maui to stock up on supplies. You'd never know that people lived here aside from a few clusters of mailboxes posted along the roadside and the occasional private drive leading back into the jungle. One thing that visitors do often see when passing through Kipahulu is 'Ohe'o Gulch, or Seven Sacred Pools. This attraction, a constituent of Haleakala National Park, features oceanfront waterfalls and swimming holes, a bamboo forest hike to 400-foot Waimoku Falls, and an oceanfront camping area. A mile past the park rests famous aviator Charles Lindberh at his gravesite at Ho'omau Church.
As you continue driving along the back road to Hana, you'll notice that the terrain becomes more barren and less lush than the blooming rainforest behind you. After maneuvering your way along a bumpy and sometimes sketchy road for five miles or so, you'll come across Kaupo, a sleepy fishing town home to around 40 inhabitants. Aside from some spectacular views of the ocean and a few small houses along the roadside, the only thing that distinguishes Kaupo is Kaupo Store. Here, you'll find an interesting collection of antique cameras, clocks, spectacles, and knickknacks dating back to the 1800s. Buy any last minute snacks and drinks here because you certainly won't find any other stores along the back road to Hana until you reach Ulupalakua Store 15 miles and 90 minutes later.