Many people know Maui for its surf and sun, both found in great abundance in the middle of the Pacific. But it would be a shame to park yourself at a beach and never explore the wide variety of terrain the island has to offer. Maui's roads are well maintained and provide access to steep cliffs that drop into churning blue waves, thick jungle canopies that turn roads into tunnels, and views from 10,023 feet above sea level. Rent a car and grab a map. The winding roads await you.
1. Honoapi'ilani Highway – Ma'alaea to Lahaina (12 miles)
Highlights: views of Kaho'olawe and Lana'i, stand up paddle boarders, surfers, whales
The Honoapi'ilani Highway (Highway 30) hugs the leeward coast of the West Maui Mountains. Drive by miles of reef with excellent shore breaks for stand up paddle boarders and surfers. Spot humpback whales from December to March, when the 40-foot long marine mammals seek out the protected water along this road to mate and give birth to their young.
- • Stop at the scenic lookout between mile markers eight and nine during whale season. The Pacific Whale Foundation stations naturalists at the spot to count whales and answer questions.
- • Snorkel the huge shallow, calm reef at Olowalu near mile marker 15.
- • Launiupoko Park at mile marker 18 is a great place to take a break from driving, watch surfers, and have a picnic lunch.
2. Kahekili Highway – Honokohau to Wailuku (25 miles)
Highlights: steep cliffs with dramatic views, pasture, jungle, banana bread, blowhole, Hawaiian towns, short hikes, swimming
Just past Kapalua on Maui's west side, the road narrows and begins to snake its way around the north side of the West Maui Mountains. Buffeted by strong trade winds, giant swells, and regular rain showers, this side of the island has been eroded into rows and rows of steep cliffs and deep valleys. Cows graze on bright green pastures along ridges, and jungle grows thick in less developed areas. Sections of the road are narrow, one lane, and very rough, but provide some of the best views on the island.
- • Hike to the Nakalele Blowhole overlook between mile markers 38 and 39.
- • Hike down to the shore and go for a swim at the Olivine Pools near mile marker 16.
- • Stop at Julie's just outside of Kahakuloa Village and get fantastic banana bread and coconut candy.
- • Stop at the Kaukini Gallery between mile markers 14 and 13 to admire the view and the art.
3. 'Iao Valley Road (2 miles)
Highlights: thick rainforest vegetation, steep ridges
'Iao Valley Road (Highway 320) provides an excellent glimpse of the Maui rainforest without having to travel outside of Wailuku. Tall trees covered with epiphytes (air plants) and creeping vines lean out over the road creating a tunnel of green. Near the end, the canopy opens and steep ridges dripping with water soar up on either side of the road.
- • 'Iao Valley Road ends at 'Iao Valley State Monument. Take the time to view the 'Iao Needle, accessible via paved walking paths.
- • History buffs will enjoy the Baily House Museum at the bottom of the road near Wailuku.
- • The science-minded and families with kids will love the Hawai'i Nature Center located near the top of the road.
4. Hana Highway - Pa'ia to Hana (45 miles)
Highlights: spectacular scenery, thick jungle, fruit stands, banana bread, rugged coastline, hiking, swimming
The road to Hana (Highway 360) deserves all the hype it gets. Weaving over and around the jungle-covered ridges of Maui's north shore, this road offers up sweeping coastal views, abundant waterfalls, and long stretches of bamboo forest. Although often narrow and one lane, the highway is very well maintained and safe to travel. Fruit stands and plenty of opportunities for hiking along the way help turn these 45 miles into one of the best driving trips on Maui.
- • Rent a jeep or a convertible. The steep cliff walls and thick jungle canopy are best when viewed without a roof in the way.
- • Bring ginger candy. There are over 600 turns in the 45 miles to Hana, and most passengers will feel the effects of all the twisting. Ginger is a natural remedy for nausea and motion sickness and can be found in any Maui grocery store.
- • Stop at the Ho'okipa Lookout just before mile marker nine to watch surfers catch huge north shore waves.
- • Stop at Twin Falls just past mile marker two. Grab some fruit to snack on at the fruit stand and take a quick hike to a swimming hole with a rope swing.
- • Take the short detour to Ke'anae Peninsula between mile markers sixteen and seventeen. Aunty Sandy's has some of the best banana bread on the island and north shore waves crashing into the lava formations at the end of the road can be spectacular. There are also public restrooms at the baseball field.
- • Stop at Wai'anapanapa State Park just past mile marker 32. There are restrooms, a black sand beach, the Wai'anapanapa Coast Trail, and fresh water caves to explore.
- • If you can, stay overnight in Hana. You'll enjoy the drive more with ample time to stop and take in the views. Plus, there are a lot of great hikes and beaches to enjoy on this side of the island.
5. Waipoli Road – Kula to Polipoli State Park (12 miles)
Highlights: views of Kaho'olawe, Lanai'i, central Maui, and the West Maui Mountains, upcountry pastures, paraglider watching, Frisbee golf
Waipoli Road is a very steep and narrow paved road that climbs its way up the west facing slope of Haleakala. It is off the beaten path, and provides an experience similar to the Crater Road to the summit of Haleakala without all the traffic. Open green pasture lands dotted with cattle, patches of eucalyptus forest, and phenomenal views of the West Maui Mountains are just the start. Adventurous drivers can continue on the rough, unpaved portion of the road to Polipoli State Park for camping, hiking, and mountain biking.
- • Start early. Clouds always roll in by 10 or 11 a.m., obscuring the view.
- • Stop at Ali'i Kula Lavender Garden. Their guided tours are a bit overpriced, but the tea and scones are fantastic.
- • Park your car along the side of the road above the lavender garden, find a comfy patch of grass, and enjoy the view. Paragliders often start their flights from this area, and the 10 to 15 degree drop in temperature makes this a fantastic place to relax on a hot Maui summer day.
- • There is a fun Frisbee golf course all along the upper part of this road. Park at the first big patch of eucalyptus trees just after the open meadow above the lavender garden.