Maui: The South Rim Road to Hana and Pīpīwai Trail at Haleakalā National Park


After taking in the view and monarch tree at Sun Yat-Sen Park, Sam and I continued our drive along the Pilani Highway towards Hana. The seascapes were immaculate as we ascended the south rim of Maui. We were one of the few cars driving the highway (and the only car going east, towards Hana, instead of away from Hana), but there were plenty of horses walking alongside the road. We let the ocean breeze blow through the windows as we tried taking in the scope of this place. This isolation and tropical paradise felt like a dream.

Driving the South Rim of the Road to Hana

We started coming back down from the rolling foothills of the volcano, easing closer to the shoreline. There was a scenic overlook on the edge of the road with an overlook, and we were shocked that no one else was stopped there. A fierce, gusting wind kept us back from the edge, reminding me that the spirit of this place is a living, powerful force still present today. I could have bathed in the colors of this scene for hours and never get sick of it.

Driving the South Rim Road to Hana - Ocean OverlookSouth Road to Hana - Ocean Overlook PanoramicSouth Road to Hana - Ocean Overlook View

We continued eastward. Our goal was to reach the Haleakalā National Park on the south shoreline. It would be the fifth National Park we’d visit in 2016, and we wanted to add it to our list. The Park occupies a massive 33,000 acres on Maui, stretching from the summit of the dormant volcano on the inner part of the island all the way to the south coast.

From our hotel in Kihei, the drive to Halaeakalā’s Visitor Center near Kaupo was estimated to take two hours. There was one rule that kept appearing over and over again as we researched the Road to Hana: make sure you’re off the route before the sun sets. We left Kihei shortly after noon and the sunset was scheduled for 6 pm. Based on the open road and expansive vistas we’d seen from higher up the mountain, we were confident we’d have an hour or two to explore the park once we arrived.

Little did we know what we were in for as we cruised along towards Kaupo.
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Maui: The Monarch Tree at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Park

Monarch Butterflies at Sun Yat-Sen Park on in Maui, Hawaii

After the hardest run of our lives, we spent the next day on Maui pretty much chillin’. Sam and his dad went golfing, so I lounged around the ocean-side condo with Sam’s mom for a few hours. I’m sure I could elaborate on how great it was lying in the hot sunshine for a few hours–save for a few dips in the ocean to cool off–but I can’t bring myself to write a love letter to tropical climates while I’m sitting wrapped up in a blanket in my long-johns as subzero temps creep into our apartment through single-pane windows. But I digress.

To be honest, I’m not a good relaxer. I prefer to be walking or running or biking or checking things off my list or somehow contributing to the glob of good things in the world. Whenever I turn on Netflix, I’m usually doing something else while “watching” my show. I’ve cooked entire meals with my computer propped up on the counter next to me. So you can imagine that, after reading for a few hours in a beach chair, I was pretty much losing my mind despite being in paradise.

When the boys came back from golfing, I let Sam gather his wits for about fifteen minutes before nagging him about what we were going to do in the afternoon. After a little research and Sam politely asking me to chill for another half hour or so, we decided to venture to the south coast of the Road to Hana. 

Driving the south rim on the Road to Hana in Maui

Upcountry of Maui, the south rim of the Road to Hana

The Road to Hana is the biggest attraction on all of Maui, especially after they paved the full 64-mile road a few years ago. If you’re driving in from the north (leaving Paia and heading south into Hana), the road is smooth, pitch black, and in practically pristine condition. However, it also has 620 curves, 59 bridges, and bumper-to-bumper tourist traffic. Despite being only 64 miles, most guides recommend taking 3-6 hours to drive to Hana and back because of the incredible scenery along the way. It’s definitely one of those “journey not the destination” kind of things. I’ll share more about our trip on the entire road soon.

But the part Sam and I were most interested in was the southern rim of the road, which isn’t counted in the 64-mile distance cited on every Maui tourism site. That’s because the south rim–which leads west out of Hana back to the west coast of Maui–is the exact opposite of the newly paved road. There’s eight miles of gravel, one-way roads wrapped around blind cliff-hugging corners, and car death traps plunging down steep hills. Rental car companies on Maui will void your insurance policy if you drive this stretch because it’s so rough on cars.

Continue reading “Maui: The Monarch Tree at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Park”