Starting on the north-central edge of Maui in Paia Town, which from the road is nothing more than a quaint collection of small shops, we embarked on a full day’s journey along the Hana Highway, to the old town of Hana – and beyond, to the Oheo Gulch and one of the fringes of the much larger Haleakala National Park.
We picked up a few sandwiches and drinks from Paia Bay Coffee, where the barista told us the surf was up that day. So we set off to see Jaws, the notorious surfing destination a few miles down the first stretch of the Road to Hana (on Highway 36) between mile markers 13 and 14. Along the way, we were treated to a gorgeous first glance of the ocean surf as we passed Hoopika Beach Park:
The vantage point for Jaws was a bit of hike once we parked the car, longer than we had planned for in what was already a packed day, but when we finally got to the overlook, it was packed with onlookers, tourists and surfer folks alike, many armed with hefty camera lens, waiting just like the surfers down below for the right set to come along. During winter, the waves reach much higher heights, but the waves that day were “only” twenty-some feet high.
We hoped to catch one of the surfers catching a wave, but after a captivating hour, it was time to move on – we had to tear ourselves away and get back on the road. Our next stop was Twin Falls, the first waterfall in a day chock full of them – but also the most accessible and the most easily swim-able, just a short hike away from a roadside fruit stand (where, rest assured, we bought fresh-pressed sugarcane drinks and banana bread).
We waded our way out into the pool and underneath the freezing cascade of falling water. When we’d dried ourselves and stopped shivering, we headed back to the car and was on our way to the next waterfall.
And the views along the remaining stretches of highway toward Hana continued to be stunning:
We passed little towns that felt like they were transfixed in another time, standing on the Keanea Lookout, overlooking the Peninsula of taro fields, surrounded by roadside homes and fruit stands.
Finally, Hana came and went, and the road became a bit narrower, a bit more weathered. We saw Wailua Falls:
We headed around what essentially became a one-lane road until we reached Haleakala National Park and the O’heo Gulch. We chose the longer two-mile hike that climbs towards the 400-foot-tall Waimoku Falls – we’d started our hike around 5pm and as we progressively neared the end of the trail (and also progressively felt more and more lost), the panic of the approaching sunset and disorientation of being (seemingly) the only ones left on the trail started to get to us – but in retrospect, it was worth every nervous step, even when the brief torrential rain stranded us momentarily amidst the thick fragrance of trampled flowers and ripened guava littered and burst open all over the forest floor.
The trail snaked up past these stepped waterfalls flowing into one another, and led to a beautifully desolate and incredibly dense bamboo rainforest that seemed to go on forever.
When we finally stumbled out of the bamboo cover and waded through a few streams overflowing with rainwater, the brush cleared suddenly and Waimoku Falls opened up before us out of nowhere:
When we hurried back to our car, a tiny visitor was waiting for us:
We’d washed our muddy feet and hands and climbed back into the car for what would be a harrowing two-hour thrill ride back along those hairpin turns and one-lane bridges all the way to Paia Town. Before our hike, we’d stopped the audio guide CD that had accompanied us thus far, and as we started the car back up the narrator’s cheerful voice greeted us with a “Congratulations, you’ve now completed the Road to Hana!” as if this had been some surreptitiously arranged version of some bizarre live-action game. She proceeded to suggest a drink at the famous Mama’s Fish House, exactly where our reservation was for later that night. In our weary happiness, or happy exhaustion, we were more profoundly amused than spooked by this little series of coincidences. Just another set of good tidings and well-wishing to send us on our way.