The Road to Hana and Discovering the Real Maui

08 March 2014

Maui is not a place I ever imagined visiting.

I consider myself a budget traveler and this particular island always evoked the imagery of obnoxiously rich people lounging all day on the beach.

Not my style of travel at all and yet here I was, passing by sugar cane fields after just landing in the city of Kahului, Maui.

I reflected in my mind, how exactly had I imagined Maui again? As a small-town Ohio girl I formulated a strange, paradoxical mixture of tropical beaches with nothing around and yet, at the same time, high end hotels would be stretching up into the skies.

Heading out on the Road to Hana, a route built for sugar plantation workers commuting from one side of the island to the other that contains more than 600 curves, I could see that my assumptions were all wrong.

Here's what I discovered on Maui:

New Sand Colors

The island of Maui is one of the few places in the world where you can experience several different sand colors on beaches only minutes apart form each other. The brick red sand is a product of the iron rich soil and the black is, of course, pummeled lava.

A Cultural Art

Supplied with plumerias and orchids, I learned how to make leis! It was actually a simple procedure; simply string the flowers through their most sturdy point on the gigantic needle and voila! A very festive and fragrant bracelet.

A Reminder of Nature's Strength

It's easy to get lost in fantasies of tropical paradise while visiting Maui but this stop was a solemn reminder that island life also means island storms. A deadly storm hit the shores of Huelo, killing most of its inhabitants and this coral and cement Kaulanapueo Church was the only building to survive.

Sweet Treats

Several stops along the route featured the culinary delights of Maui,  including the Halfway to Hana road stand where we picked up fresh banana bread (which I consumed before I could photograph, sorry!) and the Tedeschi Winery where we sampled delicious pineapple wines. I've always been more of a red wine fan but these had me changing my mind.

My Hawaii Bucket List Became Shorter
The white spot  in the middle is a whale splashing about
As we pulled up to Ho'okipa lookout point I squinted and stared at the ocean where I had just seen a spout of water shoot up, "Is that a whale?"

I couldn't believe my own eyes as a humpback whale jumped full out of the water and then slammed back down. "It's a whale!"

There were several whales, in fact. I was unable to capture a jump on camera but they did playfully slap the water with their fins which was adorable and allowed me to cross 'whale watching' off my Hawaii Bucket List.

Sea Caves and Local Legends

It's no wonder that Maui was used as one of the sets for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The sea caves at Waianapanapa State Park, created by ancient lava tubes, are hauntingly beautiful and have an equally haunting tale to go along with them. Like many Hawaiian tales, it concerns a princess and her untimely demise.

Another World on the Backside

Our tour started on the western side of the island which had the typical, tropical jungle foliage. As we came around to the southern side of the island, however, the scenery bounced between African savannas and the highlands of Scotland. How could one tiny isle contain so much natural beauty?

In a single day, all my notions of Maui had drastically changed. Between the history, food, and natural beauty, I had come to finally understand the Valley Isle beyond the image of celebrity beach homes.

This Road to Hana Eco-Adventure Tour was done with Discover Hawaii Tours.

Have you ever visited a place that was completely different than how you imagined it?

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  1. Love your photos- Maui looks & sounds pretty amazing. I've always wanted to visit, but I've only been to Oahu so far.

    Before I traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I thought it would be a really conservative country, but when I got there, people were a lot more lax than I had expected! And the food blew. my. mind.

    1. Thank you! Maui is so different from Oahu, especially considering that I live in Honolulu.

  2. Egypt was that place that was completely different from what I was expecting it to be. Like, I'm not sure why but I had this totally pre-plague Prince of Egypt grandeur mixed with the expectation that it would be similar-ish to Istanbul in my head (both completely ridiculous, I know) which was pretty much crushed as soon as I got out & about in Cairo (and saw a dead body within half an hour of being there). That being said, it was still one of the best trips I've ever taken!

    Love the pic in the cave!

    1. Thanks! Egypt must have been amazing! I agree, that's another place where I've created an image in my head. I need to go and see it for real.

  3. You saw a whale! That's freakin cool!

    Pretty awesome that you've made your way out there. I know I've always just pictured the same as you did about Hawaii. Resorts and more resorts. Really glad to see a different side.

    1. Yeah it's always great to see the genuine side of a place!

  4. Now I understand how much I miss Maui. I think it's time to plan a new vacation for me. : )

    1. I want to go back to! I didn't even get to do Haleakala National Park!

  5. I want to come visit you, Aryn! It looks so beautiful in Hawaii... we miss you! Hugs