5am. It might actually be a crime to be up this early when you’re on vacation, but we’re told it’s a long drive to Hana and we should start early. So early that the sun is just rising as we leave the hotel. So early that the hotel had not started serving breakfast yet. Which is a crime when you have a teenager in the car. First stop: Anyplace that has breakfast. And coffee.
We leave Lahaina with a bag full of musubi with eggs, and piping hot, island-grown, fully caffeinated coffee. In my mind, we have won the lottery. The girls’ minds are on the road ahead, and they have questions: What’s in Hana? What’s so special about the Road to Hana? Is there a beach? Can we stop along the way? Where ARE we going?
The journey is the destination
This is an internationally famous drive. 64.4 miles of blacktop. 59 bridges, 44 of which are just one lane. 620 curves and turns. The journey is alternately breathtakingly beautiful and just plain breathtaking. Open fields. State parks. Scenic pull-outs. Waterfalls. Bamboo for miles. Cats and chickens. Mountains. Beaches. Tropical rainforests. Roadside shave ice and fruit stands. At times, you’re cruising through Hawaiian back-country taro fields with occasional cattle. Then you turn Makai and the road hugs the mountainside, tempting your attention away to endless seaward vistas. Just as suddenly, you’re pointed inland again, tunneling through forests of bamboo, eucalyptus, and the occasional banana tree.
The 64.4 miles of the Road to Hana can literally take hours to drive, only in part because of the narrow bridges and harrowing turns. The trip becomes exponentially longer when you give in to the urge to stop and explore. Like most journeys, that’s where the real adventure lies. And there are plenty of great stops along the way, from the Garden of the Gods botanical garden to the Nahiku Marketplace, from the charmingly rugged town of Keanae to the enchanting Pu’u Ka’a Park. If the Hawaii you’ve known consisted of sandy hotel beaches and umbrella drinks, you will get to know a far different Hawaii on the Road to Hana.
By the time we pull into the town of Hana it is late afternoon, but we very well could have traveled 64.4 years back in time. The village is not just quaint, it’s evocative of what you may have dreamt Hawaii was before all of the tourism and development. At the Hana Cultural Center, we learn that Hana is, in fact, the most traditional town in all of Hawaii. Traditional, not outdated, not “old fashioned.”
Walking along a nearly-empty Hana Beach Park, I reflect on the journey to this point. Besides the incredible beauty, the people met at every stop come to mind. Smiles. Traditions. Handcrafts learned from elders, and passed on to children. Aloha. Mahalo. No worries about tomorrow, no regrets from yesterday. Living. In the moment.
The destination is the journey
Far away from the everyday world, it’s easy let things go, to take it all in and enjoy the here and now. How nice it would be to live like the locals, in my locale. It sounds like it should be simple, but learning how to do that would be another story. Many of them, most likely. As with any good adventure, it could leave marks. It could affect you in unexpected ways. But reaching that state of being seems a road worth taking. What I realized in Hana is that, sometimes, the destination is a journey.
You can see more of this iconic road trip in our Road to Hana Gallery!
You might also enjoy some reflections on our time in Hawaii:
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