Maui – Hawaii Island Hopping – pt1

It was early 2021, and while covid vaccines had started to be rolled out, it was still going to be some time until I was eligible for vaccination – and it was going to be even longer until international travel was going to start to become possible. Cases might not have been at their peaks, but it was still very much a concern.

Since international travel was off the table, the most exciting domestic travel that I could think of was Hawaii. I’d always wanted to visit, and living on the west coast of the USA, it wasn’t that far of a flight.

Generally there were no restrictions on domestic travel any more – except for Hawaii, and those restrictions both made it inconvenient to visit, but also slightly reassuring. We were required to provide a negative test result within 72hrs of the initial flight into the archipelago, and then each time we wanted to jump across to another island it was again required to have further tests. It wasn’t terribly difficult, but the logistics did have to be factored into the planning.

One of the amazing things about flying westward around sunset is just how long the dusk lingers. It felt like hours of the light slowly fading, and the sky turning to the darkened embers. Being over the ocean, there was little to look at, other than this display of light, and I was enchanted.

We arrived in Maui rather late in the evening, and after going through the process of showing QR codes for state testing apps, we were allowed out of the airport. It was then another process to provide test results when collecting a rental car. Oh, and speaking of rental cars, I was proud to have booked nice and early, as there was a severe shortage of rental cars – it was so bad that people were resorting to renting U-Haul moving trucks, or tiny three-wheel motorbike/sportscar hybrid things (which was comical with two people and luggage…)

My first thought on arriving was the familiarity and nostalgia of the warm and humid air. The rich tropical smell and sensation, a far cry from the cool and dry air of San Francisco, where your Patagonia down puffy jacket is never far away.

The first hotel was little more than a bed and a place to have a shower, and it felt like the kind of place you’d stay at on a school camp – complete with bunk beds.

Day 1

Thanks in part to jetlag from the three-hour timezone difference, we were up and out exploring very early. The first stop was getting some food (and coffee), and then a detour down to find somewhere scenic to sit and eat.

Malauka Beach

Malauka Beach was a little further than I had imagined to drive to eat breakfast, but it turned out to be a nice public beach, surrounded by private resort after private resort. Actually, this south-western part of Maui really surprised me at the sprawling resorts, and golf courses, and just overall fancy/expensive looking developments that weren’t actually that close to the sea. I just don’t get the appeal.

It was nice watching White Lotus, and recognising these familiar scenes.

It was gorgeous to walk around the area, around one of the luxury resorts, and to look out across to the neighbouring islands of Lanai and Kaho‘olawe. 

Even the churches, with their black volcanic rock bricks for walls, and simple timber siding. Plus, there were the palm and frangipani trees, and the small graveyard that was decorated with pieces of coral. It might not have been a very exquisite church, but it was certainly something unique and fascinating.

Road To Hana

After brunch, I got started on the main mission of the day – driving the Road to Hana. In case the title was confusing, it’s a road, that goes to Hana. It’s small, undeveloped, and passes by some rugged parts of the Maui coastline, as well as ducking into some lush rainforest, and past scenic waterfalls. It’s kind of a pretty major attraction on Maui.

While the road was only just above where we’d had brunch, there were no roads that connected where we were, with where we needed to go. We had to drive all the way back north to Kahului where we’d started the morning, and then to start the journey again. I’d complain, but the scenery (for the most part) was beautiful.

Most people attempt this drive in a clockwise manner – and many attempt to do it in a (big) single day. Instead, we decided to go anti-clockwise, and also decided to break up the drive with an evening in Hana.

The drive initially started headed into the interior of Maui, towards the summit of Haleakala (more on that later), and past farms and cattle grazing in lush green land. The road soon narrowed, and the minimal traffic all but stopped. It felt as though I was driving through a hidden wonderland.

The southern stretch of the road was quite remote, and there weren’t going to be many options for food, so when we drove past the little shack that was Bully’s Burgers, with the cowboy saddles for bar stools, I couldn’t not stop. We were a touch early, but it was worth waiting for them to open.

The drive along the coastline continued to be dramatic. The only thing ruining these views were the surprisingly large number of abandoned cars on the side of the road. It was honestly such a frequent sight that I had felt compelled to understand more about it – supposedly it’s due to the high cost of officially disposing of vehicles on the island.

The closer we got to Hana, the more approaching cars we began to encounter. At first it wasn’t an issue, but there were times where passing became challenging – especially one tricky corner around a cliff that took several attempts, only to find another approaching car and being forced once again to reverse back to a space wide enough for them to get past, and hope that the next attempt was more successful.

Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach

It was late-ish in the afternoon by the time we’d made it to Hana. I didn’t actually have much planned here, but mostly stopped to break up the journey. There was one attraction that seemed interesting though – the Red Sand Beach.

Finding the trail was a little challenging, as there were no official signs. In fact, most of the signs were of warnings, rather than for guidance. But, there was a steady flow of other tourists, and thanks to Google Maps, it was quite simple to find the trail.

While not totally dismissing the warnings, I did think it was probably over rated. But, I most certainly regretted wearing thongs on the loose sandy trail, as it was quite steep, a little off-camber, and if you did lose balance/traction, there was a pretty high risk of falling a moderate distance down onto the rocks below.

The beach was a lot prettier than I had anticipated, with a striking jagged series of rocks providing shelter to a red sandy beach. The small lagoon was calm and relaxing. I lay back and floated, and watched the larger waves crashing into the protective barrier. While far from being warm, the temperatures certainly didn’t cause me to immediately hyperventilate, as they would in San Francisco.

Then, on the return journey back from the beach, just to really accentuate that the trails are dangerous, paramedics were attending to a man with a severe head injury that had slipped from the trail. They attend to so many of these accidents (several a week) that they have specialised recovery hardware. Very glad I wasn’t the foolish tourist that added to the statistics this day.

Fagan’s Cross

Before deciding on dinner, it seemed like a good idea to go on a short hike up to get a view of the landscape. The hike, and the viewpoint, both seemed more interesting in writing than they turned out to be in reality – though, the overcast and drizzly weather certainly didn’t help things. At the top of a small hill was a large concrete crucifix. There was something about the brutalist design of it, but also the religious symbolism kind of gives me the creeps.

It was a good little workout though, keeping the afternoon mini-jet lag at bay. Oh, and it was fun spotting wild boar!


It turned out that there weren’t a great deal of dining options in Hana, either. There were a few semi-permanent food trucks, though many of them had not reopened from earlier closures after tourists dried up while Hawaii was closed to tourism. We weren’t the only hungry/confused tourists wandering around, assessing our limited options for nourishment. The fish tacos turned out to be better than my low expectations had prepared me for.

The night’s accommodations were also both more pleasant, and more basic than I had expected. The grounds of the small B&B had so many elements of home, but were even more luscious than I ever remember Brisbane looking. It was a tropical paradise, while just being someone’s backyard.

One of the workers at the B&B started to tell us all about the local ghost stories, which started off interesting, and ended up borderline kooky.

Day 2

Wailua Falls

There wasn’t much to do in Hana after the sun went down, so it was pretty easy to be up and out the door nice and early – my body being in the California timezone also helped. I had wanted to check out Wailua Falls yesterday, but it was just a roadblock of cars that were trying to park, and it wasn’t something I wanted to get involved in.

Thankfully it was just a short drive back from Hana, and we’d returned early enough that we had the entire area to ourselves. 

I couldn’t not go for a swim, but even with the warm weather, the water was still cold enough to take my breath away. I think that short swim really cleared my sense of smell, and I was suddenly aware of all the familiar smells of home. There was the familiar smell of mango, plus the air just felt denser somehow.

Hanawi Falls

Continuing on with the counter-clockwise loop from Hana, back towards the West Coast, we happened to drive past another beautiful waterfall, again with an empty car park. Well, almost empty. There was some influencer shoot that they were trying to set up. I thankfully found a window to get in and enjoy a quick swim. The water was just as cold (that poor model), but the overall aesthetics were far more beautiful in my opinion – even though it was much smaller than Wailua Falls.

Unknown Falls

The thing is, Hawaii is littered with waterfalls. I tried my hardest, but was not able to find the name of these falls. It’s not listed on Google Maps, and it wasn’t sign posted anywhere. In fact, the only thing that gave it away were the cars that were parked into little alcoves on the side of the road, with a small by steady stream of people walking up a gravel road. 

We had a quick chat with a returning group, who informed that it was a short hike to a set of falls – and that it was worth the time to go visit.

They weren’t wrong. There were more gorgeous waterfall fed pools, surrounded by lush dense greenery. 

Attempting to see what else was out there along these trails proved to be a little less rewarding. The gravel roads soon turned to calf deep mud and shoulder high grass. But, there was a certain sense of adventure in seeing what else is out there – even if the answer is only mud and grass.

Bamboo Forest

By chance, we’d happened across an article in NY Times about a hike into the bamboo forest along this drive. The descriptions were vague, nothing more than mile markers on the road, and a description of what the entrance to the trails looked like. You’d think that finding the entrance to a trail in a 1 mile window should be simple – I’ll tell you, it was not. There were a few false starts, but eventually came to what looked like a bamboo forest that seemed to match the description in the story.

There were a few occasions where it seemed like well trodden trails, and a clear indication on where to head. But, not long after thinking you knew where you were going, the trail would evaporate. After attempting all the little branches of trails that I could identify, including some staggeringly steep and slippery muddy slopes, I came to the conclusion that it was a fool’s errand and realised that these trails were just the footprints of other confused travellers, and it was about the journey, not the destination. Or some other deeper spiritual meaning. What I’m saying is, just wandering around in a borderline lost manner turned out to be fun.

From the bamboo forest, it was only a short drive to what started to feel like ‘civilisation’. Just a short drive further, and we were in Paia. I don’t know if it was the hunger, but the bowl of poke from the supermarket might just have been the most amazing poke I’d ever enjoyed. We’d certainly read the stories that supermarket poke is fantastic, but I’ve always been sceptical of anything decent coming out of a supermarket kitchen. I guess I learnt something new? Or at least confirmed something was true? Either way, don’t discount poke in Hawaii just because it comes from a supermarket is what I want to say.

We’d booked a small Airbnb on the foothills of Haleakala, up above Paia near Makawao. It was the downstairs ‘granny flat’, but there were uninterrupted views from the balcony/backyard across sugar cane fields all the way to West Maui. 

Sunset was a non-event, but the smell of rain and tropical fruit, and the sounds of frogs chirping as the sun disappeared behind distant clouds beyond fields of sugar cane was just beautiful. 

Day 3

Today was sadly a little bit of an ‘administrative’ day. Part of the requirements to fly between islands inside of Hawaii was further negative covid tests. The timing was challenging, as they couldn’t be more than 72hrs before your flight – but, the results could take up to 72hrs… Great. 

It’s funny writing this now, over a year later, but at the time it was still challenging to get appointments for covid testing. So the day’s events revolved around an appointment at the single approved covid testing site.

Iao Valley

There were a few hours to kill before the covid test appointment. I figured we could squeeze in a visit to Iao Valley State Park, to see the dramatic volcanic landscape. The weather had other plans. The skies opened up, and there was torrential rain. Nostalgic, sure, but still inconvenient when you want to be doing something outdoors. The weather radar showed it was just a small cell, and there should be a window opening shortly, so we sat in the car in the carpark and waited it out a little.

It was definitely the right decision, however, it did eat into the amount of time until we needed to leave for the covid test.

There was a slight feeling of smugness seeing drenched tourists returning to their cars, as you step out of your shelter, in dry clothes.

The valley was luscious, and the hills felt more like walls. There wasn’t a lot of time, but after a quick walk around the small viewing area near the Needle, I knew I wanted to go further, deeper, and to see more. The trail along the river quickly deteriorated, and became a series of muddy paths – some ended in dead ends, requiring backtracking (and memorisation to make it back to the car).

It was a tease to have to race through the exploration of this area, but, it was better than not visiting at all.

The covid testing was painless, and the operator informed us that the timeslot was pretty flexible, and we didn’t need to rush here from Iao. Oh well, wasn’t worth risking.

The rest of the day was a bit of eating, and relaxing. We tried the recommended Poi By The Pound (you’re literally paying for your meal based on the weight), which was consumed down by the beach watching kite surfers playing in the wind and the waves.

Due to tomorrow’s plans, I had to pick up my rental bike from Go Cycling Maui for my Haleakala ride a day early. It was just a generic road bike, with a carbon frame, and disc brakes. It was also specced with nice easy climbing ratios, to save the knees some struggle. 

Day 4

West Maui Drive

Today was another day of driving, this time around West Maui’s coastline. Like the Road to Hana earlier, the morning started with next to no cars on the road, allowing peaceful enjoyment of the narrow roads and the wild scenery. It definitely felt less travelled than the Road to Hana, and at least the Northern section was every bit as beautiful and exciting to drive on.

Honolua Bay

One of the bigger attractions on this loop of the island is to snorkel here at Honolua Bay. I’ve bemoaned recent snorkelling experiences failing to live up to the expectations, especially after visiting some amazing vibrant reefs in Australia and Fiji, so I kept expectations tempered. It turned out for the best, as the waters were murky from the current rains, and the overcast skies were painting everything a dull monotone shade.

It wasn’t a total write-off though, walking the grounds to/from the beach was really pretty. The trees were beautiful, luscious, and unique. My eyes are slowly getting used to seeing so much green, after years living in California and the dry golden hills.


Edit: I originally wrote this back in 2022, long before the fires that devastated Lahaina in mid 2023. I have seen some of the footage that showed an absolute destruction of this small town, including all these beautiful wooden buildings, the old banyan tree, and 100 lives. It’s odd for me to now be actually getting around to uploading this post, and just how much has changed there since. It is also truly amazing to me to think that an area that seemed so lush, wet, and tropical could burn with such ferocity.

Lahaina has served as a former seat of power for the rulers of Maui, as well as a global whaling centre. Now it’s a quiet town mostly filled with tourists, walking down the one main historic street with its wooden buildings, or trying to find shade under the truly enormous Banyan Tree. 

Not to disparage the town, as there was clearly significant history here – much of it I’m ignorant of – but after spending significant time in the historic towns of Europe, these small simple wooden buildings felt small and insignificant.

It took a while of me protesting, but Jane was eventually able to convince me to go to a Luau. The idea of it seemed a little depressing to me at first, having local people dress in costume and dance for us. But, having heard counter arguments that it’s a way to share their culture, which has been widely lost with Western occupation. 

Supposedly ‘Feast at Lele’ is one of the best Luau performances available, and it certainly didn’t feel to cheesy/cringey. There were a rotation of different Polynesian cultures on display, including the more familiar Maori dancers.

There was also an open bar, with a bunch of ‘Hawaiian’ cocktails to try. I had a big day planned for tomorrow (and still had to drive home tonight), but still wanted to try all the cocktails. By the end we were just ordering two different cocktails, taking a few sips, realising it was exceptionally sweet, and then ordering another two!

Anyway, the evening was quite decent all things considered. It didn’t feel exploitative, or ‘zoo like’, which was my biggest fear going into it.

Day 5

Cycling Haleakala

The name Haleakala probably means more to cyclists, than it does to the average person, due to its fame as the longest single (paved) climb in the world. There are higher points, and there are longer climbs (on dirt trails), but, at just over 3000m, Haleakala is billed as the biggest.

I was up early, knowing that it was going to be a hot day, and would be smart to get the lower elevations out of the way before temperatures started rising too much. But, it was a bit of a struggle to get started when it’s raining quite heavily outside. Riding such extremes in temperature ranges/elevations is a new one for me, so it wasn’t something I was all to familiar on how to pack/prep for. 

But, after a modest amount of procrastinating, at 7AM I started the journey. I was wet long before I left the little housing estate and started on the main road. Thankfully it was warm rain, so it was just the discomfort of being wet, and not the double whammy of also being cold.

The house was about 400m above sea level, and with the official route starting from Paia at sea level, I had to roll all the way down into town, turn around, and spend about 20mins climbing to get back to where I started from.

As countless others that have tread this path before me have said, it isn’t a difficult climb. It’s long, and relentless, but rarely steep. It’s a battle of will (and nutrition). I had packed some leftover pizza, as well as other sugary and savoury treats, and a host of sports drinks.

However, the thing I wanted was a coffee. The town of Makawao at the 500m mark – so about one sixth of the way up – had a small cafe. I planned to pull in and grab a quick coffee to get a nice buzz to make the next hour fly by. However, I’d managed to lose my mask, and wasn’t allowed inside to order. I was just about to give up, when someone inside offered to buy one for me, and bring it out to me. Definitely appreciated.

Once I passed the 1000m mark, the trees started thinning out, and I was starting to beg for the rain I had earlier been cursing. The sun was now out in full force, and with all the water evaporating made it quite steamy and sweaty.

It was about now that I realised I had also lost my cap, and even though I’d applied sunscreen at the start of the ride, the rain, and the profuse sweating had made me incredibly paranoid about my head getting burnt. I actually stopped at one point to see if one of the bike tour operators (they shuttle people to the top of the mountain, and let them ride a bike down without having to do any of the work!) to check if they had any spare sunscreen – they didn’t. It was now the only thing on my mind, convinced that my scalp was just being eviscerated by the sun. I then saw a bandana on the side of the road, and all thoughts of cleanliness went out of my head. I tied that cold wet bandana around my head as best I could, and felt waves of relief – not just because I had some protection from the sun, but also the cold wet fabric was blissful on my overheating head.

The next big shift in vegetation (and weather) came around the 2000m mark, where the official park entrance is situated. I was advised that I would need to both, pay entry to ride into the park, and wait in the queue of cars to pay entrance. The sunshine had gone away, and I was well inside the clouds. I was rapidly cooling down, and it was still several more minutes of waiting before I could continue on my way up the hill. I understand cyclists don’t get special privilege to cut the queue, but it really did suck being out in the elements like that for so long. I refilled two of my bottles, and kept climbing.

This upper section of the mountain was almost like a desert, with rocks and very small shrubs, but very little else. This also started the final section of switchbacks, and the start of feeling the effects of elevation on the lungs/legs. This was the point where I was singularly focused on the elevation markers, watching them slowly tick by, knowing I was getting closer and closer to the top.

The skies did partially clear for the last few hundred metres of climbing, which was now welcome as the ambient temperatures were getting pretty chilly. Catching my first glimpse of the white domes of the telescopes definitely lifted my mood, and I knew it was just the last little push that was left.

Sadly there wasn’t much of a view from the summit, but I made sure to pose for a photo with the summit sign, before putting on all my layers, and eating the rest of the food I had left.

Now there was just a 55km descent left. The first third, down to ranger station was a little mixed, with some nice stretches of sunshine and smooth roads, mixed in with rain coming in sideways. I was glad I had the extra layers, and could honestly have even had something warmer. 

But, eventually I passed below the rain, and the strong sunshine that was frying me on the ascent was gently warming now. The descent was actually so long that I had to stop at a point to get feeling back into my fingers and hands! 

I can see how it was a popular tourist attraction to be dropped up on the mountain, and then riding bikes back down. However, having had to work to get to the summit myself, I think the descent was all the sweeter.

I arrived back in Paia, returned the rental bike to Go Cycling Maui, stocked up on fried food from a petrol station, and sat under a tree somewhat exhausted. It was that happy kind of exhaustion that comes from achieving something you’ve wanted to do for a long while.

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  1. Trevor Neish

    I enjoyed reading your travel diary. Awesome ride.. well done! You packed a lot into a short stay.

    • Hey, Trev! Gosh, I forget that people actually see this thing! Travel is always pretty hectic, one day I’ll just relax a little… maybe in retirement!

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