Driving the Road to Hana is easy. It’s the road after Hana, the Piilani Highway, that you need to be warned about. And apparently most GPS devices do just that, telling you to turn around before you violate your contract with the rental company. That is precisely why I refused the stupid little device when I picked up my car. I wanted to go where I wanted to go, not listen to some programmed computer voice boss me around while I was trying to enjoy my time on Maui.
I was warned about it, though. Warned repeatedly. “You need to check with the front desk at Travaasa Hana before you check out and leave,” they would say. “Make sure to check with them in case they heard something is wrong with the road. It’s really narrow and winding. Sometimes it gets washed out, too, if there are heavy rains. It can be really dangerous, so be sure to check with them. But you really need to drive the road. It’s beautiful.”
OK. So I now knew it was a really dangerous road with a lot of natural hazards, but I needed to forget about all that and just drive the road. “Would you take your car on it?” I would ask.
“Hell no. There’s no way I’d drive that road in my car.”
The case was settled. With that response I knew I had to drive it on my Maui Visitor Bureau trip. The Piilani Highway – named for the first ruler to unite Maui and create a road, this road, encircling the island – would certainly be scenic beyond what I had seen on the Road to Hana, which was spectacular. So with a quick check at the front desk of Travaasa Hana, another gasp from someone telling me not to drive the road, even though it was clear and there should be no problems, I climbed into my car, hung a right out of their parking lot, and headed on down the road passed Hana.
The initial section of road was just like that of the Road to Hana. It was covered in rain forest, littered with hairpin turns, and sprinkled with one-way bridges over spectacular waterfalls. Then I drove past the visitor center for Haleakala National Park where, just a couple of days before, I stopped to take a hike through Haleakala National Park’s bamboo forest on the way to Waimoku Falls.
I had skipped a few turn offs to Koki Beach and the Haneoo Fish Pond by continuing directly on, but I had passed through them on my previous trip to do the hike. I wanted to continue on, see what other treasures the road had to offer. I wanted to see why it was so forbidden, why it was dangerous, and what also made it such a highly recommended drive.
I wasn’t long down the road before the scenery dramatically changed and the rain forest-canopied road disappeared. The road was no longer what it had been, yet it was no less stunning. Actually, it was probably more beautiful simply because there was no traffic. I felt alone, as if there wasn’t another person on the road for miles in either direction. And so I passed this way past the Palapala Hoomau Church, the Huialoha Church, and Kailio Point on my way to a natural arch which can be seen from the road.
Occasionally a car would come toward me from the opposite direction and we would have to compromise, work it out with hand gestures and courtesy. It was all about sharing the Spirit of Aloha. I would pull over on a small turnout so he could get by. Or he would back up to a safe grassy area off the road so I could continue on. Each time we managed it, though, with no problems. But that was the obvious danger – the other people – which I was warned about, not necessarily the road itself. The road was paved, albeit not like some super highway on the mainland. It was rough in spots, simply asphalt over gravel, but it was easy to drive until another car got in your way. Then it became dangerous, particularly if one driver wasn’t paying attention.
I’ll be honest, many times I wasn’t paying attention. I was too busy snapping photos from my window. It was a beautiful day and the scenery was both harsh and spectacular. It was unlike anything I had seen on the windward side of the island, the much wetter side, as I drove the Road to Hana. Here it was dry and desert-like with no tree cover whatsoever.
I considered stopping several times at places like the Kaupo Store, or at little pay-on-your-honor fruit and souvenir stands, but I decided against it. Again, just like on the Road to Hana, I was feeling the drive. So I skipped the few pull offs and instead continued on happy and comfortable with the day. It wasn’t until Bully’s Burgers, which is four miles east of the Tedeschi Winery and what can be considered the end of the Piilani Highway, that I finally climbed out of the car.
Bully’s Burgers has been voted the best burger ever by the Maui Time Food Review. I didn’t know this at the time, but was pleased with the randomness of the one true stop I chose to make where I got out and stretched my legs. The burger was good, although not quite as advertised as the best ever, and the service was friendly and welcoming, as if I was at the stand visiting with friends.
I finished the burger as I finished the drive. It wasn’t dangerous – neither the burger nor the road after Hana. There was no reason to have a computer warn me about it or to gasp in shock when I said I was driving that way. It was a good road, a beautiful road, and easily managed if you simply remembered one of my favorite Hawaiian sayings – Slow down, you’re not on the Mainland anymore!