The Road to Hana

In my last Hawaii post I told you about our trip to Haleakala National Park. What I didn’t realize 22 years ago was that there is another entrance to the park that is only accessed on the Road to Hana, after you pass the town of Hana. Within that more remote part of the park was the other main reason why I wanted to return to Maui.

The Pools of ‘Ohe’o have been more commonly referred to as the Seven Sacred Pools. The National Park Service and the state of Hawaii are trying to teach us the actual name, but you know how we are. Also, there are many more than seven pools, especially depending on how rainy it has been. Legend has it that they got their familiar name in the 1940s from an employee of the Hotel Hana-Maui to market this then-secret place to tourists. I must say – it worked!

I first heard about this special location in the 1994 movie IQ. Meg Ryan dreams about going there on her honeymoon. She muses that swimming in the Seven Sacred Pools is said to feel like “a million kisses on your skin” because of how aerated the water is. That does sound special, and the definition of the word “‘ohe’o” just happens to be “something special.” I suppose the actual name Pools of ‘Ohe’o would not exactly have rolled off Meg’s tongue in the movie dialogue, but my interest was piqued, so I’ve been wanting to see this area since 1994. (Not enough to figure out how to see it in 2020, though. I blame that on having teenagers at home, limited brain space for planning, and eternal fatigue. Plus, there were no iPhones.)

Before you pretend to get in our rented jeep with me and see the sites – a little background on the parks. In 1916 Hawaii National Park got its official designation. It included Haleakala on Maui and Hawaii Volcanoes on the Big Island. It took until 1961 for them to figure out that this was just weird and that’s when they were separated into two distinct parks.

On October 3, we climbed into our yellow rental jeep and began our journey. Maui’s Road to Hana meanders roughly 60 miles. Once on the road, you turn left, then right approximately 617 times before you arrive in Hana – about three hours later. There are many blind turns and 56 bridges, several of which are one-way only. It is not for the faint of heart or those who easily get car sick. But it is amazingly beautiful.

As soon as we got on the road, it began to rain, and it continued all day. Bob and I had done this part of the trip before, so that lessened the disappointment. We downloaded the shaka guide, which kept us on point as to what we were seeing. He tells you when to stop and when to drive past and gives some history mixed with Hawaiian music along the way. He makes sure you get banana bread as this seems to be an integral part of the trip. This is a current version of audio tours – quite an improvement over the cassette tape we had in 2000.

I chose to do my sightseeing mainly through the car window, but Bob would get out and do short walks. The waterfalls were fully on display due to all the rain, so there’s that.

The sea was rough that day (as seen through the car window).

We had a (required) reservation at Wai’anapanapa State Park, which is just a few miles from Hana, from 3-6 PM. Thankfully, the rain had stopped. Wai’anapanapa means glistening waters. It is home to one of the famous black sand beaches and has stunning views. Among the beauty on display there was a Hawaiian monk seal. He was going through the molting process so he wasn’t too energetic. He was guarded but fine to pose for pictures.

Years ago mongoose were brought to the islands to combat the rat problem in the sugarcane. The problem was not solved as mongoose are diurnal and rats and nocturnal.

Water shoes are obviously necessary here as the black sand and volcanic rock don’t exactly squish between your toes.

The dry weather that was forecast for the following day, magically appeared and we were ready to embark to our much anticipated destination – the Seven Sacred Pools Pools of ‘Ohe’o. Staying in Hana for the night is a good idea if you want to do the entire loop in daylight.

This sign reflects the island mentality. No matter that it’s leaning. It’s all good.

We stopped for coffee, Hawaiian style and began the ten-mile drive to Haleakala National Park.

We heard rumors that we would not be able to complete the entire road because of the rains from the day before. Undaunted, we climbed into our trusty jeep

Pipiwai Trail is said to be one of the most beautiful trails in Hawaii. We decided to do it second. All energy available must go to seeing those pools! After we saw the pools, we headed onto the Pipiwai Trail. This is what it looked like – so beautiful and so many roots to trip over. We happily turned back in keeping with our main goal of not injuring ourselves.

The first glimpses of the pools were captivating, and it just got better and better as we walked along the water’s edge. Here we spotted another Hawaiian monk seal enter the water from the beach. Here I just wanted to sit and be still while I took in all the beauty. You must go there if at all possible!

When Bob was able to pull me away, we slowly walked back to the trailhead and wandered through the park. It’s magnificent. When we left the park, the ranger told us that the road was out ahead, but you never know, it may be fixed before we got there. We were game. We passed several fruit stands along the way.

Our inevitable end of the road soon appeared. We did a u-turn and headed back the way we came. It was disappointing but it was hard to be too upset given all the beauty we had seen on the Road to Hana. Plus, with this being a sunny day we could stop and see the rainbow eucalyptus at the Keanae Arboretum. We had seen them 22 years prior and they continue to stand out as one of my favorite Hawaiian things.

It is so grievous to deface these lovely trees, but I wanted you to see a close-up of how beautiful the colors are.

Take time to smell the eucalyptus!

We were near the end of our journey and the Shaka Guide told us to pull over one more time. This is a beach where women’s surfing competitions take place. Parasailing and windsurfing, as well as regular surfing, were all happening as we cast our eyes down the beach.

And there were turtles – green sea turtles, or honu, which is their Hawaiian name. This is the largest of the sea turtles. We were there toward the end of nesting season. There must have been 20 or more of them.

So ended our Road to Hana. We did not expect to see so many turtles or a Hawaiian monk seal. We did think we’d make it all the way around the loop, but that’s the thing about nature and weather – things are subject to a change in the elements and that’s okay. We’re thankful.

Haleakala National Park

Have you ever thought about the things you have intentionally or even inadvertently done that influence people in your life, especially your children? I attribute my fascination with Hawaii and my love of national parks to my dad. When I was about nine years old, our family of six camped across the country in our modified VW microbus. We stopped at some of the biggies – Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Sequoia, and Rocky Mountain National Park. I loved being in the parks and still consider them high up on my list of happy places.

Bob and I have made this trip with our four children, so we now understand what an undertaking it was and how we probably had more fun than our parents did, though they appreciated it more.

My dad and little sister Linda posing in front of one of the iconic signs. My nine-year-old self took this with my brand new camera.

I think my love and fascination of Hawaii came about a bit more subliminally. Dad made several business trips there and took lots of pictures, which were viewed as slides. That was the choice medium of the day – I don’t know why! Believe it or not, sometimes we kids would ask our parents if we could watch home movies and slides. If you can remember a time before the internet and cable TV, that makes more sense.

The problem was, every time we’d ask him to set up the projectors so we could see how cute we all were when we were younger, the first thing he would show us was Hawaii. He loved Hawaii and communicated that well and often, but when you’re a kid you can only sit through so many landscapes and beach scenes before you mentally check out. Something must have stuck in my brain though, because as an adult, Hawaii was on the top of my list of places to visit.

Fast forward to the year 2000. Bob and I celebrated our 25th anniversary with a trip to Hawaii. My dad was very excited to help with the planning. He had saved every brochure from his trips there in the 1960s. He presented them to us, I’m sure, with joyful memories hula-dancing through his head. We stared at them in only slight disbelief that he saved these black and white relics from over three decades ago. “Thanks, Dad!”

Fast forward another 22 years and Hawaii was calling us again. We had two major things in Maui that were unfinished from the year 2000 trip – both involved the spectacular Haleakala National Park, which we visited then. It’s a big park, and it is famous for its sunrises. People make reservations to be transported to the summit for coveted glimpses of the sun rising and then a bike ride down the mountain. On our 25th anniversary trip, we opted out of this because we would have had to leave our resort at 3:00 in the morning to get to the top on time. Sunrises are not dependable, as clouds and rain can quite literally put a damper on them, so you go with that in mind as well. In that season of our lives, we had four kids at home, and there wasn’t much to entice me out of bed at that time of day – not even Haleakala. We have regretted this decision, so when we booked this trip back in January, we determined to embrace that adventure.

That was before I broke my shoulder in February. Would we embrace the biking adventure? Could I embrace the biking adventure? Could I even keep a good hold on the handlebars? Can we wake up at 2:30 in the morning? We decided to hold it loosely – kind of like I would have to hold handlebars on a bike.

My shoulder was doing pretty well, definitely well enough to ride a bike, but my stamina was another thing. Plus, we would be riding along the side of the mountain road for a few hours and my entire body, much less my shoulder, was untested in this arena. Add to that I was beginning to suspect that Hawaii was trying to kill me as everything was just so hard compared to 22 years earlier. I was beginning to lose my drive.

Could 22 years make that much difference? YES! Throw in the broken shoulder and lack of movement for so much of this calendar year, mix it with altitude and elevation changes, and that could be a recipe for a last meal. Even Bob, who continues to mock me by playing pickleball three times a week, was hesitant on this one. We talked about it for a few days and then opted out. It was the mix of getting up early and riding down the mountain all the while remembering that our main goal of this trip was not to injure ourselves. And, we were tired. We were managing to keep up the pace of this trip only by fueling with coffee and diet coke. So, unlike our anniversary trip, we have no regrets.

Where there are sunrises on a mountain top, there must also be sunsets. We’d simply have to look the opposite way. Yep, we’re sunset people, so we headed to the park late morning to do some hiking and would arrive at the summit in time to get a good spot to relax and watch the show.

Our first stop in the park was Hosmer Grove, which was advised for birdwatching.

There is something special about feeling small in the forest.

After hiking through the forest we came to a clearing looking down on a tree covered valley. The birding here is mainly small song birds so I didn’t get any good pictures, but this place was a real treat. We did see several beautiful, red I’iwi and a few yellow ‘Amakihi flitting from tree to tree. This was a most relaxing hike. Bird watching takes my mind off of what my feet are doing.

Photos are from online guide to Hawaii’s birds. These beauties were too fast and small to capture with my iPhone.

Thankfully, driving up Haleakala is relatively easy. It’s a slow drive but the landscape is fantastic. We got out periodically and did little off the road hikes and were afforded breathtaking views along the way to its 10,023 foot summit.

This cliff at Kalahaku Overlook had interesting vegetation popping up from the rugged terrain. I loved how the blue sky gave way to the clouds. Literally one minute later we saw this:

Fogbow – I had never heard of them. Fascinating!

Not only are there lots of paths up mountains, Hawaii likes to throw in stairs, too. I guess they like to mix it up.

We made it to the summit and took in the views while walking slowly as the air was a little thin. Also, this was our moment of truth. Would we stay for the sunset? We arrived here at 4:30, over five hours since this journey began, and people were setting up chairs and blankets. We got one of the last parking places.

Japanese Quail

I think this looks like something out of a science fiction movie. It’s the Haleakala Observatories on the summit.

This picture was taken from the top of Haleakala at 4:50 PM. Doesn’t it look like we’re in an airplane? There was still more than an hour until official sunset time not including the beauty that would follow until dark. But, as had become the norm for us in Hawaii, by this time of day we were very tired. Our resort restaurant was having prime rib night. Hummmmm

The trip down the mountain would be over three hours if we waited until the sunset was over. We would be driving in the dark on roads without guardrails in traffic. We would miss prime rib and probably grab fast food. What should we do?

Prime rib? Beautiful sunset? Prime rib? Sunset?

Well, the prime rib was delicious.

The drive down the mountain was lovely. There was no traffic as everyone was heading up. We stopped and took in some great views. And, like I said the prime rib was delicious.

We drove down to this area and were blessed with more beauty and fog bows.

I was enjoying some final views near the top of the mountain when Bob started heading back to our rental jeep. It’s not exactly walking into the sunset, but it’ll do!