The Hana Highway to Hell
Most people, including my wife and me, haven’t traveled much over the past year, due to Covid restrictions. Hawaii has had some of the strictest restrictions. They’ve even had to sell many of their rental cars, due to having no place to park them. So now that they’re opening up, rental cars can cost tourists in Honolulu a thousand dollars a day. How lacking in foresight. I want to thumb my nose at those paranoid kanakas. So I’ve unearthed an old post from a previous blog, about a bad experience my wife and I had in Hawaii. This was originally posted in 2015, on my now defunct blog called, Golden Daze:
The Hana Highway to Hell
My wife was tired. Maui was our fourth island. She just wanted to take a short, scenic route, then return to the hotel room and rest.
“How about a drive to the top of Haleakala,” I suggested, “then a quick jaunt around the mountain? Shouldn’t take more than an hour-and-a-half to do Haleakala, and then two hours around the mountain. Three if we stop a lot to take pictures. Which we probably will, since they say the Hana highway is one of the most beautiful highways in the world.”
“Okay, but no more than that. I get tired sitting in the car all day.”
I felt a little disappointed. National Car Rental had given me a deal on a Cadillac, for just $50 a day. I wanted to fill the whole day with driving, looking and feeling like a rich old duffer.
Haleakala took three hours, which was twice as long as I had estimated. But the view from the top of the volcano, at 10,023 feet, was breathtaking. My wife loved it, and the drive seemed to revivify her. “Are you up to the drive around the mountain, now?”
“If it’s only two or three hours, sure,” she said, with a perk in her voice.
Vrrroom. Off we zoomed, down the Hana Highway to Hell. In a black Cadillac. We decided to take the road less traveled first, which is the road around the leeward, or dry side, moving counterclockwise around Haleakala from the south. Most people drive the north side first, through tropical jungles and waterfalls, passing through the picturesque town of Hana at the east end of Maui. But I guess Robert Frost had inspired me to go counterclockwise. Damn you, Robert Frost!
One of our first stops in our peregrination was at the Ulupalakua Ranch Store. I saw a teeshirt for sale that had a drawing of the highway that circumambulates Haleakala, with the message, “I Survived the Hana Road.” That was my first warning sign, indicating that I should turn back now. But I scoffed. After all, the road was well-surfaced (a little narrow, but not too bad) and there was very little traffic.
Very little traffic. That was my second warning sign. But I failed to recognize it.
On we continued, stopping occasionally to photograph eye-popping scenery. I noticed that the highway was getting narrower. And there was no longer a line painted down the middle. But the smooth road surface allowed that Caddy to roar away. And besides, there was hardly any traffic.
We stopped to photograph a deep gully with a bridge, near a wild, rocky ocean beach. Then we proceeded down the gully, to discover it was a one-lane bridge. This was my third warning sign. One-lane bridges in Hawaii require you to stop before reaching the bridge to allow any traffic to cross, coming from the other direction. But like I say, traffic was light, so we zipped right across this little bridge without pause.
Everything changed on the other side. Suddenly the road became very narrow and twisty. I couldn’t get up to more than 25 mph. And then an awful thing happened. The road surface turned into something that resembled a toad’s back. This was my fourth sign.
It was paved, I’ll grant it that, but the asphalt consisted of what appeared to be thousands of filled potholes. This made it bumpier than most dirt roads. The fastest I could manage was about 7 mph. “This can’t last very long,” I looked over and reassured my worried wife. But it did. It continued for the next hour or so. And I slowly came to realize that this tour would last much longer than three hours. The theme from Gilligan’s Island began to play in my head.
The road reduced to one lane and became very twisty, as it threaded its way around the steep, rugged flanks of Haleakala. Signs warned drivers to honk their horns before proceeding around some of the blind curves. Other signs warned about falling rocks. I looked up at the cliffs straight above us and gulped as I realized a ten-ton rock could crash through our roof at any moment. Why do they have those warning signs anyway? How the hell do you avoid a falling rock?
Traffic was light, and now I knew why. But occasionally some wide-eyed, white-knuckled tourist would approach from the opposite direction. One of us would pull over as far as we dared, to allow the other to pass. And in my full-size Cadillac, this wasn’t easy. I rued the day that I jumped for this rental car deal.
We humpety-humped our way to the Seven Pools of Ohe’o. This is part of Haleakala National Park, and it was packed with tourists. Tourists who had obviously come from the other direction. This was a good sign for me. It augured smooth, wide roads ahead, with high-numbered speed limits. “We’ll be back to the hotel in no time,” I reassured my tired, sighing wife.
But I was wrong. The only thing that improved was the road surface. The road remained very narrow, forcing me to slow my wide-bodied Cadillac way down whenever traffic approached from the opposite direction. And now there was lots of traffic. What idiots, I thought. Why would they drive a deadly road like this just for scenery? Then I realized that I was one of those idiots.
Onward we crawled down the Hana highway. The road widened a bit, but this did not allow faster speeds. It became extremely twisty, and the speed limit reduced to 15 mph. And at every turn there seemed to be a one-lane bridge straddling a deep gorge filled with freshets from the rainforest slopes and waterfalls above. We must have encountered over a hundred one-way bridges. Or at least, it seemed that way. And there was lots of traffic coming from the other direction, across those bridges, requiring frequent stopping and waiting for the cars to cross.
But the scenery was astounding. That’s all I’ll concede to this tortuous highway.
Ten hours from the time we began our journey, we finally emerged from the Hana Highway to Hell, and reached our hotel in Kahului. We had survived the Hana road (but we failed to buy the damned teeshirt when we had the chance). My wife was exhausted. “I’ll never go on a drive with you again!” she muttered, before passing out on the bed.
I hung my head low.
The next morning we realized we had about six hours to kill before we needed to be at the airport. “Let’s go for a drive!” my wife said, excitedly.
I felt relieved. She truly was a gamer.