We were back in Santa Marta and ready to tick off another one of Colombia’s must-do things. The Tayrona National Park was about a two hour bus ride from Santa Marta and super cheap, thanks to the local buses. Tayrona National Park not only has an immense natural importance on the region, but also it is a cultural treasure as it was once inhabited but the famous Tayrona tribe. Their culture is still present today with their direct descendants, the Koguis tribe still living and maintaining many of the original traditions.
We reached the park entrance and paid our entry fee (note – bring a student card if you have one, chops off 45% of the price!) and took a colectivo to the start of the hiking trail. We planned to stay in Arrecifes for the first night, mainly because it was the first stop on the trail! We hiked for about an hour through the Tayrona jungle, dodging long hanging branches and spotting monkeys. After being in busy Santa Marta it was nice to be back to nature, with hardly anyone in sight. Reaching the campsite dripping in sweat, we paid for our hammocks and dropped our bags off before heading to find some water to cool off in.
However the beach at Arrecifes isn’t suitable for swimming due to its dangerous currents. Judging the currents and our swimming abilities, we decided to ignore the sign and paddle in the huge swell. This didn’t last long though as a security guard swiftly came over to tell us off. At least we got to cool down a little!
Food was next on the agenda so we headed off down the trail in search of comida. There were a couple more campsites and small restaurants as we walked along the trail. The park had a very ‘Lost’ feel about it, I was expecting to see a crashed plane and a tribe of people to come running out at any second! We gushed over the beautiful scenery and the amazing light of the setting sun before stumbling across a life-saver of a lady who sold the most delicious bread in the world! Freshly baked, still warm pan was just what we needed for an entree for dinner. We sampled the ham and cheese, the guava jam and cheese and the chocolate bread before telling the lady we would be back first thing in the morning to have it again for breakfast.
We found some dinner at a small restaurant at the next camp to ours. Full from the bread, we just had a small dinner before attempting to brave the walk home in the jungle alone. We were all set to go until some fellow travellers told us how they had just seen the alligators by the beach. Slightly freaking out, we ruled out walking back by the beach and decided to go via the way we came. However the topic of snakes popped up and suddenly we were too scared and stranded to walk back alone! Luckily a couple of locals were heading the same way we were so they guided us back through the jungle and we made it back to our hammocks snake-free. Sleep came easy that night, which was surprising because it was the first time I’d slept overnight in a hammock. But the clean hammock and solid mosquito net made for the perfect slumber, especially with the sound of the ocean lulling us to sleep.
The following day we packed our bags up and hiked towards El Cabo San Juan. Despite it still being early, the sun was beating down on us hard. We dodged some monkeys and made a pit stop at La Piscina (‘the pool’ for those non-Spanish speakers) for a quick dip and to admire the amazing view. Finally the white sand, turquoise blue water dream I had been envisioning was starting to come to life.
We walked onto El Cabo San Juan, which took about half an hour and jumped straight into the blue water. This place was way busier than where we had been previously, mainly because it was the most advertised area. We spent our day sun baking, swimming and generally enjoying life. L and I braved swimming out to a huge rock with some boys we met and managed to scar ourselves climbing up the rocks to jump into the ocean. Luckily there were no sharks nearby to smell the blood!
We dined on garlic prawns and rice for dinner and played cards until it was an acceptable time for bed. This sun-baking business was tiring! Unfortunately I didn’t sleep so well in the hammocks here, they just weren’t as comfy as the night before.
After a fitful night of tossing and turning I was happy to get up and start the day. We had freshly cooked ‘caprese pan‘, which was warm bread filled with cheese, tomato and pesto sauce, washed down with a fresh maracuya juice. It wasn’t quite as sunny as yesterday but we still managed to get in some solid sun baking time. We considered staying another night but the thought of sleeping in those hammocks again put us off and we decided to head back to civilisation that day.
In the late afternoon we had a final meal at the only restaurant on Cabo San Juan and caught the boat back to Taganga and returned to our hostel in Santa Marta for a proper shower and a bed! Tomorrow we planned to go to Minca, the tiny village in the mountains about 40 minutes away from Santa Marta. I couldn’t wait!
One of the main reasons we booked the four-day tour through the salt flats was because we wanted to spend a night on the salt flats. The usual three-day tour whizzes you through flats and you don’t get to enjoy the unusual landscape at the different times of the day. It took a lot of effort to rise from our cosy beds, in our four-bed room that we were squashed into, but the enticement of a beautiful sunrise was too much to resist.
We bundled up in layers of clothes and took blankets out to the flats where the silencing was deafening. It was truly wonderful to be the only ones out here, yesterdays tourist trail was long behind us now. The horizon was just starting to lighten up as we set up a line of GoPro’s to capture the sunrise on time lapse and then settled into the salty ground wrapped in blankets, waiting for the bright sun to emerge. As the sky started to lighten and the different colours started to peek past the line of the horizon into the sky, we were too busy being awestruck by the incredible view to take photos.
As the sun rose, so did the temperature and suddenly all the layers weren’t so necessary. We ran around like idiots in the new days light and did a couple of impromptu dance videos before heading back to the hostel for breakfast. Filling up on bread and jam and coffee, we chucked on our hiking boots and set off to hike up the volcanic mountain before our car arrived to pick us up.
Tunupa Volcano is the remainder of the geological activity that created the Andes Mountains many millions years ago. It’s layered look was reminiscent of Peru’s Rainbow Mountain, but I have to admit, wasn’t quite as spectacular! Nonetheless, it was still a remarkable piece of landscape and I was eager to hike closer to it. It took us about three hours and after a couple of detours, we reached a spot with the best view of the volcano. We climbed to almost 4,600m above sea level, which is no mean feat for a morning’s effort! Feeling the effect of the high altitude, I sat down and looked out at the volcano trying to catch my breath. I’d been at high altitude for a couple of weeks now, but it didn’t mean I was well adjusted. Having spent the last twenty-three years just 500m sea level, it still was a shock to the old body being up this high!
Time was against us unfortunately, so we took one last look at Tunupa volcano and headed back down to pack up and be ready for our car. The hike down was much quicker but tough on the knees. I swear sometimes I’d rather continue on uphill than going downhill, it hurts way less! We reached the hostel in record time and packed up our bags ready for a noon departure. Of course, Bolivians run on a time similar to Peruvians and it was close to an hour before our car actually arrived. By then we were starving and practically leapt on the driver once he parked and set up our lunch. Breakfast had seemed so long ago!
We met the new members of our group and exchanged the usual traveller stories as we hooked into pasta, chicken and salad. A French-Canadian girl, a man from Mexico and another man from Hong Kong made up the rest of our newly formed group and we piled into the new Land Drover, ready to bond over 80’s disco music. We sped back across the salt flats for an hour or so until we reached Isla Incahuasi, otherwise known as Cactus Island.
It was easy to see why it was called Cactus Island, I’d never seen so many cacti in my life! It cost 30 Bolivianos to go onto the island but being the cheapskates that we were (we prefer the term economical!) we decided to walk around the island instead. This ended up being a fantastic idea as the other side of the island was completely free of people, making us feel like yet again we were the only ones on the salt flats. Of course, the solidarity brought out the silly side in us and before you know it Team GoPro was in action again. We ran around taking videos and getting severely sunburnt and also running into two friends of ours from La Paz! Small world on these salt flats! Making plans to meet up again, we continued around the island until we reached the start. This was the place for the infamous perspective photos that Uyuni was so famous for but after some failed attempts from yours truly, I chose to just watch others look ridiculous as they posed in weird positions.
We jumped back in the Drover for the two hour drive to the salt hostel. To break up the drive, we stopped somewhere along the salt flats for some final pictures and videos. Once again, the unusual landscape got the better of us and we ran around on the flats like losers for the final time. It had been a fantastic two days, in this place I’d been wanting to see for the longest time. I still couldn’t comprehend that I was actually here – it felt like a dream! But the salt on my hiking boots and the sunburn on my shoulders definitely confirmed my attendance on the flats. It really was a dream come true.
After the final photo shoot, we piled back into the Land Drover (still unnamed!) and drove off the salt flats and into the desert, where we reached our place for the night – the infamous salt hostels. Now I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting, but after staying in a cave hotel in Cappadocia, I had kind of thought it would be somewhat similar. However the very normal looking little cabin wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It didn’t look very salty and unusual, it looked like every other house I’d seen recently, just lighter in colour. Though on closer inspection, I realised than the entire interior was indeed made of salt. The tables, beds, walls and chairs were all salty – and yeah I licked it just to test! Dinner was served on the salty tables and we sat on the salty chairs. Of course, many salty jokes were shared over dinner and the novelty didn’t wear off even at breakfast the next day.
Tired and hot from the sun and salt, I caved and paid 10 Bolivianos for the best shower I’d had in days. Actually the only shower I’d had in days! Clean and ready for bed, we shared a couple more salty jokes before retiring for the night. Tomorrow we change up the landscape and head for the desert – excited!
With Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain and La Paz crossed off the official bucket list, I was ready to tick another big item off my agenda. The Uyuni Salt Flats was one of those places I’ve dreamed of being at for a long time and finally my time had come! With my travel buddies Alex, Tommy and Sean, I caught the bus from Potosi to Uyuni.
The bus ride in itself was gorgeous, huge valleys and massive mountains surrounded the road and as we got closer to Uyuni the landscape changed dramatically to desert and the excitement started to build up inside of me. We arrived into Uyuni right before sunset and were ambushed by people selling salt flat tours. One lady sold us with her offer of free accommodation for tonight so we followed her into her office and bargained for the best price. Deciding to do a four-day tour we whittled her down to 900 Bolivianos, which covered everything – that’s about $165 for four days, not too shabby!
We were led to the hostel, which ended up being the same hostel we intended on staying at anyway and dropped our gear off to go find dinner. Tired from the bus ride we opted for the easy option and found a restaurant and ordered some (expensive) burgers. As the tour didn’t leave until 11am the next morning, we decided to just head back to the hostel to chill and organise everything in the morning.
The following morning we packed up, grabbed breakfast and supplies for the trip (cookies and chocolate!) and met our tour guide and car. We had scored and gotten a Lexus four-wheel drive however were told we would only have her for the day because we were joining another group tomorrow. Naming her Sexy Lexie we chucked our bags on the roof, hooked up the speaker and began our journey! The first stop was the train cemetery, which seemed to be the first stop for every trip as there were about forty other cars there! The four of us had nicknamed ourselves Team GoPro because we were all proud owners of GoPro’s and selfie sticks so as soon as we got out of the car, Team GoPro was rearing to go!
If you could imagine four adults running around like dickheads with cameras attached to a stick than you’ll get an idea of how we looked. Not ones to be ashamed we climbed all over the decrepit trains and took more selfies than Kim Kardashian. It was a little hard to capture the train cemetery without a bunch of tourists milling around but we tried our hardest. Afterwards we jumped back in Sexy Lexie and drove onto the next stop.
This next stop was a repeat of the train cemetery as we parked up next to another row of four-wheel drives. My dreams of a desolate salt flat were slowly fading as I walked through about six peoples photos. This stop was a quickie, just to look at the salt mounds. Luckily our car was a little slower than other groups so after we waited 10 minutes of so we only had to share the place with a few other people. Despite the hordes of tourists, it was magical being on the salt flats. This weird and wonderful landscape blew my mind and burnt my retinas – going without sunglasses is a big rookie error!
Jumping back in the car, we drove for another 15 minutes or so until we reached our destination for lunch. Another place overrun by tourists, we managed to park out the back and enjoy our lunch looking out at a quiet salt flats. After lunch Team GoPro assembled and proceeded to take about another thousand photos and videos. The excitement of finally being at the salt flats was too much for the four of us and we couldn’t contain ourselves. However I think after a day or two of this intense GoPro-ing we won’t be so enthusiastic.
After lunch we jumped back in Sexy Lexie and drove for an hour and a half across the salt flats to our hostel for the night. It was a crazy feeling speeding across the flats, with only one another car passing us in the that time. This was starting to feel more like an adventure, not like being herded around like sheep. We arrived at the hostel are the place was desolate. The small village was squashed between the salt flats and the large volcano that sat behind it. We waited in the hot sun until the owners of the hostel came to greet us. I have to say; Bolivians aren’t the most welcoming of people. I guess they aren’t as used to tourism as the other countries are. After experiencing the warmth and friendliness of the Peruvians, it was hard to adjust to the somewhat frosty reception we had been receiving from the Bolivians. Nonetheless, the hostel owners took us in, showed us our rooms and left us to it. We had all afternoon to ourselves, with the only thing on the agenda being to see the sunset. With all this free time and space we did what any self-respecting tourist would do – run around like losers on the empty salt flats. We took our GoPro’s and music speaker out to the desolate flats and danced and ran around like small children. We were the only four people on this part of the salt flat and the unusual landscape brought out a wacky side in all of us. As silly as we must have looked to the locals, it was one of the most fun afternoons I’ve had.
We headed back inside for tea and bikkies and to layer up for the upcoming sunset. While it was scorching hot during the day, the chilly weather comes to play at night. We rugged up and got the camera ready for an epic sunset. Racing out just as the sun dropped, we watched as the sky turned into a kaleidoscope of colours. The blues, the pinks, and the purples – it was gorgeous! The salt flats glowed under the last embers of the sun and it truly was one of the most surreal sunsets I’ve seen. We headed back in for dinner once it got dark and then headed back out later that night to witness the unreal sky, full of so many stars that even Coldplay would be impressed. It was funny to hear the others gush over the star-filled sky, as it was a rare occurrence for them to see some many because they are from the city. I forget how lucky I am having grown up in the country where a starry sky is the norm. Not saying I wasn’t impressed though, the clear sky had brought on a seriously cool lightshow. We headed back inside frozen from the chilly air and headed to bed. Tomorrow we were planning to hike up the volcanic mountain and see some more of the salt flats, so we needed some serious shut-eye!
The last couple of days went by so fast. We’d been nearly all around the island, been through coastal, rainforest and volcanic landscapes and eaten our body weight in M&Ms (they have some many different kinds!)
We had big plans for a massive last day in Maui so we woke early ready for more adventures. Grabbing another delicious acai bowl from the Farmacy we then headed south past Kihei to Makena in hopes in finding Turtle Town. We’d come across Turtle Town on the internet which promised heaps of turtles all year round in this elusive bay. After finding the bay, we discovered that a) the Internet lied again and b) snorkelling in a choppy ocean is not a good time. Giving up on the turtle hunt, we sunbaked for awhile before heading back to Kihei for lunch. We were feeling way too lazy to do anything productive so after another ABC lunch (aka whatever random things we found at the convenience store) we sprawled out on the beach once more, trying to get at least a shade darker. It was crazy how un-sunburnt we were getting. I know sun-baking frowned upon but we spent days and days in the sun without getting any darker. If we had tried this at home we would be looking like tomatoes. I guess the hole in the ozone layer isn’t so big over Hawaii, we were pretty well protected.
Deciding to finally be active we went for a snorkel for the last time. Buying our own snorkel set was probably the smartest thing we did. It was so nice to get out anywhere and be able to go for a snorkel. It also helps that Hawaii has reefs right on the beach. Within metres you can see the coral and sea life. We snorkelled for awhile, checking out the fish and coral until we came across a beautiful green sea turtle. He/She was just gorgeous and I spent at least 40 minutes floating above him/her going about their day. Turtles seemed to have the cruisiest life. Just floating about, eating seaweed and making friends with lost clownfish. I watched the turtle until he swam off into the distance before I headed back to the shore.
We hung out by the beach for the rest of the afternoon, only moving from the sand to the shade in the grass for a quick nanna nap. While we didn’t do as much as we had planned, it was nice to just chill out and relax. After running around Oahu and Maui ticking off bucket list items, it was great to just stop and have a break.Though as always it didn’t last long, we had one big thing to do before we left Maui. Around 4pm we grabbed a Coke ($1.50 for an XL, I need to leave Maui before my pants don’t fit), filled up the Jeep and headed towards the Haleakala National Park to catch the sunset.
Haleakala is Hawaiian for ‘house of the sun’. From Kihei it took us about two hours to reach the summit. While the distance wasn’t long, the road was super windy and we kept stopping in awe of the view. It was crazy; from the bottom of the volcano the weather turned bad with a heavy fog surrounding us. We drove through the white mist, laughing about how we chose the worst day to witness the sunset – we couldn’t even see 10 metres in front of us. However as we climbed higher, we drove out of the fog and back into sunshine and blue skies. Below us sat the heavy fog and created the most amazing view!
We reached the summit at approximately 10,000 feet and quickly changed into warmer clothes. The air was fresh and cool up here which was a stark contrast to the hot weather by the beach. We raced over to the edge to find a good viewing spot and waited patiently for its descent. According to my dear friend Wikipedia, the summit area of Haleakala ranks one of the best sites in the world for viewing the night sky due to having almost zero light pollution, above turbulent atmospheric conditions and little atmosphere. And I had to agree, the sky was flawless.
The sky turned from blue to pink to orange. The clouds looked out out of this world as they glowed in the last of the days sun. It was definitely one of the nicest sunsets I’d ever seen. However the beauty of the sunset also brought on a little sadness. It was like a metaphor for the trip, it had been so beautiful but it had to end. Tomorrow we fly back to Oahu for a final day before K and L head back to Australia and I continue onto Peru – which was slightly scary to think about!
We left the summit as the sky turned to black and made our way back to the Banana Bungalow. First we made a dinner stop at Whole Foods, picking up some wine and cheese to toast the end of our trip. K and L had never been to a Whole Foods before so we spent a good 45 minutes in there wandering through the aisles lost in the decision making process. Finally immersing from the store with way more food than we intended we set up a perch for dinner in the common area at the Banana Bungalow and devoured our Whole Foods feast.
Tomorrow brings an early start as we have to be at the airport for our flight to Oahu at 9am.
We left Joe’s early ready for another day of exploring the coast of Maui. This part of the island was often bypassed because the road is a bit unstable for a few kilometres and can void a rental car agreement if an accident occurs. Also, the ‘tourist’ way to go is to drive to Hana and back in one day, but that is the silliest idea since canned cheese. You hardly see anything! A local told us that the road was okay to drive, especially with a Jeep. I for one, am so glad we decided to drive it – it ended up being one of the most incredible drives I’ve been on.
Our first stop was at the Barefoot café in Hana Bay for breakfast – which was more like a little canteen by the water. The thing about Hana is that not many tourists stay the night to experience the sleepy seaside town. While mostly the reason is because most people only make it a day trip, it could have something to do with the locals. They tend to give off a vibe of not wanting tourists there which is understandable, but it was such a change from the rest of Hawaii where the locals are so warm and welcoming. Apart from the chilly reception at the café, the pancakes were the absolute bomb. Three massive pancakes drowned in syrup were exactly what my waistline didn’t need but I had to indulge anyway!
Our mission for the morning was to find the elusive red sand beach. We’d consulted the ever so trusty Google to help us find Kaihalulu Beach, which seemed to be this mystery bay that was impossible to get to. However after the very over the top advice about the Stairway to Heaven, we were a little hesitant to believe what Mr Google had to say. According to Google, the hike to Kaihaluu Beach was quite slipper, steep and could be…wait for it…fatal! DAH DAH DAHHHH!
Alright, I’ll honest here. The track to Kaihalulu Beach is not fatal, not that steep and only a tiny bit slippery. Mr. Cautious must have written the warnings because honestly it was a five minute walk around the edge of the not-very-high cliff to the bay. We parked on Uakea Road right near the Hana Community Centre and walked across the green lawn to the well worn path down to the water. Taking a left we walked along the track (okay its a bit slippery here due to the red cinder cones) which led us right around to the beautiful bay. I’ve read a dozen websites stating that this hike is so scary, so dangerous and potentially fatal. I can’t tell whether some people are just overcautious or downright unadventurous. Obviously use some common sense – if its raining don’t go – but the hike isn’t difficult, you wouldn’t even call it a hike!
The bay itself was glorious. The dark red sand – caused by lava cinder cliffs – make the water appear a PhotoShop-like turquoise. Kaihalulu Beach ain’t got no time for filters, it woke up like this. We raced down to the sand and stripped down to our swimmers. The bay was supposed to be a nudist beach but the few other people that were there were clothed so we followed suit. Walking across the red sand was a strange sensation in itself, this beach is one of few red sand beaches in the world and it felt like no other sand I’ve felt before. The water was cool and refreshing and we spent the next hour snorkelling around the bay.
Remembering we had a whole day of driving to do, we reluctantly walked back around the trail to the Jeep and drove off to our next stop. Like yesterday we were pretty much just jumping in without a plan so when we came across our next stop, it was the best surprise! Still in our swimmers from the beach we found another massive waterfall. No idea what it was called, but it wasn’t far from Hana. Jumping out of the Jeep for a look, I noticed a track beside the bridge that was just calling my name. Walking town the track to the base of the waterfall, it took a moment of hesitation before I was in the frigid fresh water. Not long after K and L followed and we splashed about in the freezing water and washed the salt from our bodies. There was a ledge at the bottom of the waterfall you could sit on and let the water rush over your head. It was awesome!
Numb from the cold, we jumped back in the Jeep to continue our journey – we were barely 10km out of Hana! We didn’t get much further before we reached the Pools of ‘Ohe’o (aka The Seven Sacred Pools) which apparently was a stop not to be missed.
Pulling into the car park we paid our 15$ and went for an explore. Deciding to hike uphill first we trekked through the rainforest on the Pipiwai Trail, following the lush greenery for half an hour or so. There is a Waimoku waterfall at the end of this trail but we were cutting it fine with the time so we headed back down towards the beach and the pools.
I’m going to be honest here again. The Seven Sacred Pools weren’t THAT fantastic. It could have been the combination of the lack of rain and the masses of people (even at 10am in the morning!) but the sacredness of the pools weren’t apparent. I think the waterfalls we had seen this morning and yesterday easily triumphed the pools, but each to their own. It is one of the highlight stops of the Road to Hana trip but I guess its all about the timing.
We left the pools a little downcast, but finally on track to get some driving done. Within kilometres we reached the infamous dirt road and suddenly understood why rental car companies don’t like it. The road is so windy, full of potholes and very narrow. In saying this, in a Jeep it was fantastic! The views were unbelievable and the closeness to the edge of the cliff was crazy. It was a slow journey on the road but an awesome on – and if you’re feeling bad for driving your rental car on there, don’t. Behind us was a Mercedes convertible that obviously missed the memo about not driving the road.
As we drove the scenery changed dramatically from the lush rainforest to a desolate volcanic landscape. The sky greyed and dark clouds threatened to bomb us with rain, but it made our surroundings look even more eerie. This side of Maui was so, so different to the rest of the island. The volcanic rocks stood hauntingly along the coastline and the dry grass swayed in the wind. It was such a shock to see how different this part of the island was, Maui was the place that just keeps giving!
We made a pit stop at Kaupo Store, which was this old fashioned general store full of knick knacks and historic paraphernalia. We grabbed some snacks and headed off again. The sky had darkened some more and within minutes the rain started to spit down. Of course, we had the top off the Jeep, because views, so after finding a safe place to park, we executed the quickest roof change known to man! Safe and dry we drove on, eyes glued to the cowboy-town like scenery.
Reaching Makawao just after lunch time we were absolutely ravenous. It was still drizzling with rain and the infamous cowboy town didn’t have the same appeal as we’d hoped. In our state of hunger all we wanted was mass food and pronto. Luckily, we didn’t have to go to far until we found Polli Polli’s Mexican. Stuffing ourselves with a feast of Mexican, the hangryness disappeared and we felt like our normal selves again. Now ready to have a better look around, we wandered the streets of Makawao. It was a very touristy town, full of boutiques and art galleries.
By late afternoon we were in the Jeep again and en route to Wailuku where we were staying at the Banana Bungalow again. After swimming at beaches, in waterfalls and getting caught in the rain I was so keen for a shower and rest.
Its our last day in Maui tomorrow so we have big plans to tick off a few more things! Stay tuned! 🙂
Truth be told, I didn’t really know anything about the Road to Hana before I booked my flights to Hawaii. But now having done it, all I want to do is tell the world how fantastic it is. The road that spans over approximately 54 miles, has over 600 curves and 59 bridges show cases all of Maui’s beautiful landscapes, from the lush green mountains to the azure coloured ocean, to the rushing waterfalls and even the harsh desolate volcanic hills. It has everything a nature lover could possibly want.
First of all before we delve into the wonder of the Road to Hana I’m going to give y’all a big, fat, monumental piece of advice. Don’t do this drive in one day. Just don’t. Too many people get in the car, race around to all the stops like madmen and turn around in Hana without even getting out of the car. Not only is it a massive day but you miss out on so, so much. My advice, be like the Hawaiians and go a few paces slower. Enjoy the drive, stop at your leisure and heck, make it a two day journey! Also rent a soft top Jeep, because if there is one car built for the Road to Hana, its the Jeep Wrangler.
The road – known as the Hana Highway – is marked out with mile markers that guide you where to stop and what there is to see. I tried my hardest to keep an eye out for mile markers but I have to admit I was too busy staring out the window admiring the scenery. When we saw something we liked, we stopped. Having no expectations of what we were going to find was way better than having a rigid route to follow anyway.
We left Pai’a early, in hopes of beating the hordes of tourists that drive the Hana Highway everyday. Passing the small town of Haiku we waved at the famous surf break Jaws as we passed. Our first stop on our journey was the tiny fruit stand of Huelo selling fresh coconuts, pineapples and a delicious looking selection of breakfast options, making us regret eating breakfast at the hostel.
Getting back in the Jeep, we drove on. The scenery was never short of beautiful. One side of the road was the ocean; sparkling under the morning sun and to our other side was the mountainous ranges, alive with greenery. The road was narrow and at times only a single lane. Sometimes if I waved my arm out the window I would touch the bushes growing on the mountain edges that paralleled us. We pulled in at the bamboo forest, one of the first popular tourist hotspots. There were only a few cars parked on the side of the road so we joined them and went to explore.
It was somewhat spooky to walk through the dark bamboo forest. There were several different tracks through the forest and within steps you could lose where you are. The three of us stuck together and climbed down the muddy track, over a wooden plank until we came to a large opening with many rock pools. It would have been less than 100 metres from the road but the silence was deafening, like our own little quiet haven away from the busy tourist trail.
After playing in the bamboo and by the rock pools we continued on our journey. Our next stop at the Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees wasn’t far at all, only a few minutes drive. Spotting the trees, we pulled over on the side of the road and went to look at this amazing case of Mother Nature’s beauty. The Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees are only found in a few places around the world so it was really special to see them in real life.
We drove on, enjoying the scenery and the still semi-quiet roads. Definitely an advantage to leaving early! Our next stop was the Waikamoi Ridge Track. This short hike takes about 30 minutes and takes you high along the ridge with views out to the ocean. It was a nice break to driving (because we had been driving for SO long – not) but it gave us an excuse to eat bulk food, which we would be doing shortly.
Making a quick stop at Honomanu Bay, which was accessible by a dirt track. I’d advise to only go down this track if you have a 4-wheel drive, it was a pretty hairy looking road – luckily our Jeep handled it easily. The bay itself is one of the few black sand beaches in Maui. It wasn’t the prettiest of the beaches, but the phenomenon of the black sand beach was enough to make us thrilled. We paddled in the cool water before moving on to find some food.
Not much further down the road was a stop that we had been advised to go to. Keanae was a small community off the Hana Highway, which was famous for their homemade banana bread. While you can get banana bread all around Maui, Aunty Sandy’s in Keanae is supposed to be the best, and I tell you after almost demolishing a loaf to myself – it is! I’m a self-proclaimed banana bread expert and this warm and delectable cake was the best I’ve had. I needed to find Aunty Sandy and get her recipe – she is a genius! We sat by the water and ate our banana bread under the hot sun, watching the waves smash into the black volcanic rocks.
We got back into the Jeep and continued on our way until we reached the famous Halfway to Hana stop. Really it is just a small road stand with toilets and some food options but it was one of those stops you just have to do. I wouldn’t recommend making this a huge stop on your journey, there are much better places for food and drink along the way.
We were keen to see some waterfalls, as there hadn’t been too many so far. There hadn’t been rain in a couple of weeks, so most of the roadside waterfalls were dry but we were determined to find ones we could swim in.
Alas, we didn’t have to go too much further! Driving around the windy roads, we came across this huge bridge and waterfall. This is what we were looking for! I’m not too sure which waterfall we were at, I still sucked at finding mile markers, but it was under a huge bridge. We parked the Jeep up the road where there was some space and raced down the rocky path by the bridge until we were at the rock pools and waterfall. Plunging into the icy cold water, we swam quickly to the waterfall and let the fresh water cascade over us. It was such a surreal and wonderful feeling. Within seconds, my body was numb from the cold but it felt amazing to be swimming in freshwater. We floated about for a while, playing under the waterfall and screaming like little girls at how cold it was.
It was such a glorious place and we had it all to ourselves, you couldn’t even hear the cars passing by on the bridge up ahead. It was our own little natural oasis.We stayed for a while before climbing back up the muddy track to the road. I think the important thing about doing the Road to Hana is to not be afraid to explore. The best parts usually take some climbing to get to and you need to be prepared to stop a lot.
Driving on further we came across another massive waterfall that started on one side of the bridge and fell down to the other side. Still wet from the first waterfall we pulled over and climbed over the bridge to the small, steep track down to the falls. Unlike the first one, we were at the top of the waterfall now and the sharp drop down onto the rocks loomed before us. K and I were too intrigued to not check it out so we carefully climbed out to the top of the waterfall. Perching on the edge, it was probably a 25 metre drop to the bottom; a slightly precarious place to be sitting but the view was perf!
Slightly scary but such an awesome view!
Crawling back to the safety of the rocks we clambered back up the steep track and into the Jeep. The banana bread we had earlier was now feeling like a distant memory so we drove on in search of lunch. Like everything on the road to Hana, we didn’t have to go very far. Pulling up at a random roadside stand we ordered hotdogs, chilli rice and pulled pork burgers to fix our hunger pains. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. We ate beside another waterfall that seemed to be a popular tourist stop because there were several buses parked up and people milling about everywhere. A group of Hawaiian boys sauntered in as if they owned the joint and broke up the crowd hovering around a bridge that stood over a lagoon of water. Several moments later one of the boys stood up on the railing of the bridge and made the massive leap into the water below. There was a hush over the crowd of people and as the boys took turns jumping off the bridge, the tourists videoed everything on their phones.
We watched in wonder as the boys leapt for their lives. There were a lot of rocks that stood between the bridge and the water and if the boys miscalculated their jump it could have ended nastily. After all the boys had jumped in, the crowd dispersed and it looked like the show was over. We jumped back in the Jeep in haste to beat the buses and drove back into the beautiful scenery. It had been all of 15 minutes before we were stopping again for food. This was definitely turning into the food tour of Maui!
Coconut Glen’s was a kaleidoscope of colours and had a fantastical whim about it. We pulled in after seeing the rainbow coloured sign advertising their natural ice cream. Assuring ourselves we needed a sugar hit to do the last leg of the trip, we ordered the delicious coconut ice cream and learnt the story of Coconut Glen’s.
Originally from Boston, Glen moved to Maui and opened his vegan ice cream stand in 2008. Since then, Conde Naste has voted him the second best ice cream in the world, which is no mean feat! Giving off a Willy Wonka type vibe, Coconut Glen wants to promote natural and healthy ice cream. Cleverly marketed as ‘ice cream that grows on trees’ its easy to see why its so popular with children and adults alike.
We left Coconut Glen’s full of healthy, coconutty goodness which fired us up for our last stop before Hana. The Wai’anapanapa State Park was one of the major highlights of the Road to Hana, with several different things to see. We drove down the road to the parking area which wasn’t so busy much to our delight. It was getting late in the afternoon now and most Road to Hana go-ers would be on their way back now so we were chuffed with ourselves for choosing to stay the night.
We first wandered over to the blowhole which wasn’t blowing because of low tide. The dark volcanic rocks contrasted brilliantly against the sapphire coloured water. Despite the loud thrashing of the waves against the rocks, I had an urge to jump in for a swim. Opting to wait until we reached the black sand beach, we had a quick wander through the sea caves where we learnt about the legend of the Wai’anapanapa Caves.It was too dark in the caves and we weren’t feeling brave enough to plunge into the back waters to find the princesses secret hiding spot so we walked back to the beach for a swim.
Pebble beaches are definitely better than sand beaches. While not necessary as pretty, the pebbles don’t stick around in absolutely every for days after like the way sand does. We dropped our stuff by the water and raced in. The water was cool, refreshing and ridiculously clear. We floated in the water, talking about the day and finally taking a proper break to relax.
It was about 4:30pm by the time we went back to the Jeep. Most of the other tourists had long left the Road to Hana and as we drove into the tiny, quiet town there were hardly any tourists.
Finding our accommodation for the night easily, we parked into Joe’s Rentals and were shown to our room. The old beach house was ours for the night, with only one other person staying there. It was old and decrepit but the space and privacy was exactly what we wanted.
Going out in search of dinner, we drove through the tiny town of Hana and found some roadside food trucks. K got a burrito from the Mexican truck and L and I opted for Thai. Sitting down devouring our food we talked about the trip so far. It was coming to an end so quickly and there was still so much to do and see.
We were in bed early, the long day of exploring finally taking a toll of us. Tomorrow we’re doing the backside of Hana back to Wailuku, a trip that many people skip. I was excited to see what it brings!