Ahhhh….Hawaii. I never thought I would have made it here with a toddler, but I did, and it was great! With a whirlwind 4 day trip to Maui, we saw as much of the island as possible, and it was a perfect mix of adventure and relaxation!
We had a bat mitzvah to attend near San Francisco in mid-December and we always spend Christmas with my brother’s family in Portland, so I didn’t know how we were going to try to work it out to go to the West Coast twice within 2 weeks. I was considering that I wouldn’t be able to go to the bat mitzvah when Alan popped up with, “maybe we can go to Hawaii in between?” Within 30 seconds I was on the computer looking up flights. Turns out flying to Hawaii in mid-December is cheap if you beat the Christmas/New Years rush.
We had an excellent time with Alan’s family for a few days in SF and even got some time in with dear friends! We flew into Maui at night, so I booked a hotel that was close to the airport and pretty cheap. Maui Beach Hotel fit the bill in both regards. I’m a sucker for A-Frames and it looked quite cute from the outside on their lawn. There is a small beach there too that is nice to walk down to and Sally got some time to play in the sand before packing up for driving the Road to Hana. The hotel wasn’t much, but it did the job.
I had never used Turo before, but had heard good things about “the airbnb for cars.” We wanted to continue on the road past Hana and I had read that it wasn’t totally paved, so I thought getting a more substantial car might be nice. Also, we had an extraordinary amount of luggage on this trip, so we booked a Subaru Crosstrek. It was perfect! It was a quick taxi ride from the hotel to pick it up at someone’s house and another short ride from dropping it off to the airport. It definitely had a more comfy/lived in feel like you were driving your own car as opposed to a rental. They have all sorts of cars on the site so it’s worth checking out!
The main thing you’ll likely hear about when traveling in Maui is the Road to Hana. There is a reason for this. The drive itself is stunning with countless waterfalls right along the road and many opportunities to stop for adventure further from the car. With a toddler in the car, we stuck to mostly easy spots to pull over. Many people drive the road to Hana and back in the same day. I would HIGHLY recommend spending at least 1 to 2 nights in Hana. We stayed one night, but I wish we had another day there. Many of the guidebooks recommend getting an early start to beat the main rush of similar tourists doing the drive. I think because we were there the week before Christmas (as opposed to the week between Christmas and New Years) we were pretty lucky and things weren’t too crowded. Most of the turn outs on the road are small and I can see being out of luck in terms of finding a spot to park to go check out a waterfall.
Our first stop was Paia town. It’s quite cute and I’m sure it’s full of shops worthy of checking out, but we were too excited to get on the road that we weren’t ready to shop that early on. You can load up on snacks and water for the drive here. We found a cute spot for breakfast on the other side of town at Island Fresh Cafe. It was incredible peaceful, tucked away and even has an adjoining yoga studio. Alan ordered coconut water and out came a whole coconut with a straw. A festive way to start off our first morning in Hawaii!
We skipped Twin Falls, which is often on the list of places you should stop. I heard from a couple of people that it’s a popular stop because it’s one of the first waterfalls, but there are better ones later down the road. Sally had just fallen asleep in the car, so we kept it moving by there. The first proper stop we did was detouring down to the Ke’anae Peninsula, just past mile marker 16. Driving down there you find some dramatic black lava rock and bright blue water crashing against it. There is no swimming here, but provides a nice view and a sea breeze. There is a stand to get a smoothie and you can also check out an old stone church from the 1850s. Also, there are restrooms down there if you are needing a spot to go!
Less than a mile past Ke’anae is Ching’s Pond. From what I gathered this is a locals spot and apparently is popular with cliff jumpers (which I am not). We pulled over to check out the swimming hole. Sally was still sleeping, so I climbed down a rocky path to see if it was worth dragging her out of the car. It’s quite beautiful, but the water was chilly and the path would have been a bit treacherous (although short), so I took a couple of photos, but we continued on. A nice waterfall to pull over and look at is at mile marker 19, Upper Waikani Falls (also called Three Bears). There isn’t a lot of space to pull over, but if you can swing it, there are three little parallel falls happening that are pretty sweet! Our next waterfall spot was Hanawi Falls, near mile marker 24. This was a fun one for us since Sally was awake at this point and we all got out of the car and climbed down to the waterfall. We got to dip our feet in, but it was too chilly for us to want to swim. We did some family photo seshes there and had to use a rope to climb back up. (A very short climb, but felt adventurous). At this point we were hungry and there is a great stop for just that, the Nahiku Marketplace. They have a gift shop with local goods, but most importantly, they have a few different food stands involving pork tacos, fish tacos, chicken fried rice, Thai food, and smoothies. Gear up for what was our next stop and a favorite of the day…
Waianapanapa State Park is stunning! It’s main spot is a perfect black sand beach in a cove. It was fairly crowded when we got there in the late afternoon and this would be a place I would love to go back to in the morning when you can have it more to yourself. There are opportunities for camping here in the park. Although the tents are quite close together, it’s a pretty special thing to wake up and see. We hung at the beach and bit and went in the water. Right when you walk down the steps, to your right, is a fun little cave you can walk through. It’s short and after ducking for a quick bit, you can stand up and walk through to the water. There were people hiking up the ridge past the beach. I would have loved to have more time to explore around here, but that’s why we could always come back!
We checked into our airbnb in Hana, which was a super cute one room bungalow. There were screens rather than windows all around for an open air vibe. The bathroom is outside, but it’s quite legit and totally comfortable. It’s close to the owner’s house, but there are trees all around so you feel secluded and the sounds of nature are pretty special. We listened to the rain overnight on the roof and in the morning the roosters sounded like waring native tribesmen. There seemed to be only two restaurant options in Hana that are open at 7:00pm. One is a fancy restaurant that is quite pricey, but probably good food and lovely views at the Travaasa Hana Resort. I wanted to go to check out the hotel, but with a toddler who has difficultly sitting through a meal, we didn’t want to spend the money. We opted for the cheaper option, Hana Ranch Restaurant. Based on the reviews I had seriously low expectations, but we actually had a great time there! We sat outside on a nice patio and I had some good pesto pasta with chicken. 100% pleasant!
The best thing about staying in Hana overnight is having Hamoa Beach to yourself. It’s right past the town of Hana and is a perfect nook of a beach with beautiful water and some shade to lay your towel under. (We especially loved that there was a shower where you can rinse the sand off before getting in the car for a day of driving). We spent the morning here and this is the only time in Maui that we spent quality time playing in the ocean. The water was warm and the waves were very gentle, so it was just right for Sally. We had her in her trusty Puddle Jumper, but she was loving trying to body surf. Alas, it had to come to the end and we packed up and headed back on the road past Hana!
The road past Hana is magical! Most folks drive the 15 minutes past Hana to get to the Oheo Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools) and then turn around. We continued on, but I’ll first tell you about the magic of Haleakala National Park, which contains the Seven Sacred Pools and the Pipiwai Trail. There is a small visitor center where you can get oriented, but it’s pretty straight forward to get to the trails. I had seen photos of the Bamboo Forest on the Pipiwai Trail that I really really really wanted to see, so we decided to head there first since that was a further hike than the pools. Online reviewers went on and on about how this is one of the best hikes in Hawaii, and I can see why. The scenery is perfectly varied with a few spectacular stops along the way, and it’s nice and shaded which keeps things cool. It’s a (slightly less than) 2 mile hike up to Waimoku Falls and then you turn back and hike back down. Admittedly we didn’t make it all the way to those falls as Alan had to carry Sally on his shoulders most of the way and my prize was the bamboo forest. The start of the hike is the steepest part, but you will be rewarded with a MASSIVE Banyan tree. It’s stunning and it just sitting there in a jungle waiting for people to come by and drop their jaws. Past the banyan tree you will come to the first impressive waterfall, Makahiku Falls. It was more of a trickle when we saw it, but I’ve seen other photos of it when it’s really going and I can see why people go nuts for this waterfall. I was focused on getting to that bamboo so we continued on. It’s a fun entrance into the bamboo forest with a steel bridge and some beautiful falls and pools to your left. Then you enter! We hiked for a bit and then Alan and Sally decided to hang there in the bamboo while I trudged on. It gets more and more magical as you hike up through the bamboo and you eventually come to a boardwalk that is flanked by bamboo that creates a sort of bamboo tunnel. It was well worth the hike! Unfortunately, I had to turn around and get back to those two, but I don’t think the Waimoku Falls is too far after that. We’ll just have to do the full hike next time!
Back down by the visitors center, we continued on the short hike to the Seven Sacred Pools. It’s a 0.6 mile loop and is an easy (but busy!) hike. It’s known by a few names, but the proper name is ‘Ohe’o. It’s basically a magical valley where a stream cuts through and creates cascading waterfalls and pools. Apparently the “Seven Sacred Pools” name was made up decades ago by a land owner trying to attract more tourists to the area with the appealing name. There are more than seven pools and they aren’t particularly sacred, but they are pretty!
I had read mixed reviews about continuing the drive past Hana. Due to some unpaved roads, the car rental companies insurance won’t cover you over there which makes it sound rather ominous. That, along with the blind curves on what are essentially one lane roads (in parts), keep many from this zone. Conversley, I’ve also read that it’s 100% fine and a lovely drive, which is where our opinion fell. It’s true that parts are not paved, but even in those parts the road is so packed down with the gravel that they are very easy to drive on. The road does also get windy and narrow, but if you are going slow and paying attention, I don’t see a problem. Apart from the recommendation of doing the drive when it’s light out (so you can watch out for the wandering cows), I think you will have a pleasant drive!
We continued around the bottom of Maui and then up through the middle toward the main entrance to Haleakala National Park. We stayed at a funny place that felt very much lost in time (a favorite feeling), Kula Lodge. It’s built on the slopes of Haleakala and offers incredible views from the restaurant (and the rooms). The restaurant has a cozy stone fireplace (may sound strange, but it was chilly up there!) and basically floor to ceiling windows with breathtaking sunset views. (I was too excited about it to remember to take any photos, unfortunately.) There is a terraced zone at the restaurant where you can sit outside for the sunset and brick oven pizza. I really wish I could say that the food was great, but it wasn’t. Quite honestly though, the views offered here and the kitschiness of the place still make it a stop I’d highly recommend if you are in this area. The rooms themselves were equally as fun and felt very 1970s. It was two stories with one bed downstairs with a little table, a heater that looks like a fireplace, and a balcony. There is also an upstairs that had two twin beds and overlooked the bottom floor. In the morning there was a beautiful rainbow that greeted us from our balcony and basically hung around with us all day!
Before we headed to the national park, we wanted to grab some breakfast (and didn’t need another meal at Kula Lodge). I found the perfect place! La Provence is a French bakery and cafe. We were able to get good coffees and various quiches to go here. I hadn’t had the tastiest meals in Hawaii, but this was really really good!
Much of what I read about the summit of Haleakala is about the sunrise. This is a huge thing here and you need reservations in order to enter the park at that hour because it’s so popular. Getting up that early and dealing the the crowds didn’t sound fun to us, so we skipped sunrise, but apparently some people really find this to be a spiritual experience. So, maybe this is the best way to experience the park? Up to you! We went around 10:00am and it wasn’t very crowded, which was nice. That being said, it was entirely socked in with clouds when we got there. It’s a long drive up to the top, so it’s common to drive through clouds and then it clears up, which it eventually did when we were up there. While we couldn’t see down in the crater due to the clouds, we were high above the clouds, which was pretty neat in itself.
Pictures of the crater and hiking through it look just like you are on Mars. It looks insane. With Sally, we skipped the 11 mile Keonehe‘ehe‘e hike (aka Sliding Sands). If you don’t have a kid to carry around or are in great shape, I’m sure this is a hike to remember. We don’t fall into either of those categories, so we did the half mile hike, Pā Ka‘oao, which is right by the visitors center at the summit. There are also a couple of overlooks or shorter trails, but they are at a lower elevation and had no visibility when we were there. We continued up past the visitors center and parked by the summit building. You can walk around here to check out the highest views. You can also see the Haleakala Observatory from here. We could just see the white clouds below us, but I’m sure on a clear day it would really knock your socks off! (We still had that rainbow hanging around!)
After all these adventures, we planned two nights at a relaxing resort on the beach with multiple pools for Sally to play in. We stayed at Honua Kai Resort and it was very comfortable. The resort had three different pool zones that included a waterslide, a waterfall, a shallow pool for littles, and (most importantly) five hot tubs! The room offered an equal number of comfort factors including a washer/dryer, a balcony (construction views, but at least the construction site had a rainbow over it!), and a full kitchen. The resort is on the beach, but we just walked down there for the sunset and mainly hung by the pools. They had a nice cafe where I got breakfast wraps, smoothies, and coffees in the morning. It’s a great place for families, and while not our usual type of accommodation, it was comfy and Sally had a blast! Honua Kai is an easy 10 minute drive to Lahaina, which is apparently a great town to walk around. If we had more time in Hawaii, we would have checked that out more (heard they have a huge Banyan tree).
We couldn’t leave Hawaii without a luau! On our last night we went to the Royal Lahaina Luau. You got a welcome cocktail, a shell necklace, and an open buffet. It’s quite possible that the pork was good (didn’t try that), but the rest of the food was meh (Sally really loved it!). The drinks were plentiful and we loved the dancing! It captured Sally’s attention the whole time and the fire guy was particularly exciting to watch. They do a bit where all the kids can get on stage and learn the luau. Sally got super shy and just stood there watching, but turns out Alan is good at following instruction. It was nice that the luau was next to the beach and we got a lovely sunset for our last night in Hawaii! It was an excellent trip and a great mix of adventure and relaxation! Aloha!