Underrated Hawaii Road Trips: Big Island and Maui
If embarking on an epic road trip adventure is on your list of things to do, Hawai‘i is not usually the first place to come to mind, a place famously known for having ‘interstate highways’ that never leave the state. It might be tough for a road trip in Hawai‘i to compete with an epic journey of thousands of miles across the mainland U.S., but there are some fantastic and utterly unique day-trips you can do in Hawaii. String a few of them together, and you’ve got yourself an multi-island road trip you’ll remember for a lifetime.
Here are two underrated road-trips to take on your travels to Hawai‘i to experience the islands’ diverse natural landscapes. These two road trips are just the tip of the iceberg, but they’ll give you a taste of why road tripping in Hawai‘i is well worth the experience.
The Big Island (Hawai‘i Island) is probably the first option people consider in planning a road trip because of its relative size to the other Hawaiian Islands (4,028 sq mi). The island’s dramatic shifts in elevation also mean you’ll be able to experience the full range of natural ecosystems in Hawai‘i, from sea to mountain. Leaving Hilo, head northwest on Kaahumanu Highway (Highway 19) along the beautiful Hamakua Coast. Stop at Laupahoehoe Point, a fantastic park to take in the awe-inspiring coastline from surrounded by black lava rocks and beaches.
Next, head to the Waipio Valley lookout for one of the most breathtaking views in all of Hawai‘i. Taro fields sprawl along the floor of the valley as Hawaiians continue the ancient cultural tradition of making poi: the baked and fermented root of the taro plant. Stop in Waimea afterwards, and enjoy the view of Mauna Kea’s western slopes as you drive through Big Island’s famous ranch land with its rich paniolo (cowboy) history. Then, head north on Kohala Mountain Road (Highway 250) to Pololu Valley Lookout, with a spectacular view of the Hamakua coastline, including a beautiful hike down to the black sand beaches below.
Continue on to the charming town of Hawi for a snack, then head south on Akoni Pule Highway (Highway 270) to Hapuna Beach State Park to relax on the white sand beach and swim in the ocean at the end of the day. This is also a popular small-wave beach for body surfers and body boarders.
West Maui to Makawao
The top road trips on people’s bucket list for Maui include driving to the top of Haleakala, or winding along the famous twists and turns of the Hana Highway. But one underrated but incredible road trip is along Mauiʻs northwest coastline. Leaving Lahaina, head through Ka’anapali to Honolulu Bay, leading you from the drier leeward side of the West Maui mountains, or Mauna Kahalawai (meaning “holding house of water” in Hawaiian) to the lush and wet windward side. Honolua Bay is a gorgeous place known for its diving, snorkeling and especially surfing in the winter months.
After Honolua Bay there are a number of excellent sights and activities to check out – the Nakalele Blowhole, the isolated town of Kahakuloa, and the beautiful scenic views at Kahakuloa Head. If youʻre looking to get some exercise along the way, one of my favorite hikes with amazing views of West Maui is the Waihe’e Ridge Trail.
Continue on through Kahului along Haleakala Highway (Highway 37) to Makawao, an old Maui paniolo (cowboy) town, with plenty of excellent spots for delicious food or afternoon drinks. Here, you can continue on to the charming mountain-side town of Kula and up to the Haleakala summit for a mind-blowing star-gazing experience, or head down Baldwin Avenue to the surf town of Paia.
Paia, a former sugar plantation town, has become a famous destination for surfers and windsurfers. It’s a great town to stroll through and to enjoy perusing the several coffee bars, boutiques and surf shops, not to mention the cool art galleries and laid-back eateries. Be sure to stop at Ho‘okipa Beach Park to watch the surfers and wildlife.
Both the Big Island and Maui offer full-day road trips. But if you’ve got time to spare, consider breaking them down into smaller chunks to give you ample time to soak in this beautiful scenery, hike the gorgeous trails and enjoy the local culture unlike anywhere else in the world.
Reviews of Underrated Hawaii Road Trips: Big Island and Maui
West Maui drive
That drive use to be a single lane white knuckle drive. Cliffs on both sides with car pullouts far and few between. It was beautiful back then and I’m sure it is now and safer!
Thanks for the info!
I plan to try the Maui trip, with the exception of the top of Haleakala. I’m not a fan of the altitude.