ROAD TO HANA: Kaihalulu Bay, Red Sand Beach and Hamoa Beach
Located on the famed Road to Hana (and a considerable distance along it, right outside the hamlet of Hana itself) is the famed Red Sand Beach of Kaihahula Bay. Like many of the spots off the RTH this one is not marked, not easy to find, approached by a difficult and somewhat hare raising trail, and in general pretty isolated…but well worth seeing. Of all the things along the RTH (which overall, me and Sylvia found somewhat overrated) this was by far the best.
One of the things about Maui many tourists fail to appreciate is this…though it’s a pretty small island, most of its roads are extremely small, narrow, winding and in some cases just flat out dangerous. Thus, to drive someplace fifty crow miles away can be an all-day thing…it might involve three times the distance in actual winding pavement, much of it on roads barely wide enough for two cars to past, with speed limits of 15 MPH. And if you get stuck out after the light goes, expect it to be pitch dark. Oh, and it rains a lot in Hawaii. Check those wipers. We had UNUSUALLY good weather for the shoulder season of November and still, we got absolutley poured on, once. All in all, Sylvia and I logged over 650 miles in our rented car…about the distance between Raleigh, NC and Boston.
We left for the red sand beach a couple days after hiking Haleakala; it is a long drive from Kanapali, where we (and perhaps most people) stayed out to Hana, and after Hana the road turns to dirt, which makes a jeep very practicable. (Every third tourist on Maui is driving red Jeep Wrangler, often extremely rudely.) After a drive of many hours (might have been 3 ½? We didn’t stop much) We arrived in the hamlet of Hana about where the crude map obtained from the internet said we should, and began to wander cluelessly looking for the beach. Note that there is quite the racket for tourist maps in Maui; the one the hotel gives out is basically a standard, generic cartoon of the island with little vague arrows pointing out the approximate location of important items. Not exactly accurate. If you want to get the accurate map you have to stop in a certain gas station and buy a map and a CD…my advice is, purchase a solid guide book. Lonely Planet has a nice one.
Anyway, we wandered over to a nearby Hotel, which I believe was the Hotel Hana, where the desk clerk very politely told us that the beach was ‘nearby’ but that she was not allowed to tell us where because the hike is partly on private land, and that might create a liability issue should anyone injure themselves (not by any means a far fetched scenario, by the way.) So we wandered back outside looking for where the trail might be, watching and following after other clueless people wandering around looking for the same thing…until at last we came to a road lined with parked vehicles. Here, in a broad field, was a very large tree which matched the one in our trail description which marked the start of the trail. Finally, we had found the path to the beach.
First this narrow trails descends a sharp, steep pitch directly down to the waterside. The surf here is quite powerful, as it is everywhere on the island of Maui. After the steep pitch it turns and runs across a rocky shoreline for a bit, going straight across a pile of fascinating volcanic rock and coral formations. It’s a geologists dream, but you want sturdy shoes for this.
Finally, up another short steep pitch and down a very dicey and eroded section to a lookout just above the bay. A gigantic blowhole in the rocks sits just below the overlook…the surf rages here.
The trail from here turns left and creeps up and long an exposed cliff and then down into a grotto where the red sand beach is. It was high tide at the time so there was little beach, and whe didn’t go far along that way. There were some brave (or insane) souls swimming down there. How they managed to stay alive is anyone’s guess, but the water in the grotto is much less turbulent than that outside. It’s still scary.
Sylvia and I paused for a bunch of pictures here. The red volcanic sand is quite spectacular, and the crashing surf is awesome.
After spending some time here were left and went back up the road, passing the sign for the black sand beach. Sylvia rejected this outright, wanting no part of this mere crappy beach…no sir, we had already done the RED beach so what the hell did we want with basic, form-fitting black? Instead she wanted to explore down a narrow coastal road where we did in fact find secluded, spectacular, crescent shaped Hamoa Beach. Here we saw some people doing snorkeling in frog suits; their webbed foot prints were all over the sand. Otherwise, this remote beach was empty. The water was crystal clear and the surf surprisingly gentle. Sylvia went for a dip with I lurked mostly in the shade.
It was a long drive back to Kanapali and we didn’t have time for many of the things we wanted to do, the sun setting almost an hour before we reached the hotel. I did catch a glimpse of two mongoose fighting in the middle of the road and a rude tourist in a red jeep blared the horn at me for driving in an insufficiently insane way. All in all, a good day’s active sightseeing.
My honest opinion of the Road to Hana is that it was a bit overrated. Most of the hikes are tropical (which means humidity, mud, slippery rocks, badly eroded slopes, bugs, leeches) and there are almost no views from the road itself. We both liked the actual drive on the more hair raising, but more scenic, northwest (windward) side of the island MUCH better. My advice for the RTH is give yourself as much time as you can. Clearly identify the places you want to stop beforehand, and stop at as many as you can in close proximity. Hit a place with coastal views or one of the better waterfalls. The Red Sedn Beach is definitely worth seeing, but I don’t recomended going in the water here unless you are a very strong swimmer.
Also keep in mind, there are VERY few real bathrooms out here (as opposed to those found behind any palm frond.)