“Oh Lord, please, please, please don’t let me meet another car on this road.” I thought to myself as I drove like a 90 year old man. I had scooted up on the edge of my seat, hands at 2 and 10, knuckles white from gripping the steering wheel intensely, and my nose was practically on the front window trying to peer over the car’s hood. Now this was the real deal – a road worthy of being called one of the best drives in the world. Yet this drive was on no ‘best of’ lists and very few people knew about it – which is probably what made me love it even more.
The Kahekili Highway (Hawaii state highway 340 – photo above) lives in the shadow of it’s big well-known brother – the Road to Hana. However, this highway along Maui’s North shore was no Road to Hana, because it was 10 times better than the Road to Hana.
When I had expressed interest in driving the Road to Hana, my friend in Maui furrowed her brow and said “Everyone does the Road to Hana when in Maui. I have a better suggestion.”
This was all I needed to hear to kick my craving for unique experiences into high gear. I grabbed my DSLR and my Insure My Trip Lytro camera and was ready for a little Maui road trip. As I set off on Highway 340 past Kaanapali, I started seeing them – Narrow Road, One Lane Bridge, Yield to Oncoming Traffic, Falling Rocks, Winding Road next 17 miles – these were the standard signs peppered along highway 340. I was excited and scared at the same time. My adrenaline was pumping from a combination of the picture perfect views and the possibility of meeting another oncoming car on the narrow cliff.
The road was initially paved in the late 90′s and as I started the drive, it was really pleasant driving. The road had a fresh coat of asphalt and brightly colored lines. It didn’t seem too bad at all – in fact it was relaxing. However, all of a sudden the newly paved road ended leaving me with a bit dodgier pavement full of undulations, crumbling asphalt, no shoulder, and faded lines. I seemed to be winding deeper and deeper along the cliffs and back into the valleys. And of a sudden I let out a gasp – I wasn’t sure when it exactly happened – but I was on a one lane road going around hairpin turns. I panicked for a moment as I wondered if it was even possible to back up if I did meet a car.
A single lane road climbing up the cliffside. No guard rails and hoping that I didn’t meet another car!
One lane bridge on the paved section of the road.
Road leading back into the lush green valley.
The road begins to flatten out around the ranches.
It’s not just about the driving, it’s also about what you can stop and see along the way that is virtually tourist-free. I pulled over and ate my picnic poke lunch at a lookout with absolutely no one around. I was on top of a rocky cliff and could see for miles as little clouds that looked like cotton balls dotted the sky. The waves crash against the rocks below me in a rhythmic fashion and enjoyed my perfect moment of Maui Zen.
I had also heard about the Nakalele Blowhole (near mile marker 38), but I wasn’t too sure where it was. I knew you had to hike to it, and luckily at one of my roadside stops for a picture, I met a guy from Wisconsin who knew where it was. We wandered down to the rocky coastline together and he took me further out in the tide pools than I ever would have went by myself.
The waves were tumultuous as they rolled in sets crashing into the rocks sending sea spray everywhere – it was here where you felt the wrath of Mother Nature. The spray felt refreshing, but of course I had stupidly left my raingear for my camera back in the car since it certainly wasn’t rainy weather, but down by the blowhole it was pretty easy to get drenched. The blowhole occurs in the lava shelf which can reach over 100 feet when air and water are forced upwards through the hole causing a geyser-like effect. We waded through the water to get a bit closer and that’s when it really hit. This is what happens when you get too close to a blow hole.
I later read this warning about the blowhole – so do be careful if you go visit it:
“While it may seen tempting to approach the blowhole for a great photo opportunity, don’t do it. People have been killed as they get sucked back into the hole by the retreating water at this and other blowholes in Hawaii.”
Hiking out to Nakalele Blow Hole via the tidal pools
Nakalele Blow Hole
Just when I didn’t think the road could get any more questionable, Highway 340 narrows considerably for about 1 mile as it descends the mountain and enters Kahakuloa Village (near mile marker 14 and 15). This community is one of the most isolated spots on Maui and most of the residents work in and around the village. The village is home to about 100 people, a couple of churches, and several roadside stands. After the nail biter one mile of narrow road where I luckily didn’t meet an oncoming car, I stopped for a smoothie at Kahakuloa Village, and sat and just took in the view.
The road climbed out of Kahakuloa Village and went into ranch land with sweeping vistas of green pastures. You can also get a great close up view of Kahakuloa Head which is 636 feet high.
Memorial along Kahekili Highway
Finally – before coming down the road into Waihee I passed a number of little fruit and artist stands. I stopped to buy some jam and chatted with the woman who lived there. I asked her about what it was like to live so remotely out here. She of course said she loved it!
And what’s not to love – this part of Maui was certainly unique and it felt untouched. It had a completely different vibe than the rest of the island. Highway 340 represents exactly what I love most about Hawaii – it’s not hard to find peace and solitude on the islands which are one of the most popular tourist destinations around. If you are looking for something a bit different on Maui, then spend a day driving highway 340. Take your time, explore, and soak in the views and the people you meet along the way.
Tip – drive from Lahaina to Waihee so that you are on the inside when/if you pass another car on the narrow bits.