The road to Hana, or the “Hana Highway”, is a 50 mile stretch of Hawaii State Route 36 and 360 which connects Pa’ia with the town of Hana on east Maui. The highway is very winding and narrow, and passes over 59 bridges, 46 of which are only one-lane. There are approximately 620 curves along Route 360 from just east of Kahului to Hana, virtually all of it through lush, tropical rainforest. Many of the concrete and steel bridges date back to 1910 and all but one are still in use. There are multiple hikes and waterfalls along the highway, and since it had been quite rainy on Maui leading up to our Hana Highway experience, all the waterfalls were flowing. In fact, there were probably more waterfalls on our drive than ever before!
The last time the D-man and I were in Maui we didn’t have time to make the all day drive, so we were excited to do it this time. We started out from our hotel in Kapalua around 7 am. We stopped for a yummy breakfast at “Anthony’s” in Pa’ia.
One of the first waterfalls described in our guidebook “Maui Revealed” was the Four Falls of Na’Ili’Ili’Haele.
I really had no idea what we were getting into. D-man and I both figured that the drive would just be a lot of time in the car with a few easy hikes to some waterfalls. In fact, I hopped out of the car for these Four Falls of Na’Ili’Ili’Haele wearing my running shoes and a white hooded sweatshirt.
According to our guidebook, the first two waterfalls were easily accessible to any level of hiker. Due to the extreme rain that day, the D-man and I both assumed we’d just hike to those two falls and call it a day. However, we ended up joining up with a few other hikers who somehow convinced us to go all the way to the 4th waterfall….probably not our smartest move.
Next you will come to an EMI Ditch, which you will have to step across. It looks worse than it is because you’ll likely be focused on how deep it is. But the step across is actually about the length of a person’s stride, so you’d have to be careless and/or unlucky to actually end up in the ditch.
Note: Sometimes someone has left a scrap plank, branch, bamboo pole, or something else straddling the ditch – our guidebook suggested NOT walking on whatever may happen to have been laid there, but that’s exactly what we did….
Once you cross, the previous tip of “follow the stream bed” comes into play. If you follow what appear to be prominent trails (away from the stream), you’ll become one of the reasons these false trails remain so clearly prominent and frequently traveled (because people just follow them, till they realize they suddenly end nowhere in particular.)
As you follow a trail that parallels the stream (headed upstream) you will either discover a giant raging waterfall, on the opposite bank feeding into the Na’ili’ili hale stream, or perhaps you’ll pass it, dry and unnoticed. This huge disparity in description (and why it has been left out of most other guidebooks completely) is because it lies directly on the other end of a reservoir that feeds the main EMI diversion ditch, and except during the wettest times, most (or all) of the water that feeds it has been diverted. (this first fall was DEFINITELY running for us!)
If you are moderately sure-footed, you can continue across the stream, and up a steep, and somewhat slippery hill. There are some protruding rocks for footing, and bamboo-backup for anchoring yourself should the footing fail. This definitely is a place you could take a fairly painful fall if you happened to slip.
To get to the fourth waterfall, which is about 35′ and in a particularly dramatic setting, you have to swim (which shouldn’t be a biggie, since you’re probably wet by now!)
You swim across the pool to waterfall #3, behind me in the below picture. And then you climb up this waterfall! That’s me in the pool in the below picture, and you can see our friends behind me leading the way up the falls…Yes, I was swimming in a Lulu top, no pants, and my running shoes. Need I say, “ill-prepared?”
After climbing up waterfall #3, you are rewarded with waterfall #4~ on a sunny day, apparently, this setting is quite picturesque. A little private paradise, so to speak. However, for us, the rain was still coming down, and the fear of flash floods was high on our minds.
…My adrenaline was pumping, and I was working hard not to slip. I did take one hard fall on a slippery boulder, right after an unsuccessful attempt to cross the stream. D-man and I were lucky. We made it back to our car after 4 hours of hiking. My legs were so sore the next day, I felt like I had run another marathon! The rest of the drive was a much lower key experience. The rain did continue, and there were points along the Hana Highway where it looked like the road was going to be washed out. There were some other fun stops along the route, such as the “Halfway to Hana” pit stop for some amazing banana bread.