Driving Maui’s North Loop

Hawaii is a frequent travel destination. As a boy growing up in California, my family made numerous flights to the undeveloped rainforest of the Hanalei Coast of Kauai. I was fortunate to be selected to play in the Hula Bowl during college … And then my father decided to retire to the Big Island in the 1970s. Our more recent trips are in surges … Flights out in consecutive years, followed by an absence for a decade or so. Finally, we have been hosting our immediate family on Maui during the grandkids’ Spring Break. Maui mesmerizes everyone with sunsets, whale sightings, rain forest treks, and great beaches. And its Road to Hana is world famous.

On a previous trip, I made the driving trek to Hana. like everyone else, I was amazed by the one-lane bridges, waterfalls, and lush vegetation. But, given the short duration of spring break, my family has not wanted to devote a day ( or longer ) to this experience. An earlier blog entry wrote about a day when we drove halfway out to Hana before turning around and returning home.

This background leads me to my desire to drive the loop around the other volcano cone on Maui’s north shore. On previous trips, I asked various locals about this section of Maui and got a wide variety of answers. Most were generally negative about doing the drive. A decade ago, the feedback was less about possible danger and more about the poor quality of the roads … I remember being told that the road was always full of potholes and missing pavement … That the local government would send crews to fix the road, but the locals would then tear the road up again in an effort to keep tourists from driving it.

No one questioned the sheer beauty of the coastline … Rather, the feedback was that the hassles weren’t worth the rewards … Drive to Hana instead.

On my last couple trips, the feedback changed. No more mention of purposefully torn-up roads … Instead, the road is just dangerous. A lot of Maui visitors are familiar with the beginning of this drive. They drive out to the Blowhole along a road which becomes increasingly narrow, has a few blind corners, but has guardrails along the cliffs. This section also passes a series of remote beaches that receive enough notoriety to attract visitors. The trip to the Blowhole is a great preview, a short hike to an amazing natural phenomena, and an opportunity to buy banana bread from the locals who set up stands in the parking lot.

A couple of sidebars about the Blowhole. Make sure you drive out during a high tide. Low tides are just not as spectacular, as the waves have to work harder to squeeze through the lava crevice. Second, make sure to say hi to the mongooses … Yes, the plural of mongoose is mongooses.

If you are anything like me, you would have been stunned to find a mongoose population on Maui. There are no cobras here !! There are No snakes at all!! So what the f**k ?!? Well, there evidently are too many rats and too many Hawaiians who thought they were smarter than Nature. A decision was made to import the mongooses to keep the rat population under control. The problem: Rats are nocturnal and mongooses are not !! So now Maui has another imported animal population ( and rats ). Many of them hang out by the banana bread stand and come out when the local vendor claps his hands.

So 90% drive past Kaanapali, Kapalua, and the previously mentioned trailheads to three or four beaches, to finally reach the Blowhole … They turn around and drive back to the hotels. Which is my way of saying that this is where the North Loop Road really starts…

If one continues along the road, it becomes even more narrow and the guardrails disappear. At the same time, the road views begin to resemble the Pacific Coast Highway.

And when you don’t think the road can become any more difficult, it does!!!

The road becomes completely one-lane with occasional pull-out spots, AND there are no guard rails. But there are a few positives that work in the driver’s favor … The road is actually pretty smooth … If the driver feels comfortable looking ahead, it is quite possible to see oncoming vehicles before they pass by … I was able to pull over and wait for these vehicles to come up and pass. Another positive is the relative lack of cars. It’s actually pretty quiet and solitary.

I was able to stop my car in the middle of the road and take these photos, because there were no other cars behind or in front of me at the time. I can’t describe how fantastic this was … This was Spring Break in Maui … There are people everywhere !! So drive the North Loop Road and get away from the throngs for a while.

Eventually, the road took us to a small cluster of houses … I am reluctant to call it a town … BUT, there were a couple art galleries and banana bread stands on either end of the cluster. We stopped at a little kitchen in a fixed-foundation trailer for fruit smoothies.

They had a little sign that gave their days and hours of business, with the added stipulation that they are ” mostly ” open during these times. In other words, bring some car snacks because there is no guarantee that the Lunch Stop will be open.

This was also the halfway point of the road. I didn’t really keep track, but it was about 45 minutes from the Blowhole. There are a lot of bicyclists who ride out to this point, grab a refreshment, and turn back to ride to Lahaina. If you continue on the road, it becomes one lane for another few miles before you get back into civilization. At first, we saw a few upper income home developments before reaching the more populated developments on Maui, near the airport.

From there, the completion of the loop is the ride from the airport to Lahaina, which almost everyone makes a time or two during their stay.

So there you have it … A much shorter driving experience with fewer opportunities for beach stops. BUT the vistas are spectacular and the drive is close to the high of doing legal drugs. It is not for everyone, and for those ambivalent about trying it, make sure you head out in a clockwise direction. That way, you are on the cliff side of the road when passing another vehicle. As for me, I’ve already scheduled myself to do this drive anytime I come back to Maui.

3 thoughts on “Driving Maui’s North Loop

  1. Barry, found your Blog.
    Phone me when you have a chance, your old phone number does not work, Andy Moffat
    262 857 2294

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