A little bit of research into Maui would suggest that no trip is complete without a journey along the Road to Hana. Hana is not much more than a small community on the east-most coast of the island, and one of the most isolated communities in the state at that, but the road there is paved with some of the most epic scenery the US has to offer.

Our friend Matt suggested we go camping there. The internet suggested that camping out in an old-fashioned Westfalia was a rite of passage, but apparently booking a month in advance was not enough time to reserve an old dinosaur of a vehicle that might or might not break down on the curvy mountain roads. All of that was fine and well though, because it allowed me to find something much cooler.

Maui Camper Escapes has taken the idea of camper car conversions and applied it to one of the favorite vehicles on the island: the Jeep Wrangler. While an old Westy may be a nostalgic icon of the surfer bum days of the past, many of them now come with warning labels not to drive them to altitude. A Jeep is much better suited to your modern day adventures on those mountain roads that are miles away from the nearest cell phone signal. Plus you get to pretend you’re driving through Jurassic Park*.

*Not only was the original filmed in Hawaii, but the almost-opening scene where the main characters are flying into the park via helicopter, includes some scenery that is visible from the Road to Hana; so forgive my geeky dinosaur references the next few posts. 

Our Jeep camper from Maui Camper Escapes.

We picked up the Jeep from the business owner who set about showing us how to operate everything, from the pull-out awning to the pop-up tent. The jeep did not disappoint. Every little detail had been thought through. All of the power outlets had usb chargers, the dash had a cellphone mount, and the 5-gallon jug of water was already full. For a small extra fee, we rented a complete kitchen set, which had everything we could imagine needing: pots and pans, a grilling set, a dual burner stove and table to set it on (the table even had a hook to mount a lantern). There was also a cute, 4-person picnic table that folded up to about the size of a saxophone case. We were left wanting for nothing.

Kitchen set with stovetop.

This picnic table folds up to about the size of a saxophone case. We all thought that was a pretty cool magic trick. 

The afternoon was spent running around to Costco, Walmart, and Target, to pick up food for the trip. Having all three super centers in such small proximity was way too convenient for the kind of island life that we had become accustomed to living overseas.

Matt and his girlfriend Molly would not be able to join us until the end of the day, so we sat out in the backyard with Matt the evening before over a sandwich while he told us where we should go and what we should see before they joined us. He was sitting up in a director’s type of chair with his long hair and beard glowing in the moonlight, bearing an uncanny likeliness to Jesus guiding the way. He had just started telling us where to go for the best banana bread in his relaxed voice, when his roommate stormed outside in a flurry and started yelling at him to keep it down. It was quite humorous in retrospect, like a pot calling a teaspoon black.

The next morning we set out in the Jeep and began our adventure along the famed Road to Hana. We followed Matt’s instructions and stopped at Ho’opika first, hoping to see some more lazy turtles. There were no turtles, but we did see a field of cows grazing by the seaside. I’ve seen plenty of cows in my life of course, but never next to the shoreline. 

Cool lava rock formations at Ho'opika Beach, Maui.

Cow grazing by the seaside. 

Further along the road we searched for the rainbow eucalyptus trees that Matt had told us about. There weren’t any big signs that told us “this way to the trees” of course, but there were several spots along the road where numerous cars were pulled over to the side, seemingly for no reason. We slowed down at these spots to scope out the landscape for any signs of trees that weren’t your average brown bark and green leaves. And then just like that, there they were, with their rainbow tree trunks and branches in all their glory. They looked like they had been painted by Monet. They were magnificent. I never knew such beautiful things existed.

Rainbow eucalyptus trees along the Road to Hana. 

Did you know such beautiful things existed? 

We got out of the car to look for some plants in the area that supposedly closed when you touched them, according to Jesus Matt’s teachings the previous night anyway. Another couple was admiring the trees and we told them what we were looking for. They laughed and said maybe our friend had been seeing some trippy Alice in Wonderland things, but we were the ones looking at rainbow trees, so who was really having the Lewis Carroll adventure here?

Swinging from a rainbow eucalyptus tree. 

As we drove farther along, the road became narrower and the scenery became increasingly reminiscent of Jurassic Park. The greenery was so darn lush that I would like to formally take back every other time I’ve ever used that word, because despite living in the tropics for the better part of the past six years, I had no idea what “lush” meant until the Road to Hana. It was as if Mother Nature had decided to grow every form of green tropical plant along the mountainsides, and then drape it all in moss, and then have some ivy growing up everything, and then douse it in a final, blanket of green because why in the world not?

So it turns out this is what the top of a bamboo forest looks like...
(This photo is borrowed from TripAdvisor.)

As if the scenery weren’t epic enough, we rolled down the window to be greeted by the most intoxicating smells. Never mind all that nonsense about lushness, the smells were what made the Road to Hana out of this world. If you could imagine the fresh aromas inside a florist, and add some clean mountain air to that, and a slight sea breeze, and remove any hint of city, you’d have the Road to Hana. I’d buy that candle if it existed.

Admiring a random black sand beach we found down a dirt road.

Hawaii is home to many black sand beaches. 

Our next stop was in Ke'anae for banana bread at the famous Aunty Sandy’s. There were lots of fruit stands offering banana bread along the way, but apparently none of it could rival Aunty Sandy’s. We bought a loaf to split and it was warm and gooey and delicious; definitely the best banana bread I’d had in five years. I’ll even go so far as to say it was the best banana bread in the Western Hemisphere. But sorry Aunty Sandy, the gold still goes to Banana Bread Man (aka Donut Man) in Koh Tao.

Fletch, conducting the waves like an orchestra. 

Lanakila Ihiihi O Iehova O na Kaua Church next to Aunty Sandy's.

We continued the drive, and passed by more waterfalls than I could count. Some of them were clearly visible from the road as we drove past, some were merely hinted at by the clusters of abandoned cars pulled over on the side of the road, suggesting better sights were hiding a short walk into the forest.

One of many waterfalls along the side of the road.

It was growing late in the day, and so we decided to save the other sights for another time and find our campground. It turns out that arranging camping on Maui is a little more difficult than you might initially expect, given what a popular activity it is. You must use a designated campground unless you want angry locals knocking on your window in the middle of the night (according to everything I read anyway). The first campground along the Road to Hana is the YMCA, and requires an advance reservation. Apparently no one works there though, because I failed to get in touch to inquire about availability, and heard similar accounts from others.

Closer to the actual town of Hana you will find the Waiʻanapanapa State Park. This one also requires an advance reservation, and only has six designating slots for car camping. All six of these were completely booked up weeks in advance.

Finally there’s Kipahulu just past Hana, which allows you to purchase your permit upon arrival. Not only was this the only option, but it was Matt’s favorite spot to boot, so it all worked out well. If you are following Google Maps, don’t go all the way to the spot pinned on the map; that will lead you to a private church road. Turn off just before, where the signs for Haleakala State Park are.

We found ourselves a nice little nook towards the back of the lot. Molly and Matt arrived after dark, and we celebrated the summer solstice together by camping out under the stars. When Matt had moved his Tommy Bahama beach chair into the fully reclined position and the Truly consumption dwindled to a trickle, we finally said goodnight and floated up to the Jeeps' pop-up tent to find a surprisingly comfy and spacious bed. Even Fletch and all of his 6 feet of height couldn't complain about the space. We fell asleep to the sounds of waves rushing the shore in the distance, and other sleepy campers rustling around in their tents.

Stay tuned for an epic waterfall and even more Jurassic Park references...