In a nutshell: Rugged shoreline, scenic vistas, and cliff-edge driving you’ll never forget.
Minuses: If you’re not a confident driver parts of this drive could be your worst nightmare.
Sound-bite: “what do you mean back up!?!“
Most visitors will travel in and out of West Maui along its West and South shores through Maalaea. This is definitely the commuter route, as the route along West Maui’s northern side is precarious and slow going. For those seeking adventure, this open-vista driving tour is a must-do.
The north shore of West Maui has been called “West Maui’s Road to Hana” – but that really is a generalization best left to those who just don’t get it. (If we’re going for broad generalizations here, the Back Side of Haleakala is the closest you’ll get to this.) If you have an adventuresome spirit, you owe it to yourself to drive both of these roads during your visit. By the same token, if winding narrow roads at the edges of cliffs make you nervous, or if you already did the Road to Hana and can’t figure out what all the fuss was about, you may want to give this journey a second-thought. (For the record, if you must pick one, it is no contest: pick the Road to Hana.)
Does driving here void your rental car contract, and can the car even make it?
First, lets dispel the pure myth that it is difficult for regular cars to make it around this side of the island. It’s not. Except during extreme weather events, this entire road is navigable by pretty much any vehicle (though smaller is better!)
There is a portion of the road that is perched precariously on the cliff’s-edge, and if you get a flat out here, you may revisit the experience in nightmares for years after (ask me how I know!)
The second most often repeated myth, that driving on this side “voids your rental car contract” is actually based on a grossly exaggerated smidgen of truth. I called five rental car companies and all five confirmed the same thing: if you get in trouble out here, you’re on your own to get yourself out of it.
So caveat emptor: if you get a flat perched on the edge of a cliff you’ll likely be paying for the tow truck (and dealing with a lot of frustrated drivers!)
For all but the most confident drivers, going clockwise is recommended as it puts you on the body-shop side of a miscalculation. If you do decide to go against this advice, be certain the person riding shotgun is equally as confident in your driving abilities.
As you leave Lahaina and Ka’anapali you start to see something you haven’t seen in a while: clouds! That is because you’re traveling from the dry leeward side of West Maui into the wet windward side. Clouds usually build as the day progresses.
After you’ve put Kapalua behind you, you’ll come to Honolua Bay. We’ve done a separate article on this beach and bay, so I’ll just say it is a protected cove with rocky beach that is usually a spectacular place to snorkel, dive or surf. For more info see the Honolua Bay article.
(33.3 mm) Lipoa Point
GPS Coordinates: 21.019269, -156.639426
A great vantage point for Honolua Bay, with dirt road and trail access to the shoreline for the explorer. There are many rough paths leading down to the shoreline tidepools, caves, surfing and snorkeling access. 106 acres of the point’s headlands are in conservation. This area was an ancient Hawaiian fishing ground and the headlands contain many archeological sites that have not yet been preserved, marked or maintained. Please be very respectful of the fact that this is an important cultural area deserving of respect – if you see rocks piled as a wall or foundation, look and imagine what they once were – but do not disturb them. Most of the trails down to the shoreline are rough (and some are downright dangerous) – so use your head before you decide to adventure down any of these.
(34.6 mm) Punalau Beach
GPS Coordinates: 21.022176,-156.625997
Punalau Beach is a rugged sand beach, the last sandy beach for quite a while, in fact. This isn’t the best place to lay out or go for a swim, but it is a spectacular place to take a quiet and secluded walk. When the surf is up in the winter months it may become crowded as surfers use this beach to access the popular “Windmills” surf break offshore.
Look for a turnout with some parking. Be sure not to block the 4WD road, and don’t drive down it even if you have 4WD and the gate is open.
(36 mm) Honokohau Bay
GPS Coordinates: 21.022161,-156.60992
Honokohau Bay has a rocky beach and is used for kayak launching and is another surf spot during winter months. The small village of Honokohau is also just uphill, but is not a place for tourism. Please respect their privacy and right to quiet country life by avoiding a spontaneous drive up their dead-end country road.
(38-38.5 mm) Nakalele Point
GPS Coordinates (light beacon): 21.028951,-156.590506
Most frequently visitors come here to see the blowhole (below.) There is also a short hike past tidepools and interesting rock formations caused by the effect of countless years of the corrosive effects of the blowhole’s salt spray. Part of this area is called the fantastic name of “acid war zone” by more than one popular guidebook. For those interested in geology, it is definitely a sight you won’t want to miss and is all covered in detail in the dedicated article on the blowhole.
(38.5 mm) Nakalele Blowhole
GPS Coordinates: 21.027013,-156.588559
The prime attraction of the Nakalele Point is the blowhole. A blowhole’s effect is much like that of a geyser, a hole in the ground with a jet of water shooting periodically into the air. This blowhole has a manhole sized opening and can be very impressive during high tide and high surf. (tide forecast) Some jets can approach 50+ feet and literally shake the ground beneath your feet. Nakalele Blowhole Page
(16 mm) Olivine Pools
GPS Coordinates: 21.009933,-156.556061
I covered the Olivine Pools in its own article since it is such a popular place. They are a handful of nice tidepools at the end of rugged lava jutting into the ocean. Pretty spectacular when you have them to yourself, these days they’re sometimes pretty crowded. Olivine Pools Page
(14.6 mm) Kahakuloa
GPS Coordinates: 20.997022,-156.550991
Kahakuloa is a small isolated village nestled along the shoreline. Called the most isolated village on Maui, most of the folks who live here work here, too. The old and simple missionary founded church (1892) is the subject of many paintings and photographs because it is idyllically situated against both mountain and ocean backdrops. Taro lo'i and modest homes dot the tiny village inside this scenic cove.
There are a couple of roadside stands here – one inside the village, and one on the main road. Both have plenty of Aloha and great treats and fruits and are definitely worth a stop.
There is also an art gallery called Kaukini Gallery as you ascend out of the valley – they have some very high quality pieces by Hawaiian artists (with price tags to match) plus jewelery as well.
(13.6 mm) Kahakuloa Head (Pu‘u Koa‘e & Pu’u Kahuli’anapa)
GPS Coordinates: 21.000909,-156.54552
Kahakuloa Head is visible from quite a distance, distinctive twin hills Pu‘u Koa‘e at over 636′ and Pu’u Kahuli’anapa at just under 550′. King Kahekili, father of the better known King Kamehameha lived in this area for part of the year. Legend has it that he would climb to a ledge around 200′ from the ocean, leap in, then climb back up for his morning routine. Kahekili was defeated by his son (who did not know of his relation) Kamehameha who unified the Hawaiian Islands.
There are a few patchy trails, one that leads between the two hills, another that leads off-and-on to the top of Pu’u Kahuli’anapa, and for very experienced hikers there is a trail (and I use that word loosely) you can climb to the top of Pu‘u Koa‘e. I’m going to leave all these routes unmarked; attempts to reach the summit of Pu‘u Koa‘e would be a life-threatening endeavor for most.
(6.9 mm) Waihe’e Ridge Trail
GPS Coordinates: 20.953104,-156.532334
This is a wonderful steep hike along a mountain ridge. Spectacular views of the Waihe’e Valley and coastline, plenty of birds, and you can get a good cardio workout going up the steep incline. I wrote a dedicated article about this hike here: Waihe’e Ridge Trail
(1m mauka 4.8 mm – see map) Swinging Bridges
GPS Coordinates: 20.94131,-156.524502
Don’t believe the other guidebooks that say you need to hire a tour guide because it is difficult to secure access to this valley. This is a less steep hike than Waihe’e Ridge, into the Waihe’e Valley. This is the valley that you see so spectacularly from the ridge hike above. It is a 1 mile hike on a wide defined path to the bridges, and an additional mile along a narrowing path to the end of the trail. Detailed article here.
View West Maui’s North Shore Sights in a larger map