Most travelers to Maui take the Road to Hana on the northeast end of the island, from Kahului to Hana. You absolutely should do so, as well. However, many people completely ignore a similarly spectacular back road to Hana called the Piilani Highway, and miss out on a completely different landscape. I recommend that you avoid overlooking this alternate route.
**Disclaimer: I am reading in local reports that part of this back road to Hana has recently been closed due to parts of it sliding into the ocean…so you could say it’s not exactly fit for road-trippin’. If you are in the area and want to try it, please check reports first on the status of the road.**
If you are particularly energetic, the entire loop could be completed in one trip (and we’re talking, like, 12 hours). Ideally, though, a separate day would be devoted to each route. Coming from the village of Haiku, the route goes up through the rodeo-mountain country of Makawao. If you go to the Haleakala National Park, you likely will cross paths with this beginning of the back way to Hana, but never complete the circuit. Haleakala is a wonder that deserves its own separate post, so that will be covered at a later time. This route to Hana rides significantly higher than the low road; the elevation climbs, and you begin to see an increasing amount of the island within your view.
A bit further down the road (labeled Kokomo Road/Route 37), you reach the Piilani Highway. The Piilani Highway itself features a more wild, rugged landscape than Hana Highway. It feels more like the Northern California coast than a tropical paradise, but it’s beautiful just the same. The long roads remind me a bit of the meandering Pacific Coast Highway. For a little while, the roads turn narrow and unpaved. Many turn around at this point, and that’s perfectly fine. Most guidebooks would recommend that you turn around at the unpaved part, as the next part is considered a bit more treacherous than what most people are accustomed to.
If you are feeling adventurous and keep going, the road gets to be so narrow around coast-hugging hairpin turns that you are urged by signs to blow your horn as to alert oncoming traffic (of which there will be very little). A (very helpful, but perhaps slightly less adventurous) website called GoVisitHawaii implores you not to take the back road to Hana because it apparently may be a “restricted area” that constitutes a violation of your rental car agreement. It might be…but then again, it might not. We didn’t know about this, so it wasn’t exactly on our mind. (Several websites we have checked disagree on whether it violates a rental contract, and the most logical answer I’ve found is that basically, it doesn’t, but if something happens to you out there, you are responsible for getting your car towed. More on that – this would not be the first time we drove on a potentially rental-contract-violating road in Maui – and the other one was even more amazing.) All I know is that we drove this in a two-wheel-drive Nissan sedan, it was a lot of fun, and we never felt unsafe. So drive at your own risk, but I wouldn’t even say you have to be particularly adventurous to enjoy it and be completely safe. (Exploration: Hawaii and Maui Guidebook consider it safe, and I do too, and I’m not a total lunatic, last I checked.) And check your rental car agreement, to at least know what you’re in for if you incur any damages.
Towards the end of the back way to Hana, we reached the Kipahulu area of the Haleakala National Park. This beautiful nook of Maui boasts the Pipiwai Trail. The Pipiwai Trail is an absolutely gorgeous hike through a bamboo forest to the 400-foot Waimoku Falls. The trail is four miles long, and takes about two hours round-trip, including photograph time at the bamboo forest and the falls. After that, we took a dip in the Oheo Gulch, or “Seven Sacred Pools.” Water from the rainforest above trickles down to these pools of fresh water and eventually, to the ocean. You can take a dip in the refreshing pools and admire the beautiful scenery. Be sure to save your park pass – it can also be used at the Haleakala crater when you go within three days of your pass purchase ($15 per vehicle, and 100% worth it).