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Saturday 9 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C
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My Best Road Trip: The challenging highways of Maui, Hawaii

This week’s best road trip sees David M Byrne tackle Maui’s volcanoes and death-defying, record-breaking drives.

David M Byrne David M Byrne

  • Each week, motoring mag will feature a reader’s best road trip. If you’d love to see your top trip featured, email us on

MY BEST ROAD trip was four days exploring Maui, the second largest Hawaiian island.

Who: David M Byrne, Wicklow – see his website here.
Route: Maui, Hawaii
Distance: 388km
Time: 4 days
When: March 2013
Vehicle: Dodge Caliber

David M Byrne David M Byrne

The US is the land of limitless road trips – with over four million miles of highway (6.5-million kilometres to us metrically savvy Europeans) it’s the ultimate road-tripping destination. Everyone knows Route 66, aka the Mother Road. It’s as iconic (and kitschy) as it is long (4,000 kilometres or so). Ditto for California’s State Route 1. But even the tiny spec that is the remote volcanic archipelago of Hawaii, the 50th state out in the mid-Pacific, offers up driving delights.

I spent four days driving around Maui, the second-largest of the eight Hawaiian Islands – at 1,880km², Maui is a tad smaller than Sligo. Exploring in my Dodge Caliber rental saw me going against the grain; the girl at the rental desk seemed taken aback that I didn’t opt for a soft top Ford Mustang like everyone else.

Despite its compact size, the amazingly diverse topography of Maui offers up more than a few driving challenges, namely the tight barely-fit-for-purpose roads of western Maui, the record road accent to the island’s highest point, & the bridges & bends of the famed Hana Highway.

David M Byrne David M Byrne

Day 1 – Western Maui

Day one saw me drive the Honoapi’ilani and Kahekili Highways, the only roads of western Maui and ones that combine to circumvent the coastal edge of the West Maui Volcano, the smaller of the two dormant shield volcanoes that make up present-day Maui.

Historic Lahaina was the first capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii (prior to Hawaii becoming a US territory in 1898) and a major port for the pacific whaling fleet of the 1840s. Although boasting some nicely preserved period architecture, the highlight of laid-back Lahaina for me was its central Banyan Tree Park, home to the famous Lahaina Banyan. Planted in April 1873, today it is the largest such tree in the US – with the aid of 17 trunks it shades an area of almost one acre offering ample shade to help beat the Maui heat.

Near the extreme western edge of the island, where meeting oncoming traffic can be an issue, is Honolua Bay, home to a world-renowned surf break (Hawaii is, of course, the birthplace of modern surfing). The cliff overlooking the bay provided a great vantage point from which to view the action in the water well below the level of the road.
Beyond Honolua Bay, the precarious Honoapi’ilani Highway gives way to the even more precarious Kahekili Highway, a euphemism for a ‘highway’ if ever there was one.

David M Byrne David M Byrne

A cliff-hugging drive of 34 kilometres via a hair-raising, narrow, one-lane, steep and twisty road, some parts of which are barely fit for purpose, means the Kahekili Highway is slow going, or at least it should be. This is a road that demands your attention, a road claims has ‘humbled many egos’ and states is not for ‘sissies’ and ‘shouldn’t be attempted by novice drivers.’ Take from that what you will.

Day 2 – Big Beach, southern Maui

David M Byrne David M Byrne

While not a beach bum, day two in Maui saw me driving to the beach, Big Beach in southern Maui getting the nod over all the others. One of Maui’s least crowded stretches of sand, this was once a playground for Hawaiian royalty. While lounging here I was struck by the extensive cloud formations offshore, a climatic characteristic of the insular Hawaiian Islands.

On the horizon, some 11 kilometres way, is the uninhabited island of Kaho’olawe, the smallest of the eight main volcanic Hawaiian islands and one used, until as recently as 1990, by the US military as a bombing target. Still littered with unexploded ordnance today, the island is strictly off-limits to tourists.

Day 3 - Haleakala

David M Byrne David M Byrne

Day three in Maui was all about driving to the summit of the island’s other shield volcano, mighty Haleakala. Its Pu’u ‘Ula’ula summit sits at an altitude of 3,055 metres and driving up here for sunrise is a Maui must-do. You get there via the well-maintained two-lane switchback-heavy Haleakala Highway, a road that holds the world record for the highest elevation gain in the shortage distance driven – over 3,000 metres in just 61 kilometres.

Day 4 – On the Piilani Highway in southern Maui

David M Byrne David M Byrne

On my last day on Maui, I sampled the Hana Highway, an 84-kilometre stretch of Hawaii State Route 36 and 360, which skirts the northern shore of the island, to arrive at the quaint town of Hana in eastern Maui. Billed as Hawaii’s most spectacular drive, large portions of the Hana Highway, built by pickaxe-wielding convicts in the 1920s, are literally carved into the coastline.

Throw 600+ blind bends and 56 one-lane bridges into the mix and you’ve got yet another Maui motoring challenge, one that sees upwards of 1,000 cars a day (this is where you see all those aforementioned soft top Mustangs).

Although the Hana Highway itself ends at Hana, the road continues beyond the settlement to skirt the island’s southern shore, passing waterfalls, black sand beaches, swimming holes, Charles Lindbergh’s grave (honest), ranches in cowboy country and wineries. There are vistas aplenty.

So yes, Maui really is quite the road-tripping destination, something I never thought I’d say about a remote island in the mid-Pacific.

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