After visiting Haleakala, we parked on the side of the road to take a nap before starting our road trip to Kipahulu. We had planned to camp at Kipahulu and hike the Pipiwai Trail, which are both located 12 miles past Hana. In the last two years, we have driven to Hana via Hana Highway (State Highway 36) a couple of times and are not huge fans of the drive. The drive through Hana Highway is known for its many hidden waterfalls, but notorious for its narrow single vehicle lanes, bridges, and nauseating twists and turns. We did not want to drive through Hana Highway, so we did some research on the drive from Ulupalakua to Kipahulu (the “backside” route).
Since we had a rental car, we learned that most tourist avoid this route to Hana because car rental companies tell them they shouldn’t even attempt to drive through it. They will tell you that driving through this stretch of road will void your rental contract. Kimo’s Rent-A-Car was not an exception; it was clearly stated on the contract we signed – for this reason, we hesitated to even plan the drive. We did some research and looked at photos of the road online; the road looked bumpy, but it looked manageable. We knew we would need to drive slow along certain sections of the road for the sake of the car and our safety. In the end, we knew we would regret not taking on this adventure – so at our own risk, we began our drive down the backside from Haleakala.
The road to Ulupalakua from Kula was a curvy two-lane road. We passed by Ulupalakua Ranch at about mile marker 15 and large pasture lands. Further down the road, we stopped by the Auwahi windmills and snapped a few photos.
Just before mile marker 25, the yellow median line disappeared and the road became a single lane road. Due to the rolling hills and the lack of sight distance along this road, we honked our horn at turns and were very cautious driving over steep hills. However, when there were no other cars ahead – we had some fun speeding through this bumpy road; it was like riding on a roller coaster!
Further down the road, we stopped at a couple lookout points to admire the views and take some photos. It was crazy windy outside near the cliffs, so we made sure we didn’t stand too close to the edge. After snapping a few photos, we continued on our way.
Just beyond mile marker 27, we encountered the bumpy pothole-filled road – this lasted for about 8 miles. Some parts of the 8-mile stretch were not so bad; but for the most part, we were driving 10-15 MPH along this section of road. We even stopped at the side of the road to give the car a little break in addition to stopping to take some photos of the historic St. Joseph Church.
At mile marker 35 we reached the Kaupo Store, which was once feature in Maui Magazine. Walking into the store was like walking back in time. The walls were lined with vintage items including bottles, signs, cameras and books. We bought a couple of snacks and the lady behind a rusty cash register gave us an “early Christmas present” – it was a letter filled with proverbs from the bible. The Kaupo Store was definitely one interesting store. Anyhow, this is where the bumpy pot-hole road sort of ends and we were glad to know we made it through the restricted area with our rental car!
From Kaupo to Kipahulu, the single lane road becomes very narrow which made it even more difficult for two vehicles to drive pass each other. There were a few times we had to backup to allow a car to drive pass us. One time a large truck had to drive onto the steeply sloped shoulder for us to drive through. We even had a couple of incidents where we almost had a head-on collision due to all the blind turns! It was safe to say that this last part of the drive was somewhat dangerous.
When we finally passed by the Kipahulu sign, we were relieved and excited! We made it! Overall, we enjoyed the drive from Ulupalakua and ended up driving back to town down this route. The drive has its windy sections, but it is no where as windy as Hana Highway. Although it is not as scenic as Hana Highway, it had some nice lookout points and landmarks – but the best part is that we encountered far fewer cars on this route. Off to our next adventure, Kipahulu!
Check out our photos below!