Three Great Maui Road Trips for Cruisers

Contents Show

maui road trips
Spectacular views of Maui.

By Nancy Schretter

Maui is a popular port of call for many cruise lines, including Holland America, Princess, Carnival and Norwegian. The island is filled with exciting activities and adventures, but Maui’s spectacular scenery is not to be missed. It’s a large part of what makes The Magic Isle so special.

Many cruise passengers choose to take a driving tour that showcases Maui’s beauty. These types of excursions are readily available through the cruise lines and private tour companies. Those who prefer to go it alone can easily rent a car at Maui’s Kahului Airport or another convenient location and explore Maui independently.

There are a number of great road shows on Maui, some longer than others. Here are three of my favorite Maui road trips:

1. Climb to Haleakala’s Summit. Haleakala National Park is one of Maui’s most surreal places. At 10,023 feet high, Haleakala (House of the Sun) is the earth’s largest dormant active volcano with a crater that spans over 19 square miles. Haleakala is a sacred spot for Hawaiians and those who come here will quickly understand why. It’s an amazing place.

There are many ways to see Haleakala. One of the peak travel experiences of my life was watching the sunrise from Haleakala’s summit. If the conditions are right, making the nighttime drive and watching the morning sunrise can be a peaceful moment of spiritual renewal. It’s nice to know I have company – Mark Twain stated that this experience was “the sublimest spectacle of his life.” Getting out of bed at 2:30 a.m. to see this can be difficult, but it was well worth it. Norwegian Cruise Line offers both sunrise and sunset tours of Haleakala, as do private tour companies. If you go at sunrise, stay in the park to hike, stop in at the Haleakala Visitor Center and look for the endangered nene (Hawaiian goose) and the threatened Haleakala silversword plants that grow only at this location.

If seeing the sunrise isn’t possible, simply take a tour or drive up Highway 378 (Haleakala Crater Road) during the day. Actually, there’s nothing particularly simple about it. Ascending steeply from sea level to over 10,000 feet, Haleakala Crater Road has over 30 switchbacks as well as blind turns and steep drop-offs without the benefit of guardrails. Bring warm clothing for your excursion. If you’re driving instead of taking a tour, fill up your gas tank before making the trip and check on current conditions – although the weather changes constantly. Other popular excursions allow cruisers to see Haleakala by bike and on horseback.

2. Take the Road to Hana. Like all of these routes, the Road to Hana is all about the journey. Take the time to savor the experience. If your ship is remaining in Maui for two days as Norwegian Cruise Line does, this trip is quite easy to do. Norwegian offers multiple Road to Hana tours, or you can rent a car and go it on your own. Fill up your car with gas and plan to arrive at around 7 a.m. in Pa’ia. Have breakfast at Charley’s Restaurant or stop at the T. Komoda Store & Bakery on Baldwin Avenue in Makawao to pick up a few tasty pastries for the road. Then head out on the Hana Highway (“the Road to Hana”) before most of the crowds arrive. You’ll benefit from the early start, as many stops near waterfalls and scenic overlooks have a limited number of parking spaces.

There are lots of roadside stands, waterfalls, corkscrew turns, one-lane bridges, wayside parks, botanical gardens and picture-perfect spots along the journey to Hana. Some of the best include Kaumahina State Wayside Park, Honomanu Bay County Beach Park, Ke’anae Arboretum, Ke’anae Peninsula Lookout, Wailua and Wailua Valley Wayside Park, Pua’a Ka’a State Park, Ka’eleku Caverns, the Hana Lava Tube, and the tiny town of Nahiku. Hike the Waikomoi Ridge Trail and don’t miss walking along the black sand beach and exploring the freshwater caves at Wai’anapanapa State Park. In addition, stop to sample some freshly baked banana bread at Aunty Sandy’s Keanae Landing Fruit Stand or Halfway to Hana.

The one-way drive to Hana can easily take three or more hours if you’re planning to stop along the way. Don’t just rush to Hana – the stops are a large part of what makes this drive so much fun. After arriving in Heavenly Hana, take the time to browse through the over a century-old Hasegawa General Store, take a swim in one of the many pools at Ohe’o Gulch (sometimes called the “Seven Sacred Pools” although there are dozens more) and stroll along Hamoa Beach – regarded as one of the country’s most stunning strands.

3. Wind Your Way to Maui’s ‘Iao Valley. Many Maui shore excursions include a visit to picturesque ‘Iao Valley. On your tour, you’ll travel through Wailuku and then curve north into the majestic ‘Iao Valley, an eroded volcanic canyon-like caldera shrouded in rainforest. This region is home to the 4,000-acre ‘Iao Valley State Park and the ‘Iao Needle, a rocky vegetation-covered pinnacle rising 1200 feet up from the valley’s floor. If you’re renting a car while visiting Maui, this is a quick and easy drive. Plan to spend several hours up here hiking and exploring the area – it’s magical. Located along Iao Valley Road, the 35-acre Hawaii Nature Center features a lovely rainforest walk and numerous exhibits providing information on the life of native Hawaiians and the history of the ‘Iao Valley area.

If You Go:

* If you think you might want to rent a car while your ship is visiting Maui, make your reservation in advance. Rental cars are readily available on Maui, but they can be in high demand. Companies such as Budget Rent-a-Car have offices at Maui’s Kahului Airport and in Wailea.

* For more information on planning your visit to Maui, go to The Magic Isle’s website at

Nancy Schretter is Managing Editor of the Family Travel Network.

Photo Credits: Nancy Schretter

Share this post