Kansas City (Missouri)
We are six months out from our trip to Maui, and I am researching rental cars. We are staying in Lahaina and plan to take a day trip driving the R2H. I've read the road can be narrow, so compact cars are recommended... In the next review, people say JEEP!!
Everyone has a different comfort level with what they drive on roads like that. I've been fine driving a 15 passenger van on the RTH. Sure it can get tight in spots when cars are coming from the other direction, but the speed limit is quite low (often 10-15 mph). When it gets really narrow, especially over bridges, there are yield signs.
It's an extremely long day trip from Lahaina to Hana... Drive-time alone (not including any stops will be about 5 hours roundtrip. That's if you drive to Hana and back using only the road on the north side of the island. If you drive the southern portion of the road and do the loop, you'll add on about another 1/2 hour. If at all possible, I'd suggest spending a night in Hana to give yourselves more time to enjoy it. There are so many worthwhile places to stop. If you must do it in a day, I'd leave really early to get the most out of it - possibly even leaving before sunrise. There are breakfast possibilities in Paia. The sun sets pretty early in the tropics and driving back in the dark on those curvy roads isn't that much fun.
The Revealed Book is very informative, as others have already mentioned. If you don't plan your day carefully, you may find yourself making too many stops at the start, and running out of time. I guess it depends on your interests really... would you want to hike, go swimming, etc. along the way or mostly just drive and see the sights from your car? The Pipiwai Trail is one of my favorite hikes in Hawaii and it's not very strenuous, but you need 2-3 hours for it. The black sand beach at Wai'anapanapa State Park is also worth a look and the coastline there is really nice to go exploring on. I have done the RTH drive in a day from Lahaina, from Kihei, and from Kahului and each time made these two stops and ate lunch in Hana, and that's all I had time for. It's not a lot of miles to drive, but the drive takes longer than you might expect.
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K, since no one mentioned this I will suggest you call the company that you are thinking of renting from and see if they even allow you to drive there. Also DO NOT leave anything in your car while vacationing even if you think you that it doesn't matter because you are nearby or will just gone for couple of minutes.
We've gone to Hana many times but rarely take the "main" road. You can also go up the "back" road, past and above Wailea. Locals can tell you about it. The road is a bit rough but it's super fast.
If you do want to see scenery along the way, I totally recommend taking a tour in a sedan - even if you've rented a car for the rest of the trip. That way, you can really see all the scenery and waterfalls and drop-offs without having to hold your breath and focus on every hairpin turn. Believe me, the T-shirts in Lahaina read "I survived the Road to Hana" for a good reason! If you like a bit heart palpitations and fear, this T-shirt is for you!
Before you go to Hana, be sure to enjoy the Upcountry (Makawao, Paia, Haiku) and go to the amazing Lavender gardens. You may get all the fabulous scenery you need and much more to boot (not to mention time).
Hi Erica - I also say invest in a convertible, if you can. It's the best way to see all of the scenery that you'll just be astounded by. Having a more cumbersome vehicle like a Jeep will make it difficult to maneuver the endless curves you will encounter on the drive. Another thing I have to chime in on with Kristi is that we loved having the Maui Revealed guidebook too. Have fun!
The road is not that narrow that you would have an issue with a compact or a jeep - it depends upon the cost you want to pay and how much other driving you will do during your trip to Maui. I usually have a convertible when I go because I drive around a lot and love the open airand there are so many sites you can miss on R2H without a convertible and a good guide book or CD. There are lots of waterfall sites that I especially love but how those go depend upon the rainfall. If you haven't driven it before, I highly recommend the guidebook - Maui Revealed which has a whole chapter about R2H. Aloha!