Road to Hana


Hawaii seemed like a good place to start. Still tethered to our jobs and the United States, we had time for travel and yearned for adventure, but had some things left to do before uprooting ourselves completely and opting for life out of a backpack. So, we arrived on Maui with ten days and a busy agenda ahead of us.

First on our list was to drive the Road to Hana, a scenic highway famous for lush tropical flora and hidden waterfalls. Meet our trusty car (and home) throughout the trip – a 1989 Volkswagen Westfalia, affectionately nicknamed Bastian. We really liked Bastian.


Some might say a decades-old camper van might not be the best vehicle for navigating fifty miles of steep coastline, over six hundred hairpin turns, and forty one-way bridges, and they’re probably right. But as nerve-wracking as Bastian’s quirks were, they were just as endearing. The soundtrack to our drive was the whistling of wind through windows we couldn’t quite roll up, a terrifying skidding sound every time we took a sharp turn, the single radio station we got playing The Cure through garbled speakers.


Peter drove while I craned my neck absorbing every inch of our jungle surroundings, like the plants did the rain that inevitably started to fall. Hana sees over eighty inches of rainfall each year; I think we got half of that on this drive alone. Still, we scanned the landscape for stops to explore. Every few miles we’d find something new, wrenching the car to a halt to investigate cascading waterfalls, offbeat trails, black sand beaches. We stopped at a fruit stand for pineapple smoothies and freshly baked banana bread, eating it while we watched surfers on the coast below. 

We stretched those fifty miles into hours, treading through fern and palm tree, bamboo stalks taller than our heads. There’s a certain meaningfulness that comes along with being surrounded by so much wild, greenery and growth.


In Hana itself, we didn’t stay long. It's a quiet, seaside town that's probably worth exploring, but our legs were tired from all the hiking and the rain was falling in buckets. We got coffees and sipped them under an umbrella, waiting out the storm.

Greens turned to blues as we traded our tropical landscape for volcanic, driving up and around the island to camp at Haleakalā National Park. The tallest point in Maui, Haleakalā means “house of the sun”, and we were intent on seeing it rise from the peak the next morning. A naïve part of us thought Hawaii would always be warm, we didn’t quite factor in the temperature change that comes from being halfway up a long-dormant volcano at night. Freezing, shivering, and happy we fell asleep under the stars.


Exhaustion, combined with the fact that the camper took about fifteen minutes to warm up in the morning, had us off to a late start - it was a race with the sun to the peak that morning. Pedal to the floor, we were topping out at barely twenty miles per hour, cutting through endless fog on impossible winding roads. Rubberneck one second too long and you fly off the edge of the volcano and into the clouds. Who would have thought the way to heaven would be in a camper van?


We managed to reach the summit just in time to see sun break through the clouds, but as with a lot of things in life, it was more about the journey than the destination.