Scenic drive on the Kahekili Highway on Maui

Unlike the popular Hana Highway (Road to Hana), the Kahekili Highway (Hwy 340) is one of Maui’s lesser-known scenic drives and for good reason. It traverses a remote area on Maui, the coastline between Honokohai and Waihe’e. On some tourist maps Kahekili Highway is labeled as an ordinary state road and it may appear to be a faster route from the Kapalua area in West Maui to Kahului since when looking at its length, it is indeed shorter in terms of distance.

However, you won’t be able to drive faster than 20 mph and in many areas it will be more like 5 mph. That’s because the Kahekili “highway” is more like a goat trail, especially around the village of Kahakuloa (between mile 14-15 and 10-12). It is mainly a narrow, curvy, cliff-hugging one-lane road without guard rails. There are occasional pullouts if a car is coming from the opposite direction.

Kahekili HighwayYes, it is a scenic drive with beautiful views of Maui’s rugged undeveloped northeastern shore, but it is definitely not for the faint of heart, not for aggressive or impatient drivers or for those afraid of heights or steep drop-offs. Also, it’ll be to your benefit if you feel comfortable having to back up your car under these road conditions or drive within an inch of a cliff wall to let an oncoming car squeeze by.

Here are a few tips if you decide to do this drive:

  • Make sure you’re not violating your rental car agreement (ask the rental car company if they allow their cars to be driven on this road). A four-wheel drive is not necessary since the road is paved.
  • Rent a small car. Big vans or SUVs are more difficult to navigate on this very narrow road, especially since it’s just barely one lane wide but with two-way traffic.
  • Make sure you have enough gas in your tank. This is a remote area with no gas stations along the way.
  • Begin your journey from the Lahaina/Kaanapali side. Like that you’ll be driving on the inside of the road along the cliff and not along the edge. You’ll also be able to look farther ahead of the road to spot oncoming traffic and your passenger will be less frightened.
  • Don’t do this drive in the dark. Start early enough so you’ll reach your destination before the sun sets. Also, it’s best to do this drive on a sunny day as rainfall makes the road slippery.
  • Keep in mind that the driver will have little opportunity to enjoy the views since there are few places to pull over and the eyes will have to focus on the road while driving.
  • And finally, make sure you’re rested and alert before heading out. It takes at least two hours driving time (not counting stops) from West Maui to Kahului.

Not to be confused with the Road to Hana, Maui’s most popular scenic drive, which many find challenging because of its 46 one-lane bridges and 620 curves, but is nowhere near as intense as the Kahekili Highway.

KahakuloaPoints of interest along the way include Honokohau Bay, Nakalele Blowhole and Kahakuloa Head, which is located at the remote Kahakuloa village. The village is quite picturesque with an old church and fishing houses overlooking a curved bay and black-sand beach surrounded by lush vegetation.

If you enjoy scenic drives but are not up to doing this trip on the Kahekili Highway, there’s good news because Maui has many other beautiful areas that are more easily accessible. For an almost otherworldly experience, the Crater Road that leads up to Mt. Haleakala is fascinating, as you could easily get the idea you’re driving up into heaven or on the Moon. And then there is of course the popular Road to Hana, which is less than 15 miles away (linear distance) from Crater Road, but the complete opposite with its super lush surroundings. If you’d rather not drive yourself but let someone else do the driving, consider booking a tour. Like that you enjoy the scenery instead of focusing on the road. There are tours that go up Crater Road to visit the summit of Mt. Haleakala and other tours explore the Road to Hana and its many interesting sights along the way.