ON THE ROAD TO HANA
When old sugar towns die, they usually fade away in rust and red dirt. Not Paia . The tangled spaghetti of electrical, phone, and cable wires hanging overhead symbolizes the town’s ability to adapt to the times—it may look messy, but it works. Here, trendy restaurants, eclectic boutiques, and high-tech windsurf shops stand next door to a ma-and-pa grocery, a fi sh market, and storefronts that have been serving customers since plantation days. Hippies took over in the 1970s; although their macrobiotic restaurants and old-style artists’ co-ops have made way for Hawaii Regional Cuisine and galleries featuring the works of renowned international artists, Paia still manages to maintain a pleasant granola vibe. The town’s main attraction, though, is Hookipa Beach Park , where the wind that roars through the isthmus of Maui brings windsurfers from around the world. A few B&Bs are located just outside Paia in the tiny community of Kuau.
Ten minutes down the road from Paia and up the hill from the Hana Highway—the connector road to the entire east side of Maui—is Haiku. Once a pineapple-plantation village, complete with a cannery (now a shopping complex), Haiku offers vacation rentals and B&Bs in a quiet, pastoral setting: the perfect base for those who want to get off the beaten path and experience the quieter side of Maui, but don’t want to feel too removed (the beach is only 10 min. away).
About 15 to 20 minutes past Haiku is the largely unknown community of Huelo . Every day, thousands of cars whiz by on the road to Hana; most barely glance at the double row of mailboxes overseen by a fading Hawaii Visitors Bureau sign. But if you take the time to stop and head down the gun-metal road, you’ll discover a hidden Hawaii—a Hawaii of an earlier time, where Mother Nature is still sensual and wild, where ocean waves pummel soaring lava cliffs, and where an indescribable sense of serenity prevails. Huelo is not for everyone, but those who hunger for a place still largely untouched by “progress” should check in to a B&B or vacation rental here.
Set between an emerald rainforest and the blue Pacifi c is a village probably best defi ned by what it lacks: golf courses, shopping malls, and McDonald’s. Except for a gas station and a bank with an ATM, you’ll find little of what passes for progress here. Instead, you’ll discover the simple joys of fragrant tropical fl owers, the sweet taste of backyard bananas and papayas, and the easy calm and unabashed small-town aloha spirit of old Hawaii. What saved “Heavenly” Hana from the inevitable march of progress? The 52-mile Hana Highway, which winds around 600 curves and crosses more than 50 one-lane bridges on its way from Kahului. You can go to Hana for the day—from Kihei and Lahaina, it’s a 3-hour drive (and a half-century away)—but 3 days are better. The tiny town has one hotel, a handful of great B&Bs, and some spectacular vacation rentals.