Maui - The road on the back side of Haleakala (hwy 31)

Introduction:

Where? :  located on the “back” side of Haleakala, this 32 mile road section start at Oheo Gulch all the way to Keokea town. From this far east side it starts as road 31 that transform to road 37 at the north end.





 

What? : The less travel road on the “other” side of the Haleakala mountain. This is in part unmaintained road with some bad driving conditions. Most of the Road to Hana visitors do not use this road because it “bad reputation” but I did not find it so bad.

 

Due note: I drove the road from east to west late at the afternoon. This is the order I wrote my description and places I visit but it can be done from the opposite direction as well.

 

My thoughts: I will recommend taking this road on your way back to the hotel and not go back on the “road to Hana”.

I will recommend starting your drive at Oheo Gulch where you have 2 hr of light before sunset so you can enjoy the road and drive it safely.

I drove this road at the afternoon after visiting and hiking at Oheo Gulch, the 2hr drive alone without many stops is more than worth it and listed as one of my Maui experience highlights.




"Bad Reputation":

Before I decide to use this road, I looks at few Maui websites, at all of them taking this road was not recommended.

The back-side road is very narrow and unpaved at some sections. For almost 20 miles it’s basically wide enough for not a lot more from one car, but there is two-way traffic on this road.

For the first 8 miles (starting at Oheo Gulch) the road is going through the bottom section of the coastal mountain cliffs. The rock wall towering above the road are unstable, few years back the road was close for few months because of massive landslide. After this first section the road is getting better and safer although it is quite bumpy and narrow for many more miles.

I decided to try driving it west, thinking that I can start driving and see if it possible or if not. At worst case I can always turn around.




 

Few takeaways from my drive:

·         I and my friends in another occasion took this road on Dec. 2020, both of us thought the description of “impossible or unrecommended” are not correct.

·         The descriptions are somewhat correct, but the road is not “undoable”, “danger” or “unrecommended”.

·         Please check your rental insurance!

According few websites this road is not covered under rental car insurance or at list towing your car is not covered, if you got stack there you will need to cover towing expenses. I did not receive any such notification from my rental car company.

·         You do not need 4x4 car to drive this road.

·         Try to check with locals on road conditions and major landslides.

·         If you reach to a point where there is river flooding covering the road (at Pahihi Gulch), I will strongly advise not to try to pass but rather turn around.

·         As I see it, if you drive slowly and watch for oncoming cars at the narrow twisting road sections the only real risk is from falling stones and rocks in the cliff section.

·         Other than the 5 miles cliff section that starts few miles after Oheo Gulch the road is narrow but good.

 

The visit:

 

The official road to Hana ends at Oheo Gulch park, most tourists are driving back home taking the same way they came using The Road to Hana.

What about the road that is taking you on the other side of the island?

 

You can see in my pictures how different this south side of the island compare to the north side (Road to Hana). The rainy jungles, rivers and waterfalls that are part of the road to Hana do not exist here, this side landscape is mostly dried open grasses fields over old lava at the foot of the Haleakala mountain.



 

I started my drive on road 31 from Oheo Gulch park and soon I reach at the mountain cliff un-paved narrow section. At the same time a tropical rainstorm role in from the east with strong winds and rain. I drove slowly, from time to time I saw small stones falling on the road because of the rain and I must admit this was not so fun section, but it was doable.

After this slow driving section, I manage to drive faster than the storm and when looking backward I saw the rainbow, I took some pictures and keep driving.

This was already late afternoon and I want to drive this road almost without any stop, this is the same as if I would take back the road to Hana, I will do the same, drive straight without stopping.

 


Points of interest along the way:


Charles Lindbergh's Grave (mile marker 41):

I did not stop here because the rain.

Right after starting your drive you can go to this gravesite. There's a little church (Palapala Ho‘omau) and a little park, can spend 5 to 10 minutes here.

 

Alelele Bridge 1983 and Alelele Falls (mile markers 39 and 38):

Unfortunately, I “discovered” this hidden jam only when I was writing this blog, so I did not visit the Alelele waterfall.

From pictures this looks like a nice 50f high waterfall not so far from the road bridge in the jungle. You need to follow the trail from the east side of Alelele Stream for 15 minutes to the falls, maybe some stream crossing.

 

Huialoha Church (mile markers 35):

An isolated church with palm trees, nice place to take pictures. Sign at the gate says 4-wheel drive and gate is locked at 6pm. Walk down is about 1/3-mile.

 

From this point to the west the road is much better although still narrow and twisted. The only safety issue I can see is if you reach to a point where there is river flooding that covering the road at Pahihi Gulch. I will strongly advise not to try to pass when the road is flooded but rather turn around. Manawainui Gulch has a new bridge, so it is not flooded.

 

Kaupo General Store (short after mile markers 35):

Old “rusty” store on the way, when I was here all was close.

 

St Joseph Church (mile markers 34):

And old church by the road, short stop to take pictures.



 

Nu‘u Refuge (mile markers 31):

This Refuge is open to the public access, you park your car on the road and hike the refuge trails.

You can find here untouched lava flows, interesting vegetation, old petroglyphs and secluded small beaches.



The road following the coastline for additional few miles and after Manawainui Gulch it start to climb the side of Haleakala mountain where you can see secluded and remote cow farmhouses.




At some point Auwahi Wind Turbines will become dominant on the horizon.


From here hwy 37 has better driving condition, the road keep climbing at the slopes of mountain Haleakala, you start to see houses and village. From here the road is turning north and getting farther away from the ocean below as also the landscape change and become greener grass land.


This road does not have as many attractions as the road to Hana on the other side and most of them can be covered by a 10-15 minutes stop.

The road itself with all its driving difficulties and remoteness un-changed area experience is what make it as so fun to drive.

Usually people drive it at late afternoon after a day of activity, heading west into the sunset give the day a perfect closure but you can also use it to reach Oheo Gulch park at the morning and be there early before all other are coming.

 

Pictures:




























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