Highway to heaven

The most beautiful road in the world leads to Maui's Hana — and true bliss

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Ahead of the whizzers

When you stay in Hana, the day falls into an easy rhythm. With the time difference from the mainland, you're up early, which may mean a dawn walk by Hana Bay or just more time to linger. The whizzers won't arrive for a few hours, so it's a perfect time to drive the road in peace or head to destinations like Ohe'o Gulch in Haleakala National Park, which can get jammed by midday. Then it's time for the Hana version of a siesta before ending the day at Hamoa Beach when the crowds have gone ― and the hot sun has given way to shadows.

It's a private place, with longtime families and a long-standing appeal for generations of mega-celebrities looking for a true getaway: Charles Lindbergh (who is buried beside Palapala Ho'omau Church), George Harrison, and now Oprah Winfrey. So it's better to settle in and surrender to Hana's easy rhythms. A good guide doesn't hurt either.

Stephen Sinenci grew up in Hana and works at the Hotel Hana-Maui. He conducts tours that offer insights that only a local can provide. Except for the years he owned a restaurant in Ohio (as he explains, "I had a fear of being born on a rock, dying on a rock, and never going anywhere"), Sinenci has lived here his whole life.

Sinenci brings Hana alive, both its daily life and its myths and legends. In the parade of cars along Hana Highway, he's like the grand marshal, greeted by an array of aunts, uncles, and friends as he drives south.

"As you can see," Sinenci says, "I know everyone in town. And their dogs and their cats too." That's no idle boast either, because a bit down the road, he spots a calf that has escaped from a pasture. "That's okay," he says. "Milton will be down soon. Someone will call Milton."

South of town, he points out a modest oceanfront cinder cone. Known as Ka-iwi-o-Pele, it's actually one of Hawaii's most sacred sites, said to hold the bones of Pele, the volcano goddess. Now, says Sinenci, Oprah owns the hill, as well as other prime Hana lands. A visitor asks if there's anything in Hana that she doesn't own. "Well," Sinenci laughs, "she doesn't own me."

Even with its celebrities and dream homes, Hana remains untamed. In places, the jungle grows chaotically, with fallen guavas and mangos rolling onto the road. Sinenci passes the last house that's on the electric grid before reaching Wailua Falls, which thunders following a rain the previous night.

For tourists, it's an outpost of civilization. Rental cars clog the turnout and vendors sell baskets woven from palm leaves. Then the wilder Hana intrudes upon the scene as a pickup bearing an enormous wild boar on a raised platform pulls up.

Non-native boars tear up the land, Sinenci says, but are also a Hana delicacy. He provides unflinching details of the hunt and his preparation technique ― papaya for tenderizer and guava wood for smoking ― before going over to the hunters. Rhythmic and poetic pidgin fills the air, but when Sinenci comes back to the van, he looks back at the boar and shakes his head.

"I knew those guys weren't from here. Hana boys would never prop up a boar like that. They don't showboat."

 

 

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