I must respectfully disagree with this recent article that encourages tourists to take a scenic drive along Maui’s northwest coast, from Kapalua to Wailuku. Is it scenic? Absolutely! Is it completely safe? Not so much.
I’ve personally taken this drive and somewhere in Maui there is a yellow Jeep Wrangler rental that has the imprint of my hand and fingernails still in the arm rest. I grew up driving on winding mountain roads, so I’m not normally afraid of that type of road, but the stretch of road a few miles north of Kapalua got my heart beating.
A few miles north of Kapalua, the road begins to narrow and at first it appears that it is not a big deal. The road then continues to narrow and narrow and narrow. As my husband and I unwisely drove this road, at one point we had to negotiate past a school bus that was traveling in the opposite direction. The road was so narrow that in order to get past the bus, we had to drive the jeep onto the side of a dirt bank. We were on about a 30 degree angle (no exaggeration!) on the side of the embankment. As much as we tried to move over to allow the bus to pass, we were still only inches away of having a few yellow school bus paint marks on the canary yellow jeep we were driving.[Note: At this point, you may be wondering what a school bus is doing on this dangerous road. There is a small village of about 100 people, Kahakaloa, along this drive and the bus services that area. Believe me when I say it was very scary trying to get past this bus.]
Not only is the road narrow, winding and steep in places, it also lacks guard rails and has frequent rock slides.
The About article starts with this:
The car rental companies will tell you not to travel around West Maui’s rugged north shore. I’ve never figured out why. Although narrow and winding, the road is paved the entire way. Perhaps the problem lies more in the fact that if you were to break down, getting service would be hard plus the road can be dangerous in bad weather with flooding and falling rocks.
The Honolulu Advertiser recently wrote an informative article about this stretch of road, the warnings from rental car companies, and a recent fatal accident. The article states:
Most car-rental companies on Maui advise customers that their contracts restrict them from traveling on Honoapi’ilani Highway past Honolua Bay. The two-lane highway, which continues on through Kahakuloa Village and into Wailuku as Kahekili Highway, was carved into Maui’s remote, rugged northern coastline and narrows to a single lane in some sections. Some portions of the highway are little more than dirt and gravel, and landslides and falling rocks are not uncommon.
If the car rental companies advise you not to travel on that road, then you assume your own risk for service, break downs, and accidents. In the Honolulu Advertiser article referenced above, they mention the following:
An informal survey yesterday of Hertz, Budget and Dollar car- rental companies indicated that motorists are told to avoid the restricted roads, and if they ignore the warning, they are on their own as far as getting help for damage and breakdowns.
Sadly, just last week, a honeymooner who was driving his rental car on this very stretch of road plunged 140 feet off a cliff to his death into the ocean.
So, I’ll close this post with some advice. Do drive the section of road just north of Kapalua to Honolua Bay, but as rental car companies advise, do not drive any further. If you absolutely must drive this section of road, then do drive very cautiously, honk the horn before approaching blind turns, and make sure you have enough gas as there are no gas stations along this stretch. An finally, be courteous to the local drivers who know the roads better than you and aren’t on a sightseeing mission like yourself. Pull over to let them pass.
Read about other forbidden roads in Hawaii.